Why I Wait Last Minute to Book Hotels

I am generally a last minute booker of hotel travel. Time and time again I read travel expert’s advice that the best rates or award availability are available to the hotel guests who book early. There is some truth in that, but I don’t accept the belief that you need to be the early bird to get the hotel of your choice on an award or the lowest room rates. I am overwhelmingly a last minute reservations kind of guy.

My cases in point are Hyatt Free Night awards and Starwood Hotel rates for San Francisco for the July 4 weekend.

Help! I have earned free nights but I can’t get a reservation!

I was reading FlyerTalk Tuesday morning and a Gold Passport member was complaining about the lack of award availability for free nights. I developed some concern as I had two free nights expiring June 30.

Could I find a room at short notice?

My free nights were leftover award nights from the January 31, 2010 end-date for the original Gold Passport Big Welcome promotion. These nights were extended from the original March 31 expiration date to June 30 at the request of this Diamond member. And now there are thousands more guests with free night credits from the current Big Welcome Back promotion.

I called up the Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond line.

     “Do you have any rooms available at the Carmel Highlands Inn?”

     “Yes, Mr. Garrido. You can use your free night award for any night except Saturday or Monday.”

     “What about Lake Tahoe? Is there any availability at that hotel?”

     “Lake Tahoe is wide open. You can book an award night for any night through June 30 at the Lake Tahoe resort.”

I redeemed my two nights without any problem.

The Starwood Last Minute Hotel Rates Case Test 

Two weeks ago I made a survey of 21 San Francisco Bay Area Starwood hotel rates for the July 4 weekend. This earlier survey compared 2010 rates to 2009 and revealed 16 of 21 hotels with higher rates for the 2010 holiday weekend. In my June 8 post I stated the higher rates, in several cases 25% to 50% higher than 2009 rates, were possibly the “ecstatically optimistic” hopes of hoteliers that tourists were coming back big time in 2010.

From my June 8 post – “For this same time period in 2010 as when I checked rates about four weeks before Fourth of July holiday in 2009, hotels in San Francisco city appear to be pushing the rate envelope. I’ll try and remember to check back in next week and see if the Starwood Hotels envelope is a little too stuffed for San Francisco tourism economy this summer. That will be indicated by a room rate price drop next week.” 

Here are the room rates for Starwood’s seven San Francisco city hotels today on June 24 for the July 4 weekend. This rate check is 16 days after my June 8 rate check and eight days before the start of the July 4 weekend.

5 of 7 Starwood hotels are a lower rate today than earlier this month. Only the St. Regis and Westin Market Street Hotels have increased rates. 3 of the 7 hotels also have lower AAA rates today than on June 8. Two other hotels (Palace and Westin St. Francis) have the same AAA rate today as on June 8.

San Francisco may not be typical for all major cities, but last minute rate drops is a pattern I frequently see with San Francisco hotel rates.

These rate surveys I periodically conduct are the primary reason I avoid nonrefundable, no changes rate offers. In my experience, the last minute booking often offers better rates or free night award availability.

And if you are sitting on free weekend nights earned from the current Starwood promotion… well, all seven of the San Francisco Starwood Hotels are available for free night awards Friday July 2 through Sunday night July 4.

A quick check of New York City shows every hotel except Westin Times Square is available for free night awards over July 4 weekend.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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  1. I usually wait until two days or the day of to book a room. Most of those great rates for advance purchase also mean that you’re locked in. No cancellations. Never underestimate haggling in person at the front desk. I’ve been having decent success this spring getting them to knock $120 rooms down to around $75 — about 40% of the time.

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