Instead of honoring a “best rate” guarantee, they sent him a gift card

Steve Rabin’s name might be familiar to some of you, especially if you’re active in the comments. He’s a faithful reader of this site who turned to me for help a few weeks ago after he booked a room at the Best Western in Pasadena.

I have to admit, when someone emails me with a problem, I act as quickly as possible. But when I recognize that person’s name as a regular reader, I drop everything — particularly if the complain has some merit.

This one did.

Rabin had booked a room for July 16 through 21 through the Best Western site. It quoted him a rate of $89 for the first four nights and $99 for the next night. He booked it.

“I decided to check just to see if the rates were different, and lo and behold, Kayak quoted a rate of $79 a night for all 5 nights for the same room and number of people,” he says. “Not being a trusting sort — and having read your columns long enough to know! — I saved a screen shot of the bookable rate from Kayak.

Rabin reviewed Best Western’s rate guarantee (PDF). By the way, I’m not entirely sure why Best Western publishes the terms of its offer as a PDF file, which some users can’t easily access, but that’s another story.

Best Western asked him to fill out a form with the pertinent information. After doing so, he expected it to honor the Kayak rate, plus send him a $100 gift voucher.

It did not.

He explains:

About 10 hours later I received an e-mail from Best Western’s customer care stating that they got a pop-up saying the room rate wasn’t available.

In their terms and conditions, they state the agent must be able to see the rate on a public viewable and bookable site (which Kayak certainly is).

I tried offering the screen shot, but they were uninterested.

I understand this, but what about the time lag? It’s entirely possible the rooms sold out and the rate unavailable in the 10 hour time frame, which is of no fault of mine.

To me, it seems that this “guarantee” is fraudulent, since all Best Western has to do is wait until the rate is no longer available, then inform the customer they couldn’t find the rate. What do you think?

I share Rabin’s concern. Given the dynamic nature of room inventory within the computer reservations systems, it’s possible to run down the clock on most “best rate” guarantee claims. That’s not fair.

I checked with Best Western, and it investigated Rabin’s claim. Here’s what it told me:

The terms and conditions state that the lower rate has to be available when Best Western checks it on the alternate website where the lower rate was found. In this instance, the lower rate was not available on in the morning following his claim.

The guest sent the claim after 9 p.m. and customer service closes at 8 p.m. so they were closed at the time of submission. The department re-opens at 6 a.m. and got back to him quickly thereafter they opened as they were not able to locate a lower rate on the site provided by the customer that morning (despite the screen shot) and hence the decision.

Best Western is not looking for ways to not honor these claims but rather following the terms and conditions of the program. We’ve been actively promoting the Lowest Rate Guarantee program as we want consumers to find the best rate available when they stay with Best Western.

Although Best Western wouldn’t honor Rabin’s claim, it sent him a $100 travel card, which he can use toward a future stay. Rabin accepted the card. But did Best Western do enough for him?

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • sirwired

    Chris, maybe you should send out a request to your readers to find out if any of them have actually successfully claimed on a best rate/fare/price guarantee from a travel company. Given how restrictive the Terms and Conditions are, I’d be shocked if this were the case.

  • sdir

    Just curious, but what was the cancellation policy for the rooms he booked? Aside from a cancellation fee, what incentive do customers have to avoid canceling with Best Western and then rebooking through an alternate site? Best Western would then lose not only the difference in room cost, but they’d shell out a fee to the alternate site as well.

  • john4868

    Sounds to me like one of those guarantees that you can never claim on. Too bad they took $70 out of his pocket.

  • BillCCC

    I only voted yes because what Best Western stated is true and they did fulfill the terms of the best rate guarantee. On the other hand, it is obviously written in a manner that makes it almost impossible to make a claim. If they truly want to promote this offer they should find a way to check the rate as soon as a claim is made and not the next day.

