I just got back from an amazing weekend at the Chicago Seminars with over 500 other like-minded frequent flyers and points enthusiasts from all levels. This year I was one of the speakers, and I truly had a blast in my session about best rate guarantees thanks to the great and interactive crowd. Many people asked if I could share my slides, but I promised to put together a comprehensive post on the blog for all to reference – even if you weren’t able to join us in person this weekend. Here it is!
What is a BRG and what does it get you?
A “BRG” is a travel provider’s guarantee that they will provide the lowest rate available for your hotel room on the internet to encourage direct bookings. If they fail to do so, they’ll offer some form of compensation, whether it simply be a rate match (boring), a % off the lower rate, a coupon or travel card for a future hotel purchase, points, or even a totally free night (!).
BRGs work as a two way street between you and the hotel. Some benefits to you include: the lowest price, the ability to earn stay credits/points/credit towards promos, no hidden fees or a middleman, status recognition and perks, the ability to set personal room preferences, and your booking usually comes with a better cancellation policy if plans should change.
The hotels also benefit because they don’t have to pay out a commission to the 3rd party booking site, and they hope to gain loyalty by training you to “look no further” in the future.
Overview of Policies
In my presentation, I focused on BRG policies of 10 major hotel chains, and they include: Kimpton, Marriott, Starwood, Hyatt, IHG, Hilton, Club Carlson, Best Western, Choice Hotels, and Wyndham. After going through each policy in detail, I “rated” the policies on a scale from 1 through 5 depending on how easy it was to go through the BRG process (1 being seamless, 5 being rather impossible). I also included some general tips.
- Kimpton: Will match to the lower rate + give you a $25 food & beverage credit for your stay. You can submit your BRG claim by calling 877-536-0508. After speaking with an agent, your price is adjusted within minutes, and it’s a rather quick and painless experience. I rate this program a 1 in terms of ease.
- Marriott: Will take 25% off the lowest rate if you submit your claim within 24 hours of booking. You can file a claim via their online form. I give this program a 2.5 because with any online claim form, rates could change before the claim is viewed, but for the most part, they are pretty generous in honoring claims. A general tip to minimize risk: always book a “refundable” room.
- Starwood: Will give you 2,000 bonus points or 10% off the lower rate if you find a lower rate within 24 hours of booking (or before booking). As a general rule of thumb, I always find that choosing the points over the 10% discount is a better deal because free nights start at just 3,000 points (2,000 points for category 1 weekend nights). I rate this program a 2 because there really is no risk since you don’t have to actually book the room before submitting a claim.
- Hyatt: Will give you 20% off the lower rate if you find a lower rate within 24 hours of booking (or before booking). The terms of their BRG policy has changed a bit for the worse a few months ago. It used to be that you could call up when a lower rate was found, and you would be matched to the lower rate on the spot. Now they require all claims to be submitted via an online form. I rate this program a 3 because there tends to be a lot of “YMMV” with what sites count as a qualified competing site. Take screen shots of your lower rate if you feel that it might help support your claim.
- IHG: Will give you the first night free (yes, one night stays count!) and the remaining nights of your stay will be matched to the lower rate if you find a lower rate within 24 hours of booking. This is one of the most generous policies out there, and I rate it a 2 because approvals are pretty easy. The only downfall is that they switched from accepting claims via phone and have joined the online-claim-form-club. With IHG’s policy, your claim must be submitted for stays outside of 24 hours, and you’re only allowed 1 free night every 7 days at the same hotel or any other hotel within 50 miles.
- Hilton: Will match & give you a $50 American Express card for US/Canada/P.R./Mexico hotels or $50 off your total bill for hotels located elsewhere. I personally have no experience with Hilton BRGs, but I decided to rate it a 3 since I am hearing that some people have had frustrating experiences getting approvals.
- Club Carlson: Will give you 25% off the lower rate if you find a lower rate within 24 hours of booking (for stays 48 hours or more away). You must submit your claim via filling out a form and sending via email. I personally think the email form is a PITA, but I rate this policy a 2 in terms of ease because I personally think the Club Carlson program is great and their points are valuable.
- Best Western: Will match the lower rate & award a $100 Best Western travel card if you find a lower rate within 24 hours of booking. You can submit your claim online via a form. I give Best Western’s policy a 1.5 because they have cheap stays to begin with, and they are generous with approvals. A quick tip to keep in mind: book the “Flexible Rate” to minimize risk. If claim is approved, $100 travel card will be emailed to you 2-3 weeks after you complete your stay. Oh, and the lower competing price must be greater than $1 difference.
