I thought about posting this over on ftfisher
as it's theoretically my professional journal. Except I guess it's really more my career/vocation journal, which none of this has to do with (rather, it has to do with the field that isn't my career/vocation that I've been working in for the past year and a half).
Anyway, this is long overdue, I know! But here's that article I promised ages ago about happens when you book a hotel room through a third party reservation website (Travelocity, Hotwire, Expedia, Orbitz, etc.) and how to get a good price on a hotel room. And why I laugh my ass off at third party website commercials and have ever since I got a good look at the way most hotels run their rates.
Pricing and selling hotel rates is an art, mostly, and one I'm not particularly versed in (nor do I care to be). But the basic way it works is, the GM or the director of Sales or the Front Desk Manager or the Assistant GM or whoever the hell is charged with these duties at a given hotel (it really, really varies), tries to figure out how best to sell the most rooms for the most overall money in the door and sets their inventory for various specials and deals (ie, how many rooms can be sold under a given special) and negotiates discounted rates. Obviously companies will often negotiate lower rates for their employees and VIP guests, etc. So do conventions that are bringing in a lot of guests, and similarly wedding parties.
And then, of course, third party web-sites negotiate deeper discounts and then, in theory, pass on to guests those discount (at a markup, of course). In reality, you're actually often going to be better off calling the hotel directly if you don't mind a bit of negotiating. And even if you don't want to engage even in low-key negotiating, it can still be worth a call. More on that later. (I do realise calling is not an option for everyone -- many disabilities interfere with phones as a viable option. In that case, a third party site may be your best/cheapest option.)
Anyway, yeah, they negotiate deeper discounts, and hotels set aside a certain number of rooms/room types that can be sold to the third party website(s). This is not to say that those rooms are actually blocked off; the hotel can and will sell those rooms at higher rates should the opportunity arise first. It's just that there's only so many rooms at that discounted rate that they are willing to sell at any given time.
When you reserve through a third party website, it's pre-paid and you give the third party site your money, not the hotel. The third party website then passes the reservation on along with their
payment information, not yours. This is why you can't make changes to the reservation directly with the hotel. You're a guest of the hotel but you're not directly doing business with them: you're actually staying there on a third party's dime -- the website that you reserve through.
This is, incidentally, why the hotel will still ask you for a credit card at checkin; it's for incidentals (phone calls, charges in the convenience shop, pet fees, whatever).
third party websites are pretty much full of shit when they advertise on television about how much cheaper they are than their competitors.
The way pretty much every hotel I've ever seen is set up, they basically have a single discounted third party rate (well, it is usually more complex in the system -- but they give the same discounted rate to all the third party websites that they accept reservations from). It varies how much, but it's usually somewhere between 15% and 25% off BAR (Best Available Rate, which is the marketing lie version of what you probably call rack). It's very, very fucking rare to have deeper discounts. Yes, there's a few, which is how you get the "40% off selected hotels!" in commercials. But, really, just it mostly doesn't happen.
This is why you're better off calling the hotel and seeing what you can get directly through them before you book with a third party website. The rate that you're going to get from the third party website after they tack on their markup is often not any better than what you can get directly through the hotel you're looking at staying with.
So, first, the non-negotiating stuff. Most hotels offered a AAA rate. If you mention AAA on the phone, they will give you that rate without negotiation (and this will work even if it is the height of season for the hotel). And I can assure you, pretty much no one gives enough of a shit to check what the rate is at checkin and go, "Oh HO, this reservation is a AAA rate! Show me your AAA card!". The front desk person just wants to get you checked in as quickly as possible. They also pretty much all also offer an AARP rate. Which again, people don't mostly bother to check ID on.
AAA and AARP are pretty usually 10% off BAR.
Government and military rates usually run 10-15% off BAR. Most people who qualify for either know this but perhaps not everyone does. Yes, I do care if you qualify, because while the front desk person likely doesn't give a shit about checking to make sure you're really government or military (and very likely didn't even notice that you are, depending on their software) because they want to get you in to your room efficiently, I think you're pretty much scum if you ask for a military rate if you're not. Do me a favour and just ask for the damn AAA rate.
And if you don't like that price well enough, this is where some low-key negotiating comes in! Really, I swear, it's not going to be as stressful as you think it is.
Because, a lot of places have either room to negotiate down to a certain rate or at the least, there's something like a manager's special that they can use for companies that don't have specifically negotiated rates, or to lock in a reservation rather than lose it. It will probably be about 15%.
Now, to warn you, depending on who you get on the phone, they're probably not going to be very willing to pull out the lower rates if it's the height of season and they're booked nearly full. They can most likely fill that room at BAR, and why wouldn't they prefer that? But if you have the time/energy/spoons/capablity, it's worth trying! The worst they can do is say no and you're left with the options of the AAA rate or going through the third party website you were looking at.
But the thing is, the hotel will probably be getting more money giving you that discounted rate than they would if you did book through a third party site; after all, they're giving the third party a rate discounted farther than what you paid the third party website. (By the way, that markup is why you don't see the rate on any of the paperwork. It's called a confidential rate and means that it never shows on any of your guest paperwork, because we wouldn't want to let you know how
much of a markup the third party website is taking. It's a contractual thing.)
I have no snappy conclusion! There you have the basics of third party website booking and how to get a decent room rate, from a somewhat industry perspective.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask them! I will do my best to answer them.