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Need a Hotel Deal? Try a Consolidator
August 9, 1994 -- Can you afford to spend $215 a night for a room at one of America's best hotels? Even if you can, wouldn't you rather pay just $130 for that same room?
Any enlightened traveler would opt for the savings of almost 40 percent and that's why a growing number of people make their reservations through the discount services called "hotel consolidators."
If the results of a recent test are any indication, using a hotel consolidator is a generally low-risk and cost-effective approach to booking a hotel room. But like all travel discount programs, working with a consolidator requires you to make some concessions and reconsider the way you purchase your lodgings.
How consolidators work On the average night in America, statistics indicate that about four out of every ten hotel rooms are empty. Since an unoccupied room generates absolutely no revenue, a hotel manager is often glad to takes reservations at heavily discounted prices rather than let his rooms stay empty.
As the name implies, a consolidator acts as a centralized clearing house for many of those unsold hotel rooms.
"We help hotels fill their empty rooms by buying in bulk," explains Wendy Galfund, director of marketing for Quikbook, a major hotel consolidator. "Since we buy thousands of room nights, we get huge discounts from hotels, then offer rooms to travelers at attractive prices."
What consolidators offer Since consolidators essentially deal in surplus inventory, however, they cannot be considered all-encompassing reservation services. You should not call a consolidator expecting to book any hotel you want in any city you wish.
In fact, only two consolidators offer anything like a nationwide network of discounts. Quikbook (800-789-9887) represents about 200 properties in 24 U.S. cities. The Hotel Reservations Network (800-964-6835), considered the largest consolidator, says it works with 400 hotels in 23 American cities, London and Paris.
Most other consolidators offer discounts only in one city: there's San Francisco Reservations (800-677-1550); Hot Rooms (800-468-3500) in Chicago; Capitol Reservations (800-847-4832) in and around Washington, D.C.; and Meegan Hotel Reservations Services (800-332-3026) in Boston. Express Reservations (800-356-1123) offers discounts on hotel rooms in New York and Los Angeles.
Also worth noting: Consolidators until recently concentrated on city hotels and catered primarily to business travelers. "We're just now beginning to go after vacationers," says Bob Diener, president of Hotel Reservations Network. "We've added Disneyland, Disney World and Hawaii in the last 10 months."
How much you can save To test the savings power of consolidators, I made reservations at two exclusive hotels in San Francisco: the chic and elegant Pan Pacific (415-771-8600) near Union Square and the famous Mark Hopkins Inter-Continental (415-392-3434) on Nob Hill . As shown in the accompanying chart, I contacted three consolidators and compared their price quotes to the hotels' published rates, the prices offered by the hotels' own reservations desks and the rates quoted by the central reservation services operated by the Pan Pacific (800-327-8585) and Inter-Continental (800-327-0200) hotel chains.
Generally speaking, the consolidators performed well. Quikbook offered the lowest prices at both hotels and San Francisco Reservations was a close second. Hotel Reservations Network couldn't book the Pan Pacific. "We don't work with that hotel, but we get requests for it all the time," said the HRN agent. HRN's lowest rate at the Inter-Continental was non-refundable, a restriction not imposed by any other source.
What the chart does not reflect is one crucial factor: All three consolidators quoted their lowest prices immediately. No amount of pleading or cajoling yielded any further discounts.
Not so the hotels' reservations desks or their chains' reservation services. Even though we specifically asked for the lowest rate at the beginning of the call, both hotels and both reservations services initially quoted substantially higher rates, usually for upgraded rooms or special packages. They offered the rates listed on the chart only after we pointedly suggested they search for a lower price or after we called a second time and spoke to another agent.
A word of caution Hotel consolidators have different policies concerning payments and cancellations. Some require payment be made to them in advance. Others require cancellations be arranged through them. Quikbook, however, operates like a reservation service: Payments and cancellations are handled directly by the hotel. Make sure you ask about these policies, and are comfortable with them, before doing business with any consolidator.
FINDING THE BEST HOTEL DISCOUNT
MARK HOPKINS INTER-CONTINENTAL
Hotel Rate Card: $200 a night
Hotel Reservation Desk: $159 a night
Chainwide Rez Number: $139 a night*
Quikbook: $125 a night
San Francisco Reservations: $129 a night
Hotel Reservations Network: $129 a night**
PAN PACIFIC SAN FRANCISCO
Hotel Rate Card: $215 a night
Hotel Reservation Desk: $139 a night
Chainwide Reservation Number: $215 a night
Quikbook: $130 a night
San Francisco Reservations: $139 a night
Hotel Reservations Network: not available
Prices reflect rates quoted on August 8 for a reservation for two people staying two nights (August 29 and 30). *includes a $25 food and beverage credit or free parking. **$129 rate is nonrefundable
This column originally appeared in Travel Holiday magazine.
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