  • William_Leeper

    I would agree that it should be easier to get these guarantees. I personally do my shopping around before booking, then I don’t look back. I can understand the screenshot not being acceptable though because most screens do not have a date on them, only a time, and while I’m certain that this person would not do it, there are people out there who would take a screen shot save it and present it at a later date, so I can understand the hotel’s point of view as well. Seems to me that it would have been easy enough to call Kayak and verify the rate had been offered.

  • Jeff Shelby

    I’d be really curious to see this, as well. The BW rep’s statement that they are “not looking for ways to honor these claims” feels so phony to me – I think that’s exactly what most travel companies do. I hate to be that skeptical, but I can’t recall hearing a single story from anyone where the claim was successfully made.

  • cjr001

    Another adage for today’s business world: “Even when the customer is right, the customer is wrong.”

  • SoBeSparky

    This is not a guarantee. This is a “low rate check” or something similar. To say guarantee is to give “a promise or assurance, especially one in writing, that something is of specified quality, content, benefit, etc., or that it will perform satisfactorily for a given length of time…”

    Shame on Best Western for such an obvious deceptive practice. Rates change constantly 24 hours a day, and sometimes at the convenience of the originator (e.g. Best Western). Hence, price manipulation is simple to avoid any price check.

    I can guarantee the time is always 12 noon if I look once a day, my choice as the guarantee originator, not that of the challenger.

  • emanon256

    Given the “Dynamic Nature,” whats to stop Best Western from no longer offering that rate just before they look so they simply can say its not offered when they looked? That seams really fishy, and it seems like they can back out 100% of the time by saying it wasn’t offered when they looked.

  • Charles B

    A little tangent… “By the way, I’m not entirely sure why Best Western publishes the terms of its offer as a PDF file, which some users can’t easily access, but that’s another story.”

    PDF files are only slightly harder to read than a webpage. PDF readers are available for free for all computing platforms, using the original Adobe Reader or any number of as-good or even better readers.

    More important to the publisher: PDF documents are harder to manipulate after they are created. I suspect someone’s lawyers told them they needed to publish their legal terms in a format that could not be altered after publication. Printing to paper would solve this problem, but PDF is commonly used as an electronic alternative. HTML web pages can be edited by the end user quite trivially. PDF is at the least compressed, and can be encrypted, password-locked, or subject to other DRM measures to prevent changes.

  • adventurebaby

    One of the things that bugs me about a lot of these OP’s complaints is that they book first and then go looking for a lower rate. Use some common sense and look for lowest rates first before booking. Why can’t people use their heads? And if you’re watching every day for weeks after you book to try to find lower rates, you’re trying to game the system and get what you deserve.

  • Fishplate

    Just as the .pdf eliminate the manipulation of an .html file, the clerk at BW’s checking of the rate prevents being defrauded by a manipulated screenshot.

    In no way do I mean to imply that Mr. Rabin has done so; only that, when you view it from BW’s perspective, it is readily possible to do so.

    Why not check Kayak /before/ you book, instead of after? The time difference isn’t clear…

  • ClareClare

    Next time someone posts a comment on one of Chris’s stories, saying, “it’s the OP’s fault, he should have documented his case better than he did, he should’ve provided a screen-shot, etc.,” let’s all remember THIS case, shall we?

  • Christopher Elliott

    Most consumers barely know how to open a PDF, let alone manipulate a screenshot in Photoshop. I mean, anything can be forged, but I can’t imagine a fraudster going through the trouble to fix a screenshot to save a few bucks.

  • IGoEverywhere

    You are so correct. I want the lowest price, but I don’t want to spend more than 5 minutes looking. If Rabin was satisfied with the price, he booked it, (by the way, why not cancel the original reservation and re-book on Kayak?), why did he continue looking?

  • Kairho is NOT a BOOKABLE site (it is a meta search site). Nothing guarantees that those rates will actually be found on the target, booking site(s).

    Nonetheless they sent him $100 which is $40 MORE than the rate difference. He’ll have a bit more tax to pay but he’s still ahead. Looks to me like BW exceeded their obligation.

