You keep hearing about wildly discounted hotel rates. But when you look at hotel Web sites the deals aren’t all that impressive. What’s going on?
Hotels are indeed discounting deeply, but they’re trying to do it in ways they hope won’t undercut their standard rack rates. Therefore, many of the best rates are being offered through Twitter links, discount Web sites, emails to members of loyalty programs and opaque booking services such as Priceline and Hotwire.
For example, my daughter recently got an email offering rooms at The Orleans in Las Vegas, a very pleasant off-Strip casino hotel, for $18 a night. The email had a link to a reservations page showing this incredibly low price on 17 of the 31 days in August. But navigating from the hotel’s home page yielded rates no lower than $38 a night during the same period — still a startling bargain, but more than twice the email rate.
The difference is this: the $18 rate is intended to lure people who weren’t considering a trip to Las Vegas but will jump at a bargain. The hotel is still hoping, however, to rope in potential visitors at the $38 rate if they’re already motivated enough to come looking at the Web site on their own. The strategy is to fill all the rooms it can — because there’s really nothing worse than an empty room at a casino hotel — for as much as each guest is willing to pay.
A similar strategy is at work at the Cliffs Resort in Pismo Beach, Calif. The lowest rate on its Web site for August and September is $179 — unless you click through from a link on TravelZoo or enter the promotion code given there. Then the rate drops to $109.
Selling inventory through Priceline and Hotwire also allows a hotel to maintain a certain rate discipline toward most of its guests while lowering prices to fill rooms when bookings look particularly low. These opaque search engines don’t reveal the name of the hotel until the transaction is complete, which means the hotel’s lowest rates don’t compete with its highest rates. (Sean O’Neill explained this particularly well on the Budget Travel Blog.)
Thus my husband recently snagged the Sheraton Providence Airport at $35 a night, the Marriott Ventura Beach at $60, the Hyatt Regency at the Convention Center in Denver for $62 and the Omni Mont Royal in Montreal for $76, all through Priceline and all vastly below the rack rates.
Those kinds of deals aren’t available everywhere all the time. It’s all about the supply and demand. But knowing where to look, and having the patience to keep looking and keep bidding, can save you a lot of cash.