Why You Should Be Paying More Attention to “Best Rate Guarantees”
I like to save money as much as the next reader on this blog. That’s why I’m obsessed with points and miles to the extreme, as in a friend has lovingly taken to refer to me as “Flyer Talk Furlong” kind of extreme. But maximizing your travel potential, as we’ve said again and again, isn’t just about playing the points and miles game. It’s also about practical ways to save money, and one of the best ways to do that is through researching “best rate guarantees” when booking hotels. Why? Let me give you a case study.
The other day I was looking for a hotel in Washington D.C. Lightning in the clouds over Washington DC
I found a Starwood property at a rate of $165 a night on the Starwood website, not bad at all. I booked it but as is my custom, I went to check how the rate compares to other sites, and what I found, was the jackpot of best rate guarantees. I searched Trip Advisor and Kayak, and found a rate through a website called Get a Room (wish I was joking but I’m not) for $65. What I did next saved me hundreds of dollars, but also got me a bonus that is very valuable for any savvy traveler.
I submitted a Best Rate Guarantee form to Starwood. Here’s the deal:
If you find a competing rate that is lower than what Starwood advertises on their own website, you submit this form. If Starwood honors this rate, which in my case, they always have, they’ll not only match the rate from the competing website, they’ll do one of two things for you:
- Take an additional 20% off the rate after it’s been matched.
- Offer you 2,000 bonus Starpoints.
Best rate guarantees are offered by almost all major hotel brands. They were started as a way to mitigate losses when third-party sites really began to grow, since these sites get a cut of every room sold on their websites. So doing 2-3 minutes of extra research not only saved me $100 a night, it netted me 2k Starpoints, hotel currency that is very valuable to me.
So why not just stick with the lower rate from the competing site?
- The 2,000 bonus Starpoints or the 20% off are hopefully pretty obvious reasons.
- But more than that, it’s about being able to earn points for my stays. Hotels usually won’t provide you points if you book the hotel through third-party sites like Expedia. So this allows me to get the lowest advertised rate out there, AND earn points for my stay.
- What’s more, hotels often won’t honor elite status benefits when you book through third-party sites. And since I’m SPG Gold, making sure my reservation is through Starwood means I get my elite benefits like bonus points, late checkout, etc…
It’s all in the details
Keep in mind, you’re in a situation where the hotel wants to do everything they can to not honor this rate and to make it confusing which way to go.
And so as is often the case, it’s all in the details. Everything about your stay often has to match up. It’s about finding a rate on the same type of room. If you wrote one guest on the third-party website but really plan to have two, that’s reason for the hotel to say the claim is invalid. So make sure when booking it, the following matches up as best you can:
- Number of guests
- Same room type
The hotels will often do everything they can to deny the rate. One important distinction in all their language is around the submission of your claim form. Once you submit, then they check, and if the rate they see at the link you provided is indeed lower, only then will they honor it. So in many ways it’s less about what you see and more about what they see.
How to get around the 24 hour stipulation
Almost all of the websites say you must find the competing rate on the third-party website within 24 hours after booking with their hotel. But there is one sure-fire way around this, and something else worth mentioning.
- If you booked a refundable rate and days later find the rate lower on a third-party website, cancel your stay, rebook, and then submit the claim.
- Sometimes, you don’t even have to have a stay booked. So say you are searching for hotels and see the Sheraton is $200 on the Starwood website but only $150 on Hotels.com, you can still submit a claim form to Starwood for the lower rate before you have even made a reservation.
Starwood tried to deny me a best rate guarantee recently, saying they didn’t see that rate. And I can understand why. The rate they were advertising on their website of $346 a night for this Westin property was significantly higher than the $168 a night I found.
So I booked that rate since I could still see it (making sure it was refundable) and submitted proof of my confirmation after the time they said that rate wasn’t available. I tweeted them. And eventually, they honored the rate. So knowing the hotels obviously want to advertise this great policy without actually honoring it, keep the following in mind when pursuing a best rate guarantee.
- Take screenshots. It won’t always be honored but it can’t hurt your cause. Get the website as well as the time and date display on your computer, tablet, or smart phone if possible.
- Submit your claim ASAP. The longer you wait, the better the chance the great rate disappears.
- Engage with their social media team. I wrote a private message to Starwood expressing my frustration with the situation and essentially saying “I don’t want to say something negatively publicly, so I want to give you the chance to fix this.” And they did. That’s what you want in a business and one of the reasons I love Starwood. Don’t be afraid to do the same- social media teams often go above and beyond on customer service.
- Leverage elite status or future stays. If you’ve got elite status, you’re much more likely to get support. But also don’t be afraid to dangle future trips and/or bookings as leverage for them to do the right thing.
At the end of the day, when this works out, it’s free money in your pocket which can be used for a future stay, to enjoy a nice meal, or whatever else you do when you get some extra cash! Is it worth the 5 minutes required to submit a claim? I think the answer is clear, I’d even guarantee it.