In the New York Times Sunday Travel section, Stephanie Rosenbloom compared several applications for finding a good last-minute deal at a luxury hotel. The experts forgot one thing.
Prices at the Gramercy Park, the hotel she checked, varied for a room as much as $8 between the apps and websites, though for a regular room they were all lower than the hotel’s website (in this case by $82 counting taxes and fees, though a suite was cheaper on the hotel site).
Her conclusion was to limit your search to a few apps and websites, and perhaps use the telephone.
On the same page, “Frugal Traveler” Seth Kugel listed seven steps he uses to find the best hotel rates.
Curiously enough, the one suggestion neither of them made was to use the phone to call a travel agent; particularly a travel agent who is a member of a consortium with hotel deals.
Perhaps, travel agents are considered too 20th century these days. If so, the examples in the New York Times didn’t prove that point.
The first article, “Eleventh Hour Luxury, at Your Fingertips,” used the Gramercy Park hotel as an example, which is a hotel I have booked a number of times.
Our rate, for a random date, is the same as the hotel’s “Best Available Rate.” BUT (please note the big but), our agency is a member of Signature Travel Network. This means for the same rate, clients get breakfast for 2 daily, a $100 food and beverage credit, a welcome amenity and, if available, an upgrade, late check out and early check in.
The upgrade alone is worth $50-$100 a night. At this hotel, it also means a significantly bigger room. Note: There are over 25 “Signature” properties in New York alone.
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Now, not all hotels are part of preferred programs. Of course, properties vary by consortiums. (Virtuoso and Ensemble are two other agency groups, for example. Plus, some big agency chains have their own programs.) In general, it’s the four- and five-star hotels that are most likely to have such offers. High-end properties much prefer to add value than to steeply discount their rates.
There’s also a chance, depending on the agent and city you want, that an individual agent or agency may know someone at the hotel who can offer even a better deal. A recent unnamed hotel in London with a great general manager just gave one of my clients who booked a week in advance a 25 percent discount on their best suite.
(More moderate and budget hotel/motel chains MAY give lower rates to agency groups, either with a negotiated rate or a 5-15 percent discount on the regular rate. But, the consortium programs probably won’t get you the absolute cheapest room in town.)
Will a consortium deal always be the best? No. But, in my experience, particularly for clients who will use the value-added extras, I’ve had even the biggest bargain-hunters say they couldn’t match the rates.
Will there be a service fee? It depends.
Personally, if I know the client and the hotel is going to pay the agency commission, I often won’t charge anything extra. If you’re a random shopper, an agency may charge to weed out time-wasters. And, in general, you’ll have better luck if you say up front you’ll book if the agent can beat the best rate you’ve found so far, especially if you’ve been shopping online. (Follow through, if you want to use that agent or agency in future.)
When it’s a nice hotel for a special occasion or when the nice hotel is the special occasion, don’t assume you have to do it yourself. With last room availability for many hotels in agency GDS reservation systems, even a last-minute reservation is possible. If you find an agent you trust, you may end up wondering why you used to spend all that time online.