The Brancatelli File



January 1, 1995 -- Is it possible to cut your business-travel expenditures by 40 percent without accepting a commensurate reduction in comfort, quality and service? Maybe, if you make your hotel reservations through a discount room broker known as a "hotel consolidator."

On the average night in America, about four out of every ten hotel rooms are empty and generate no revenue. Naturally, a hotel manager is often glad to sell his excess inventory at heavily discounted prices rather than let the rooms remain empty. And as the name implies, hotel consolidators act as centralized clearing houses for many of those unsold rooms.

But since consolidators essentially deal in surplus inventory, business travelers must often be prepared to compromise. For example, only two consolidators--Quikbook (800-789-9887) and The Hotel Reservations Network (800-964-6835)--offer anything like a nationwide network of discounts. Most others offer discounts only in one city: there is Hot Rooms (800-468-3500) in Chicago; Capitol Reservations (800-847-4832) in and around Washington; Meegan Hotel Reservations Services (800-332-3026) in Boston; and San Francisco Reservations (800-677-1550) for rooms here in the Bay Area. Express Reservations (800-356-1123) offers discounts on hotel rooms in New York and Los Angeles.

But geographically challenged as they may be, consolidators will save you money. A case in point: rooms at Sheraton New York, a popular, recently renovated business hotel in midtown Manhattan.

A recent advertisement in The Wall Street Journal promised accommodations at the Sheraton New York for as low as $179 per night. The rate was "based on availability," however, and we weren't one of the lucky ones when we attempted to book for the nights of December 12 and 13. The lowest price offered by the Sheraton chain's national reservation service (800-325-3535) was $209 per night. When we called directly to the Sheraton New York's reservation desk (212-581-1000), the clerk couldn't find a nightly rate lower than $239!

We were much luckier when we called the Hotel Reservation Network. For the night of December 12, for instance, HRN offered a room at the Sheraton New York for $195; the rate dropped to $155 for the night of December 13. But we hit the savings jackpot with Quikbook: they confirmed rooms at the Sheraton New York on December 12 and 13 for just $135 a night!

Our experience with reservations for the Sheraton New York was not unique; more than a dozen tests this year confirm that consolidators, especially Quikbook, consistently offered the lowest prices for hotels in major business cities. But one word of caution: consolidators have different policies concerning payments and cancellations. Make sure you ask about these policies, and are comfortable with them, before doing business with any consolidator.

Companies continue to trim the perks for their business travelers, according to a new survey conducted by American Express. The number of travelers allowed to fly in business class on international flights has declined to 31 percent, down from 34 percent in 1992. ... The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco on Nob Hill (296-7465) has placed irons and ironing boards in all 336 guest rooms. ... Hertz and Avis are squabbling in federal court over the Avis "Return Valet" service. Avis says the service involves employees individually escorting renters to their airport terminal rather than busing them en masse from the car-return lot. Hertz claims "that service is largely a fiction" and is not permitted at most major airports.

This column originally appeared in San Francisco Focus magazine.

Copyright 1993-2008 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.