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Just like airfares, hotel rates can go up and down from day to day.

But unlike airfares, you can usually cancel and rebook a hotel room at a lower rate with no penalty.

So if you don't get the rate at the hotel you want to start with, keep checking even after making your reservation.

 
 
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How to Negotiate the Best Hotel Room Rate Part Two

When is the best (and worst) time to make your hotel reservation
 

How far in advance should you make your hotel booking?  The answer to this question depends, in part, on if you're going to a vacation destination/resort type hotel or a business hotel.

Part 2 of a series on How to Negotiate the Best Hotel Room Rate - please also visit

1.  Optimize the Dates of Your Hotel Stay

2.  When is the best (and worst) time to make your hotel reservation

3.  What is Included and What is Extra

4.  Hidden extra fees and how to resolve them

5.  Who to Speak/Book With and What to Say

 

 

Hotel room rates may vary depending on if the hotel feels it will be full or empty on the night you want to stay, and the hotel's perception of its eventual occupancy level changes over time.

In addition to understanding when the best (and worst) times to book a hotel room are, the key concept for you in this article is to understand that you can probably cancel and rebook your hotel room at any time without penalty.  In such a case, why not continue to occasionally check rates even after you've made a booking, in the hope that a lower rate might come available.

How Far in Advance is the Best Time to Book a Hotel Room

This varies depending on the hotel, and sometimes the answer is 'there are multiple good times to book, not just only one'.

For example, a hotel might budget, a year in advance, that it will have an average occupancy level of 85%.  So it might say 'We're going to offer 10% of our rooms at a discount, in the hope of growing our occupancy rate from 85% to 95%.

But if the 10% of rooms it discounted sell early, then the other 90% may stay at full price until a 'review period' when someone makes a decision 'Oh gosh, the hotel isn't filling as fast as we thought, maybe we should release a few more rooms into the discount category'.

When is that review period?  It depends on the hotel.  Some hotels that cater mainly for local business travelers may get most of their bookings in the three weeks prior to the date of stay.  That type of hotel may not start reviewing their advance bookings until two weeks prior to the arrival date.  But if it is a hotel which typically gets most of its bookings sooner (eg, it specializes in providing accommodation to international tourists who typically book further in advance), then it will start reviewing the booking trends sooner.

There is another type of review period as well.  Many hotels allocate blocks of rooms to large tour operators and travel websites, and require these companies to either confirm or give back a certain percentage of the rooms allocated to them at various times prior to the date of stay - typically review dates might be 90, 60, 30, 15 or 14 and 7 days prior to stay.  Maybe one of these companies ends up giving back a large chunk of rooms on one of these review dates, causing the hotel's projection to switch from one of being comfortably full to suddenly/unexpectedly being uncomfortably empty.

Plus the general feeling of overall business climate and travel activity, shifts in the local market (new hotels opening, current hotels changing ownership, whatever) and other subjective things (maybe the hotel has just landed - or lost - a major contract with a tour operator) can all create shifts in how the hotel's managers think they will need to price their rooms for when you want to stay.

So the best rate can appear and disappear, on and off, at almost any time, and particularly at 90, 60, 30, 14/15 and 7 day periods in advance of your stay.

Last Minute Deals

Hotel room nights are like newspapers, and airline seats on flights.  They have no value the next day - if they aren't sold and used, they have been lost for all time.

This means that at 6pm on any evening, the hotel is looking at all its remaining empty rooms and is - in theory - desperately keen to sell them at any price at all over and above its marginal cost of servicing an overnight stay (which is somewhere between $25 and $50, depending on what is included in the cost).

The conflict between theory and reality

But, the theory isn't always the same as the reality.  The hotel - just like the airline - has two conflicting imperatives.  Firstly, it needs to sell its rooms for any amount of money at all to get maximum profit.  But, secondly, it needs to 'protect' their published regular room rates.  If a hotel was to unrestrictedly sell, eg, $300 hotel rooms for $75 on the day of arrival, they run the risk that this becomes common knowledge and soon no-one would book in advance and everyone would appear at their reception seeking last minute special rates.

This actually happened in the cruise line industry.  It became popular knowledge that cruise rates dropped the closer it became to the cruise's departure, so fewer people booked in advance, and the cruise lines ended up discounting cruises - not to sudden extra last minute passengers, but to people who had outsmarted them and who would have otherwise happily booked further in advance and paid full price.  In marketing terms, their last minute specials were cannibalizing their yield.  They weren't getting extra passengers, they were merely selling at lower price to the same people.

The cruise lines only managed to recover from that problem by creating a 'no exceptions' rule that they'd no longer discount at the last minute, and their rate structure (in theory, and usually in practice) now has the cheapest rates for booking longest in advance, while the closer to departure, the more expensive a cruise becomes.

So the hotels have this terrible split personality.  One half of them desperately wants to take the $75 from you in return for giving you a $300 hotel room for the night.  The other half is worried that if it does this, then the guest who paid $300/nt will be upset and won't pay $300 for their next stay, and/or, next time you come back, you'll refuse to book in advance and pay the $300 too, but will rather hold out for the $75 rate.

How to resolve these starkly contrasting issues?  Some hotels have chosen to sell their rooms cheaply to companies that will package hotel rooms plus other things (eg a rental car hire) so as to obscure exactly how much (or how little!) you are paying for the hotel room.

