Hotels call it “revenue management” and we frequent guests call it the “room rate”. I started this article in response to a New York Times Practical Traveler article “Hotels: Fewer Deals but Low Rates” published this week. My initial reaction was to think 2010 actually has better hotel loyalty program promotion deals than last year. I realized Susan Stellin’s piece barely addressed loyalty programs until the last paragraph. And then only to give a general pitch for signing up to the hotel’s loyalty program for potential benefits.
Her focus was finding rate deals. Opaque sites and HotelChatter.com.
If Twitter is your idea of the best way to plan a hotel stay, then perhaps you need a better self-directed strategy for checking hotel rates and finding deals on your own. Sure there are good deals on Twitter. I found free rooms several times at the Westin Bonaventure during their Twitter campaign this past year, but using loyalty programs affords some of the best summer deals you can get in years.
My focus is actually finding the low rates on my own while planning to earn a high value loyalty program rebate with every hotel stay. For this article I use Starwood and San Francisco, but these tactics work for any hotel loyalty program and destination.
There are free night credits with two, three, or four stays with a variety of hotel loyalty programs for stays from June through August.
Since I couldn’t leave a comment about considering the rebate value on hotel stays this summer using free night hotel loyalty program promotions on the NYT piece (I did not see a comment section on the page), I decided to follow up on the article’s idea of finding low rates.
I looked locally at Starwood Hotels
- to see how rates look for this Fourth of July holiday weekend.
- I also analyzed 2010 rates to 2009 rates to see how the hotel rates changed in the San Francisco Bay Area for this Fourth of July holiday weekend compared to last year’s weekend rates.
- I also show how big a savings AAA rates are for hotels with 20% rate discounts potentially buying back the cost of your auto club membership with one weekend. (I just renewed AAA for $130).
Practical Advice for finding low rates while using hotel loyalty programs
Here are ways I check hotel rates when planning to earn lots of free nights through promotions like Starwood’s Stay 3 and earn one free night. I also check rates when planning a multiple night trip to see if there are good discounts on two or three night stays.
The table belows shows room rates for 21 San Francisco Bay Area hotels in the Starwood Hotels loyalty program.
- 9 of 21 hotels in the sample offer a rate break for a two or three night stay (Friday July 2, Saturday July 3, and Sunday July 4).
- Two of the 9 hotels only discount on a three night stay.
- Special offer rates on the hotel’s individual website or Starwood’s three nights for the price of two special rate were not searched for this article. Those would be the next rates to check.
It seems reasonable for a hotel to discount when guests stay multiple nights.
However, 5 of the 21 hotels actually charge a higher rate for a two or three night stay over the holiday weekend compared to the single night rate. Sheraton Sonoma revealed the highest multi-night boost with the three night, Fri-Mon weekend stay, costing $537 + tax compared to the individual nightly rate of just $468 + tax. The extra $69 for staying three nights is a 15% mark-up over the single night rate.
[lower rates for multi-night stays are coded in green]
[higher rates for multi-night stays are coded in yellow]
Finding AAA Rates on Starwood Hotels websites
Starwood Hotels website is a pain because you can’t do a search of AAA rates as a group of hotels. Every hotel has to be checked individually. That is a lot of wasted time for the frequent guest. Unfortunately the time is worthwhile to check AAA rates due to potentially high discounts, sometimes 20%+ off the lowest published rate visible when conducting a general rate search on Starwood sites.
The AAA rates for Friday July 2, 2010 shows 15 of 21 San Francisco Bay Area Starwood Hotels have lower rates using AAA. Five hotels have a lower published rate than AAA.
21 San Francisco Bay Area Starwood Hotels
- 5 hotels AAA savings 15% to 20%
- 4 hotels AAA savings 11% to 14%
- 6 hotels AAA savings 2% to 6%
- 1 hotel has same published rate as AAA rate
- 5 hotels lower published rate available than AAA rate, but generally prepaid, nonrefundable
As a consumer you should decide if it is worth two or three hours of your time to conduct a rate analysis. A few hours can save several hundred dollars as you stumble upon the right mix of lower rate hotel dates, AAA rates, loyalty program options, and hotel special offers at hotels.
Testing the Low Rates Claim for July 4, 2010
The problem with knowing if hotel rates are going up or down is you have to follow them closely and collect data. Hotels pay data collection businesses for rate information and analysis on their hotel competition’s rates.
As a consumer you can create your own hotel rate analysis.
I made a spreadsheet for room rates at San Francisco Starwood Hotels last year when I was hotel hopping for free nights during the two stays for one night promotion from May to July 2009. Last year’s room rate data collected on June 6, 2009 reveals year-to-year changes for this summer’s Fourth of July weekend at this set of Starwood Hotels in San Francisco.
In general rates are substantially higher for July 4, 2010 weekend than one year ago in San Francisco. Although some hotels in San Francisco like The Palace, Westin Market Street, and St. Regis (AAA rate) are actually less than one year ago.
[lower rates for AAA rate compared to lowest published rate are coded in green]
[higher rates for AAA rate compared to lowest published rate are coded in yellow]
For this same time period in 2010 as when I checked rates about four weeks before Fourth of July holiday in 2009, hotels in San Francisco city appear to be pushing the rate envelope. I’ll try and remember to check back in next week and see if the Starwood Hotels envelope is a little too stuffed for San Francisco tourism economy this summer. That will be indicated by a room rate price drop next week.
A price increase could mean leisure travel is hopping again or hoteliers are ecstatically optimistic.
20,000 teachers in California are out of a job this month as the school year ends. I hope the tourists are coming from other places.