  • IGoEverywhere

    Best Western is absolutely correct! Until a reservation is confirmed, with a confirmation number, it is not real. Kayak indicated that it might be available. Southwest airlines, Cheap, Galileo GDS, etc are all notorious for telling you that this might be available, lets book and see. I am not familiar with Kayak, but I can tell you that there is a 10%+ chance of a rejection until I have a confirmation number in my hand. Shoppers need to shop until they drop, or once they are satisfied confirm. My LED TV just went down 400.00 in 2 months, Costco, please refund my money.

  • technomage1

    The guarantee states they’ll match the price and give the customer a $100 gift voucher. Yes, what he got was better than nothing, but not what one could reasonably expect from the guarantee.

    I have had a similar experience with Kayak showing me a rate, taking me to the booking site, then showing me a higher rate, so I see where you’re coming from.

    Of course, the real issue here is how could a customer actually collect on the guarantee? If a screenshot doesn’t suffice, what does? Due to the constant changes on hotel rates, it seems Best Western has an easy way out of actually having to pay anything to anybody.

  • mark

    I have been able to use the best price guarantee with Marriott. However most of these say if you can find and book a lower rate they will match it and then give you another 10% off. When booking i saw the Marriott rate and the Expedia rate. Both allowed cancellations with no penalty and the price was the same but Expedia was offering buy 3 days get the 4th day free. So first i booked on the Marriott site then i booked on Expedia sent the booking into to Marriott they then matched it and gave me the extra 10%. I then cancelled the Expedia reservation. I don’t know if the kayak deal Steve found was refundable but if it was and the best western was then if he had booked it he would have been able to get the guarantee honored.

  • TonyA_says

    But pdf files are a lot easier to save so you can keep a copy.

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Not sure this is all that Conspiracy Theory. If BW offered the rate, they must want people to take advantage of it. I doubt they’re going to upend a marketing plan and forgo all the revenue in order to not pay out to a single customer…

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Hmmm. Not sure about this one. Sounds like the OP did all the right things. On the other hand, I can’t expect customer service to be open 24 hrs a day. Sounds like they did check in good faith as soon as they could. When the OP got the email, I’m sure he went and checked as well. Because of the unfortunate timing, I’d be satisfied with the $100 gift card if I were in his shoes…

  • Trudi

    I think the $100 is an acknowledgement that Best Western indeed sees the delimma, and wants to do something, but their lawyers wrote an ‘out’ for them to use and they’re using it. It’s creepy, but most Best Westerns are privately owned and not part of a huge corporation. They rarely have deep pockets, and probably have to jump through hoops to get the Best Western organization to reimburse them for such advertisements. Personally, I’d be happy with the $100.

  • emanon256

    Well they would just make that rate available again after they checked it ;) Okay, I do sound conspiracy therorirsh today.

    Edit: BTW, not on much lately, we just had the baby.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    My first thought reading the PDF segment was that Chris might have confused Adobe Acrobat Reader (a very common PDF viewer) with Adobe Flash, whose content won’t display on iPhones and iPads. PDFs are everywhere and have been everywhere for years. Not sure who the users are he thinks can’t easily access them.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Agreed. That’s a pretty good deal, all told.

    I’m always skeptical of best price guarantees because there are always so many strings attached. Years back I ran into one for appliances where the terms demanded it be the EXACT same unit. Seemed reasonable until I found out the store had exclusive models made by the manufacturer which despite being basically identical to other models, weren’t sold elsewhere. Thus, you could never make a claim some other store had that same model for a better price.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    My mother turns 82 in a couple of months. She can open PDFs, while she can’t figure out other file extensions. Agree with you on not knowing who are these users who can’t easily access a PDF.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    You mean, like a Whirlpool marked as a Kenmore at Sears? Wasn’t there an article on that re-labeling just this week? :)

  • Joe_D_Messina

    PDFs are great for people who aren’t super comfortable online because you don’t accidentally navigate away from them like you can on a web page when you hit the back button too many times or accidentally click an ad or a link.