Other hotels use sites such as Priceline.com - this hides from most people their willingness to discount rooms at the last minute, because you never know which hotel you're getting until after you've committed to the hotel room purchase, and also, you never know just how low the hotel would go on its rate either.

We write about the best way to use Priceline in a separate four part series that provides invaluable information about how to best use this system to save you money.

Some hotels have decided, like the cruise lines, that it is safer to not discount at the last minute, even if it means rooms go empty and unsold.  Others will discount at the last minute, but sometimes you need to speak to a supervisor or manager to get them to agree to this and override their usual rates.

A different way to get a similar saving

Maybe a hotel has a policy 'we won't discount our rooms at the last minute, even if it means we lose business'.  This is actually a fairly common policy, for the reasons discussed above.

If you're told that when trying to get a last minute special deal, you can accept that, but then ask for a special bonus inclusion or upgrade.  Maybe you can ask for a restaurant credit (this might be difficult if it is a larger hotel that operates a separate 'Food & Beverage' department as a separate profit center) or a room upgrade (easier from an accounting point of view) or something like that.

Perhaps you end up paying full price for a standard room and get a suite instead, but you'll probably need to suggest that, by saying 'I understand about you needing to protect the integrity of your published rates.  But maybe you could charge me the applicable best rate for your standard room, and then give me a courtesy upgrade to a suite?'

Another approach would be to again accept the refusal to give a last minute discount, but ask that you be given their lowest rate which perhaps you don't otherwise qualify for.  You could say something like 'I understand about your need to protect your existing rate plans.  But perhaps you could allow me access to your very lowest net rate that you sell rooms through tour operators and wholesalers - that way I get a bit of a deal, while you're still selling off your rate sheet?'

The dangerous downside to delaying your booking

There is a downside to booking at the last minute.  Maybe the hotel no longer needs your business, and maybe instead of getting a discounted rate at the last minute, you end up either paying a massively over the top rate, or can't stay at the hotel you want to stay at due to it now being full.

There can sometimes be a flip in perceptions when nearly full hotels, knowing that they have the only remaining hotel rooms in town, will switch from offering low rates to fill their rooms to holding out for high rates because they know that you need a hotel room more than they need your business.

If you're going to try and play the last minute booking game, you need to be sure that you won't end up with the area you want to stay in all being full, and where the situation has changed from being favorable for you to being favorable to the hotelier instead.

Check to see if the area averages a high or low occupancy rate for the time of year you're traveling, and check to see if there are any special conventions or events scheduled for when you want to stay, using the same tactics mentioned in the article on getting lower hotel rates by optimizing your dates of stay.

The worst time to book a hotel room

It may be difficult to establish exactly when the best time is to book a hotel room, but it is comparatively easy to understand when the worst time to book is.

The worst time is when you're already at your destination.  Whether you're traveling for business or pleasure, your time at your destination is probably both limited and precious.  The last thing you want to do is waste your valuable vacation (or business trip) spending time in an unfamiliar town/city/country trying to arrange a hotel room.

It is vastly preferable to have all this done in as much detail as possible before leaving home.  You have familiar resources - websites, travel agents, (800) numbers, friends who've been there, etc - all at hand, and you have no time pressures acting on you while you work your way to finding the best hotels and values for your requirements.

Don't Stop Checking Hotel Availability and Rates After You've Booked

Until recently, almost all hotels would allow you to cancel your booking without penalty, and some hotels allow you to do this as late as 6pm on the day you're scheduled to arrive.

Even now, most hotels still allow for cancellations without penalty, or perhaps with a $25 or so fee charged by the hotel booking service you were using.  It might be that your potential saving at a new lower rate is vastly greater than whatever cancellation fee (if any) applies.

If you think you didn't get a very good rate, or if your first choice(s) of hotel was/were not available when you booked, keep checking from time to time to see if the situation changes.  Maybe you'll find your first choice of hotel, previously full or too expensive, suddenly becomes available and at good rates.  And maybe the hotel you're staying at will drop its rates, too.

Don't be Embarrassed Asking for a Special Deal

Here's an important thing to understand.  You should never be embarrassed asking for a special deal.  If there should be any embarrassment anywhere in this negotiating process, surely it should be on the part of the hotel, which is trying to trick you into paying a higher rate than the lowest one they would be prepared to accept.

They're not at all embarrassed about this, so why should you be embarrassed at simply trying to optimize the cost of your hotel stay.

At the same time, however, don't make your negotiation into an adversarial process.  Be good humored all the way through, so that the person you're dealing with wants to help you and isn't, in turn, embarrassed at revealing there are lower rates than the ones first offered to you.

Read more in the rest of this series

This is part 2 of a series on How to Negotiate the Best Hotel Room Rate - please also visit :

1.  Optimize the Dates of Your Hotel Stay

2.  When is the best (and worst) time to make your hotel reservation

3.  What is Included and What is Extra

4.  Hidden extra fees and how to resolve them

5.  Who to Speak/Book With and What to Say

 

If so, please donate to keep the website free and fund the addition of more articles like this. Any help is most appreciated - simply click below to securely send a contribution through a credit card and Paypal.

 

Originally published 12 Sep 2008, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 

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