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Take the Ouch Out of Hotel Pricing: Four Common Discounts

Other Association Memberships
membership cardMany professional and other associations offer hotel discounts through partnerships with specific chains. For example, I am a member of the United States Rowing Association, and am eligible for a 15 percent discount off the "Best Available Rate" at any of the 10 Hilton brand hotel chains. To get this kind of discount, typically you need to book through a special Web site or phone number, which you can usually find by calling or checking the Web site of the specific association. Other associations to look into for hotel discounts include alumni organizations and professional groups (such as the American Bar Association).

I found that the USRowing membership did return better rates than a generic Web search, but boy, did I have to pay close attention.

I did a test search on a Hilton Homewood Suites property for an upcoming trip, and where a generic Expedia search gave me a price of $194 average per night for a two-night stay, booking through the USRowing special link showed me a rate of $194.65/night -- at first. There was a patch of italics at the bottom of the search results, however, stating that "This rate changes during your stay. Please select the room link for more information."

So I selected the room link, and found that while the first night's stay was $194.65, the second night was only $135.15, a savings of $59.50 by booking through USRowing.

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That wasn't the end of the comparison, however; the Expedia rate showed an additional $28.73 in taxes and fees, for a total of $445.44 for the two nights.

The Hilton booking simply mentions that there is a 15 percent tax per room, per night -- but gives no indication at all whether that is included in the quoted rate, and there is no way to find out the grand total until after you have actually booked the room.

So the Hilton/USRowing room is either $329.80 if taxes are included in the room quote, or $379.27 if they are not -- I couldn't find out without actually booking the room.

The Hilton/USRowing room options are also very difficult to figure out -- "1KG ACC RI SHW STUDIO NSMK" refers to an accessible room, but it sure isn't easy to figure out.

All of that said, either way the Hilton/USRowing deal is better, by at least $65 or so -- which is exactly consistent with the original 15% discount offer. As I understand it, a portion of the proceeds goes back to the rowing association, so that is an additional upside.

Comparing Membership Offers
The Hilton site allowed me to compare its AAA discount offer against the USRowing offer -- USRowing won the race by around $10/night, no matter how I did the search.

Comparing AAA and AARP (or rates merely noted as "senior rates" in some cases, which would simply require you show ID proving your age), the winner varied from case to case, although rarely by very much. Some searches showed results with no discounted senior rates available, but it seems it is always worth a try, as you could save a few dollars here and there.

That said, if you find a decent deal on a hotel room through one of your memberships (or by virtue of your senior status), you can usually book it without wondering if a substantially better deal exists out there. On the other hand, if you are a true discount chaser, as a lot of readers of a column like this one are, it is worth trying out your various options, as you could see a spike of 5 - 10 percent savings in some cases.

Of course, you'll want to check any of these membership discounts against shorter-term sales that might be running on the hotel site. I also recommend doing a quick Google search for "Hilton promo code" or the like -- you'll turn up sites like retailmenot.com, which could have discount codes or sales you weren't aware of.

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When Filtering for Discounts Can Backfire
Keep in mind that when you look for discounts, you could unintentionally narrow your options. Some hotel chains do not offer association discounts at their higher-end (and sometimes lower-end) hotels -- so when you click the AAA box, those hotels might not show up in the search results at all.

shop online laptop credit cardI found this to be the case with a couple of Marriott properties near my family home. A search without the AAA discount button checked returned 22 hotels from nine brands, but when I checked the AAA button, I got back only 20 hotels from eight brands. Then I clicked the Senior Discount button, and got back only 18 hotels from seven brands. The Government and Military button brought back 14 hotels from seven brands.

Finally, Be Ready to Show ID
Until a few years ago, most hotels used an honor system for such bookings; you rarely had to give your member number over the phone or at the time of check-in. Lately, however, I have been asked on a couple of occasions to do both. This is due in part to the fact that many hotels are already offering sharply discounted rates, and are more stringent about confirming that travelers truly qualify for the membership discounts. Hotel and booking engine Web sites have even recently started to include warnings to this effect; the Hilton site explicitly reads "ID required at check-in."

Go Anyway,
Ed Hewitt
Features Editor


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