- Choice Hotels: Will give you a free night (yes one-night stays count!) and the rest of your nights at the lower rate if you find a lower rate within 24 hours of booking. I give this program a 1.5 because they are pretty good about honoring claims and there are frequent BRG opportunities. However, for some travelers, Choice Hotels might not be their first “choice” because they are pretty low-key and basic.
- Wyndham: Will give you 10% off the lower rate if you find a lower rate within 1 business day of booking (at least 2 days before your arrival). I rate this program a 3.5 because time is money. 10% off of a cheap Wyndham property with “worthless” points and less desirable properties is just not worth it. Stick with the AAA rate and pray you won’t have to stay at a Wyndham property to begin with ;).
Third Party Booking Site BRG
Many 3rd party booking sites have their own BRG policies that are pretty generous. In my presentation, I focused on two of them. I personally do not submit BRG claims with either of these two, but they are very popular in the BRG “community”.
- Orbitz: If after booking a hotel, flight or car on Orbitz you find it for less on another site, send us the information and you’ll get Orbucks equal to 100% of the price difference, plus an additional $50 in Orbucks.
- Expedia: Find a cheaper flight, hotel, vacation package, rental car, or activity within 24 hours of booking, and they’ll refund the difference plus give you a travel coupon worth $50. (limit 3 claims per month).
Common BRG Restrictions
There are a lot of “rules” in place when it comes to BRG policies that could make it a little more challenging. Here are some restrictions found in the “fine print”:
- No bid sites (Priceline, Hotwire)
- Room types need to be EXACT (bed, number of occupants, smoking/non smoking, executive/standard etc).
- Rate types need to be EXACT (prepaid vs fully cancellable, etc)
- Rate must be available to the general public
- No rate disparities due to fluctuating currency
- Discounts (AAA, government rates, corporate rates) do not qualify
- No “membership sites” (example TravelPony)
- No 3rd party “coupons” (example $50 off of $150 bookings)
- Sometimes the difference has to be greater than a certain amount (example 1% or $1)
- Often *some* planning ahead is required. Most aren’t good for same-day arrivals (no spontaneous travel, boo).
How to find BRG opportunities
- Here are some of the places I go when I am on the prowl for a BRG opportunity:
- FlyerTalk (Hotel Deals forum)
- Kayak (even deeper discounts with mobile app)
- Pay attention to special regional promos (example: the Starwood NYC free-night BRG promo back in June 2012. It was so “popular” that the offer ended just after 8 days!)
Some of my experiences
- Hyatt Place Waikiki: During peak season in June, $294 per night at Hyatt.com, $149 pn on BookIt.com
- Surfcomber South Beach: 4th of July Weekend, $350 a night on Kimpton.com, $297 ai on Olotels.com. Matched + $25 food & beverage credit (even waived resort fee).
- Marriott South Beach: 4th of July, $405 on Marriott.com. End price after BRG=$125.38 (Bonus: was my final stay for the MegaBonus)
- Radisson Blu Cologne: $155 on ClubCarlson.com, $126.92 on OnHotels.com, $95 after BRG.
- Holiday Inn Miami Beach: Free night during a holiday weekend!
- What works for one chain might not work for others (example: Olotels, GetARoom)
- It’s all about the agent
- Think about it: is it worth your time?
- Perhaps AAA rate/corporate rate is less than a BRG rate all together
- Don’t exploit – it’s bad for you, bad for everyone. (IHG allegedly closed someones account after 25 BRG claims)
- Think about your boundaries/ethics
- Patience is a virtue
- Know when to BRG vs use points/free nights
If I had to pick my 3 favorite BRG policies…
Scenarios where it’s best to just book with points:
- Club Carlson Visa BOGO award night redemptions (best credit card and perk ever!)
- IHG PointBreaks (5,000 points, ~$35)
- 2,000 SPG points vs a $80 BRG rate?
- If a major devaluation announced
- If you have an overload of points
Scenarios where you should definitely BRG:
- If you need stay credits
- Promotions (Marriott MegaBonus, Targeted SPG/Hyatt Promos)
- If you have a specific hotel in mind
- If you have time to kill/check for better rates
Other great hotel resources:
- EHD Newsletter (extremehoteldeals.com)
- Trivago Hotel Test program (get paid to “test” hotels in Europe/UK)
- Follow the blogs for “mistake rates” (YMMV)
- Stay on top of new promotions (example TravelPony was offering $85 off a booking for new members)
- Loyalty Program perks (Kimpton’s Inner Circle free night benefits)
That pretty much sums up what I spoke about this weekend in Chicago! Again, I am so appreciative of the wonderful crowd that came out to listen. Lots of people contributed and we all had a chance to share our experiences and learn from one another. I hope this post serves as a helpful guide for all!