Work travel and holiday planning always end up in the middle of a vast time-consuming paradigm, which is about how to get the best deal on your hotel room reservation. There are different meanings attached to the term, as well, under different circumstances.
On work travel, most business travellers are running an expense account. So, they are not really looking for the cheapest hotel room but the one with the most flexible policies and the best benefits. Most global firms, such as IBM, have preferred hotel chains, and preferred rates negotiated as well, which are informed to employees. The better terms could include benefits such as breakfast and free cancellation on the day of arrival for the traveller. In this case, travel desks or the travellers themselves would do better to book directly with the hotel via their website or their corporate travel agent.
For those who don’t have a corporate contract with a hotel chain, they can still get a discount with the hotel chains for booking directly. Most chain hotels will offer a prepaid rate (non-refundable) for paying ahead and a slightly higher rate for a postpaid booking. Further, they offer member rates, which can be availed if you sign up and log in with a loyalty number for the hotel chain. For instance, IHG (ihg.com) and Marriott (marriott.com) provide up to 5% discount, while Hyatt (hyatt.com) provides 10-15% off for those who book directly after logging in.
Booking directly with hotels are usually backed with the Best Rate Guarantees of these hotels, where you can be assured that you won’t find a better price elsewhere, or the chain would be willing to give you a discount, or a free night and so on.
For booking your holidays, apart from booking directly, you can also seek the services of a professional travel agent, who can drive the best deal for you. Most hotel chains have created travel agent programmes which give better perks for select hotels. For instance, Hyatt has Hyatt Prive and Shangri-La has Shangri-La Luxury Circle, both of which offer some great benefits in the form of upgrades, spa or dining credits and late check-outs at the hotel.
Some travel consultants also have their own curated lists of hotels where you get better benefits by booking, for instance, via a Virtuoso partner agent. The Virtuoso website (virtuoso.com) has the most updated list of agents.
For American Express platinum card holders, there is the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts Collection (americanexpressfhr.com), which has over 1,000 hotels across the globe for those who prefer to live in luxury. For instance, for a stay at W Goa, you would get complimentary breakfast for two every day, a complimentary dinner for two once during your stay, a room upgrade apart from a late check out. For those holding Visa Credit Cards, they can head to visaluxuryhotelcollection.com to get similar benefits.
Apart from these options, if you would like to book online, almost every online travel agent is giving out cashbacks or discounts in tandem with some bank these days. However, these discounts come with a rider and are non-refundable usually. Also, you would usually not find the big brands being undercut in this case, given they have all made stern agreements with the OTAs not allowing them to discount their rates.
Google has also entered the fray to offer hotel search and bookings recently. At google.com/hotels, you can put in your dates, and you will get the rates of all the hotels in the vicinity. Not just that, Google will also tell you the trends, such as if the prices you are getting to see are the usual prices, or lower or higher than the usual. You can then decide if you want to proceed with your travel on those dates or not. The other feature Google hotels offers, is the ability to find deals. You can set the filter to only tell you about the deals in a particular city, and it will show you all the hotels which are offering discounts during the time of your stay there.
Eventually, that good deal, means different things to different people.
So, people should move on from spending days searching for the best discount on various online travel agencies, to the meta search engine such as Google in the future to get rate comparisons. Otherwise, booking direct has held everyone in good stead for many years now and it just reduces surprises such as your booking not being passed on to the hotel, or being assigned the worst room possible in the hotel’s inventory.
Elevate Your Travel is a column for the business travellers by a business traveller.
Ajay Awtaney is founder and editor of Livefromalounge.com, a frequent-flyer website