    They have lots of advantages for longer articles, policies with lots of fine print, or anything where precise layout is important. You can easily save them, they print well, they’re easier to zoom into and expand text than Web pages (which is great for older people or anybody else having vision issues), and they display consistently no matter what platform you are on.

  • Christopher Elliott

    PDFs, in my experience, are used to make documents more difficult to find, view and save online.

    As a general rule, companies that use PDFs to render their contracts or EULAs are trying to make these documents harder to view. I mean, even if you know to right-click on the .PDF file, how many times have you said, “Ehhh, I don’t wanna download something. I’ll just skip it.”
    Sorry, I don’t buy the argument that the legal department made someone do it, or that it’s harder to manipulate the doc. Both may be true, but that’s just not a good enough reason.
    The best reason is that a company doesn’t want people reading the fine print and possible walking away from the transaction. At least, that’s my take on it.
    Go ahead, tell me I’m wrong. I’m having that kind of week.

  • lorcha

    I have an aversion to PDFs online, but for Terms and Conditions, I feel like they should be presented to the user in HTML form, but downloadable as a PDF in case he or she wants to save it for future reference.

  • Erin Contour

    The best rate guarantees are IMHO completely bogus and I actually get mad seeing them. I do not trust the hotels that offer them have anything on their minds other than making folks that don’t know better feel comfortable just seeing that guarantee. I’ve spent time looking in to them after booking a room and talking to people on the phone, it is next to impossible to make the ‘stars align’ in a way that satisfies the written terms of these guarantees due to the dynamic nature of online booking. I voted yes above because according to the rules, Best Western didn’t owe him anything. The ‘rules’ aren’t designed to allow you to actually use the guarantee.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    Dear Travel Service Providers: Just honor your damn promotions; stop the foolishness and treat your customers fairly. If you don’t want to follow through on your promises, stop creating promotions. What’s the point of a corporate marketing program if the participants don’t use it to keep their customers happy?

  • Frank Windows

    Sounds to me like the guarantee is worthless. Under the terms they emailed Chris, they could make a better rate “disappear” by simply waiting a few days. Rabin produced proof, BW should stand by its guarantee. $100 is nice, but it’s not what they guaranteed — they promised him the better room rate AND $100.

    Maybe a call to the Attorney General is in order. This may not (technically) be false advertising, but it’d be interesting to know how often they get out of their “guarantee” by delaying. Perhaps if BW knows the AG is sniffing around, they’ll consider not making a guarantee that’s so easy to weasel out of.

  • jm71

    Well, I wouldn’t consider it “gaming the system”, because that is pretty much what those offering the guarantees want — for you to book/buy while they have your attention. They don’t want you to go away, comparison shop, find the prices the same, and book at the “other” site because you’re there (or worse this case, find alternative hotels on those sites and choose one of them instead)

    That’s why they offer a bonus beyond just matching the rate. No different than some retailers offering to beat a competitor’s price by 10% if you bring the ad in within 30 days — you’re in the store now, they want you to buy now instead of comparison shopping first and buying it somewhere else later.

    In the BW case, individual hotels really are supposed to offer their best rate on the official site, and I believe the hotel itself is “fined” to cover the best rate guarantee when they don’t. And unlike a commodity retailer, they really do control what rates are offered elsewhere, so it can’t be abusing the system to seek out and take them up on the offer.

    Having said that, as others have said Kayak was likely showing a cached price that couldn’t actually be booked anymore even then — this happens often with the 3rd party sites and airline tickets, where when you go to get further flight details the fare has changed.

  • Charles B

    I’ve seen plenty of students try to claim the system lost their homework assignments by producing a faked screenshot of the submitted assignment. This is not hard for me to imagine at all.

