How to get the best hotel rate

Written By komlim puldel on Jumat, 03 April 2015 | 20.01

Get the best deal ... there are ways to get a cheaper hotel rate if you talk your way through it. Source: News Limited

IF you ring a hotel, what are the chances of getting a better price than Wotif? High — and rising.

With online travel agents' commissions on the way up, accommodation providers are offering to split with guests what they would otherwise pay to the likes of Booking.com or Expedia.

You may well ask why — in this time-poor, digital age — must we go to the trouble of phoning? Can't the hotels just offer a lower, commission-free rate on their own websites?

Unfortunately they cannot. Most have been contractually prohibited from promoting prices cheaper than what can be found on agent websites.

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But this "parity clause" does not apply to private discussions.

"If someone was to book over the phone then the online travel agents wouldn't be able to chase the parity issue," said Best Western Australasia's General Manager of Sales and Marketing Steve Richards.

Australian Hotels Association spokesman Bradley Woods said: "Contacting hotels directly and asking for a competitive rate will generally allow consumers to save on the price of accommodation."

Phone versus computer ... phone wins. Picture: Thinkstock. Source: Supplied

When News Corp Australia asked Expedia if its advertised rates could be undercut with a phone call, it declined to answer the question. Instead, in a statement, spokeswoman Kelly Cull said "customers choose to book with Expedia for a number of reasons ... (including) the ability to book how and when they want via the web, mobile, tablet or phone, access to special rates by booking a hotel and flight together, the option to pay now or pay later for a hotel and earning points for their travel through our new loyalty program".

Ms Cull said: "We aim to give Australian travellers choice and make researching and booking travel as easy and relevant as possible, however, it's ultimately the traveller's choice of where they choose to book."

Another way accommodation providers get around parity clauses is by asking guests who have booked with online travel agents for their email address on departure.

They then write to the guest offering, say, free breakfast during their next stay — provided it is booked direct.

A third involves "qualified" offers, such as discounts for seniors card holders or loyalty club members.

These are exempt from the parity clause because they are not generally available.

Best Western's loyalty club membership had grown 225 per cent in the past year, Mr Richards added.

While the legality of a rate parity clause has been called into question in other countries such as Germany, it has yet to cause major concerns for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

The watchdog did seek industry views on whether it could be circumvented, as part of its scrutiny of Expedia's $700 million purchase of Wotif last year.

Ultimately the ACCC waved the deal through, saying there wouldn't be a "substantial" lessening of competition.

Hotels had warned the acquisition would lead to higher online commissions.

These concerns now appear well-founded, with several trade publications reporting multiple agents' commissions have been jacked up by a quarter to 15 per cent.

Follow John Rolfe on Twitter


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