To resolve my skepticism I spoke to Marianne Nash, who has a Master’s in Tourism and Hospitality Management and is currently Housekeeping Manager at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort. Here’s her insider advice on saving on your next hotel room.
I asked Marianne about finding special offers on social media. She said it’s a good place to learn about deals, even if they aren’t exclusive to the hotel’s Facebook or Twitter followers.
In the case of “flash sales,” like the Hilton 72-Hour Sale, you’d be sure to miss out if you weren’t following the brand on social media. Hotels are motivated to share special offers like this because “it builds hype and gets the information out to people.” The more their followers share promotional posts, the more potential customers the hotel can reach.
However, Marianne wasn’t sure how much a traveler can gain from initiating social media contact (tweeting at) with a hotel. She listed factors I hadn’t considered, “such as hotel size, occupancy, and group business,” that influence how likely a hotel would be to offer a free upgrade on any given day.
Marianne suggested that this kind of strategy might be more effective with a smaller hotel. Of course, you can make yourself eligible for free upgrades without any extra effort by joining a hotel’s rewards program.
Hotels and booking sites compete for your business
I used to assume that being featured on Expedia, TripAdvisor, and other travel planning sites was good for hotels. After all, the more exposure you get to potential customers, the better your business will be, right?
Maybe that was true in the early days of travel booking sites, but these days competition is fierce. Travel sites not only compete against each other to win your business with the lowest price, they also compete with hotels that want to cut out the middleman and book their own customers.
It makes sense—a third party booking site takes a cut of the sale, whereas a hotel could offer the same low price on their website and keep all of the profit.
How will understanding this behind-the-scenes fight for business help you save money on your next hotel room?
Simple—give the hotel a chance to beat the rate that Expedia or Kayak or any other site of your choice displays. Hotels may even be grateful to you for alerting them to the cheaper pricing. After all, many of them promise travelers that they can always find the lowest price on the hotel’s website.
Marianne noted that hotels don’t compete as much for the business of individual travelers as for group business because the higher volume yields a higher profit. Ultimately, “there is always leeway as far as pricing because hotels adjust their pricing strategies multiple times per day to remain competitive in the market.”
In other words, it never hurts to try!
Will asking for a free room upgrade actually get you one?
As with price-matching, Marianne said, “You never know until you ask,” but each hotel chain has its own approach to honoring such requests.
She added that hotels “typically reserve upgrades for their elite members to thank them for their loyalty.”
This is another reason to enroll for free in the hotel’s loyalty program before you try for an upgrade. Even if you haven’t earned elite status yet, you’ll increase your chances of getting your way if you can demonstrate your faithfulness to the hotel.
Why occupancy and group business are so important
According to Marianne, these are the two biggest factors in hotels’ decision-making process on rates and free upgrades.
Hotels with a lot of group business (weddings, tour groups, conferences, and other business travel) usually promise their lowest rates to these bulk reservations. Again, it makes sense—they have to compete against other hotels for these lucrative customers. So once a group rate is set, the hotel cannot offer a lower price to individuals.
Occupancy also influences a hotel’s flexibility with pricing. A hotel with a lot of empty rooms may be more willing to lower their rate or let you stay in a better room because it won’t hurt them and may turn you into a repeat customer.
However, Marianne told me that “a smaller hotel has more leeway when it comes to offering discounts and upgrades.” So don’t overlook independent hotels when you’re looking for a place to stay. Without a corporate owner to set policies and rates, the manager of an independently owned hotel is more likely to give you a good deal.
At the end of our conversation Marianne offered one final tip from her own experience: get a job in the hotel industry or find a friend or family member who works in hospitality.
“Most companies offer excellent benefits… from complimentary room nights to discounted rates as low as $35 per night as well as 50 percent off food and beverage. There are limits to the number of nights but it’s the best option for low rates.”
When it comes to online comparison shopping for hotel rates, travelers become obsessed with finding the best deal, which forces hotels to compete with booking sites for reservations.
To avoid giving off the “Groupon effect,” in which customers only come once for the discount and never come again, demonstrate your loyalty with membership to the hotel’s rewards program and mention how much you enjoy staying there.
Besides loyalty, empathy can go a long way in helping you get want you want. Understanding the factors that influence hotel pricing will help you make a convincing case for a lower price or free upgrade.
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