  • john4868

    Just look at the big boxes that make the same claim … TGT, Walmart & Bestbuy all have unique models

  • Jessica Smith

    Kayak is now a bookable site. BUT, the listing they give you in the search, shows all the lowest rates available, that may not be the rate for the room you need. They also present you with a number of sites with which to go book the room, so you have to choose the one you want to book through and then go through the booking process to find the rate for the actual room you want… isn’t quite as simple as Kayak is offering a price of XX….. I don’t think Best Western was trying to get away with anything, they probably could not identify the price the user believes he found for the exact room he had booked with BW already…. I think they did right sending him the gift card even though there was not a legitimate claim per their policy…

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Worse than that because at least Kenmore is a truly distinct brand. This is like Whirlpool Model 101BB being Best Buy’s unique model, though it’s indistinguishable from Model 101W which is Walmart’s.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Sorry, Chris, but I think you are dead wrong on this. Plenty of websites display content normally plus have an option to view pages as a PDF. They’re not doing that to confuse people–it’s an added benefit because PDFs have some distinct advantages. Among those are they’re easier to save, print, and read than normal Web pages. And when they are set up to do so, PDFs have far greater security in terms of keeping content from being altered than a Web page can offer. (Which is why anything approaching the level of being a legal document will be a PDF.)

    E-Books are essentially PDFs. That’s not the case because publishers want to make things tough on you. It’s because they want to provide the most readable content in a manner that is identical across all computer platforms, which can be tricky to achieve via Web browsers.

    And when it comes to saving, it’s not even a contest. It’s a total pain in the rear to “save” a webpage. So much so that many people have no idea how to do it. In contrast, every PDF reader has a nice big “save” icon at the top.

  • Len Oxman

    maybe there was no room available because they were still holding his res. if he had canceled, perhaps the room would have been available.

  • Kevin Mathews

    You’re showing your age with that comment. You’ve got to rememeber that in today’s age, most people under the age of 30 who are tech savy enough to book something online, are also tech savy enough to manipulate a screenshot…
    Also, Adobe is a pretty common program to have so opening a PDF document is as simple as opening a webpage. I’d actually say Chris that the majority of people who are able to book something online, instead of picking up the phone, would easily be able to open a PDF file…

  • Christopher Elliott

    Maybe I should change the name of my column to “Ask Grandpa Elliott.” ;-)

  • Michelle C

    I have found most guarantee price offers are FOS. The terms are usually loaded with ifs and buts that make the “offer” worthless. Should they honor it?..Yes. Does it surprise me that they make one excuse after another…No. From a consumer I say Best Western should have honored it, but as a small business owner I say get rid of all these “guarantees” and offer the price you can afford to sale the room at and set clear terms about cancellations. Personally I think companies spend way to much time and effort playing games with the consumers. It does not build loyalty to the brand, and waste money. Also, without the company being able to recreate the lower price booking on the competing website it is too easy for consumers to submit fraudulent claims. Screenshots can be photoshopped. Website scripts can be easily changed to display lower, but fake prices. No I don’t think that is what this guy is doing, but how do you know. Theft is a billion dollar business.

    Did he book a non-refundable room? Could he have cancelled and booked with Kayak?

    99% of the time I book a Name Your Own Price hotel, but on the rare times I do need to book conventionally I look at several 3rd party websites, and through the actual Hotel’s website before booking.

  • Edward Boston

    What is to stop BW from just saying they couldn’t find it without even looking? How do you prove that? With that little clause in their requirements, they will never have to honor it.

    Kind of reminds me of ads that state that if they can’t beat a competitor’s price, you will get the item for free. You know they will always meet the competitor’s price because if they gave it to you for free, they would lose more money. Worthless guarantee.

  • LadyLightTravel

    PDFs are so universal that the IRS considers them an acceptable format for 501(c)-3 documentation. Slap it up on the web in a PDF format and you’re good to go for almost any notification.

  • y_p_w

    PDFs are very convenient and are self contained. If you save an HTML
    page, there might be a reference to an image that may be changed in the
    future. I’ve tried saving pages as HTML files, and when I look them up
    in the future there have been broken images that are supposed to be part
    of the web page.

    When I do online purchases or reservations, I
    typically save them as a “print to PDF” which is native in Mac OSX.
    That way I have a compact file that will consistently look the same even
    if the original images are no longer on the server.

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Or maybe just stick with Skype… ;-P

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Well. If the guarantee was honored we wouldn’t be reading about this either.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Ok. why would someone dislike Joe_D’s post?

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    But from BWs perspective they checked the claim one hour after receiving it. Hardly a long time lag.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Sorry Chris. That’s just wrong. For example, many of the court websites use PDFs and they are designed to be easily accessible to attorneys. PDFs work on numerous platforms including the iPad that I’m typing this on.

  • JenniferFinger

    If online sites are supposed to make booking available 24/7, Best Western’s excuse doesn’t fly-regardless of what time Rabin made the booking, his screen shot should indicate that he made a valid booking and found a lower rate, and if Best Western was willing to advertise that they would stand by a lower rate, then that’s what they should have done. The rate they offered was not the lowest one.

    If Best Western or any other business isn’t going to honor a “best rate guarantee,” it shouldn’t market it-that’s just plain cynical bad faith.

    That said, I have to agree with those who think that finding the lower rate on another site and booking it through there rather than booking first on the hotel site and then going searching for a lower rate does seem cynical also-and it also allows for more glitches like this one.

    I think accepting the $100 gift card is probably the best course of action Rabin could take-if Best Western digs in its heels on this, I don’t know that he’ll get the lower rate until after winning a long drawn-out fight, which would cost more than the savings he would have gotten from the lower rate.

  • Christopher Elliott

    I can’t believe everyone is getting stuck on my comment about PDFs. So let me see if I can put this into perspective. First, whether or not the guarantee is published as a PDF is not really relevant to the question, which is: Did Best Western offer this customer enough. (Most of you said “no” which was the correct answer.)

    A final note on PDFs. When I publish one on this site, I will get an occasional comment or email from a reader that says, “Why did you publish a PDF”? I mean, why not just put it up as an HTML file?

    Usually, it’s because it’s a legal document or a photocopy that can’t just be cut and pasted into the doc.

    But as an end-user and writer dealing with hundreds of documents a day, I can say that PDFs are a roadblock. They can and often are encrypted, so you can’t copy them. They require an additional step to download or view them.

    So those of you who say I’m “wrong” about PDFs, I just have to respectfully disagree. When I see a PDF, I’m given the impression a company doesn’t want you to read the document.

  • Chris Hardenberger

    It seems as if Best Western’s low rate guarantee is only available during business hours. As you note, room inventory is extremely fluid and excellent rates often sell out quickly. If Best Western is serious about offering its guests the lowest possible rate, then a screen shot with the date of the search visible should be sufficient. While I understand that things like screen shots can be manipulated, I still have faith in most of humankind and believe that most people would not do this. Best Western needs to change its policy if it is truly customer-oriented.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Or mine. Thought this one was pretty innocuous. I’ve been seeing a lot more “dislikes” on particular individuals, regardless of comment or subject, so my guess is that we (Joe, myself and a couple of others) have just rubbed someone the wrong way.

  • cjr001

    Sorry, but PDFs are a universal file these days. Just about every site I can view a bill online will include the ability to view it as a PDF; some do this by default, rather than displaying it in just HTML.

    And web browsers are good enough these days that when presented with content it can’t display, it will direct you to find the appropriate plugin, whether it’s for PDFs, Flash, etc.

    There is no more of an extra step to save them than there would be in trying to save an HTML. Browser plugins will often make it even *easier* to save a PDF by providing a button (as part of a menu) right there on the screen with the PDF document itself.

    So, for documentation, PDF > HTML.

  • cjr001

    “I can’t believe everyone is getting stuck on my comment about PDFs.”

    Because we like to beat tangents to death, too? :)

  • Christina Conte

    This is happening to me too, I guess I’m in good company! Doesn’t matter what I post, immediately I get a “dislike.”