A “best” rate guarantee with the worst service

Best Western guarantees you’ll find the lowest rate on its website. Unless your name is Russ Thomas.

No, if you read the microscopic print on its price guarantee, you won’t find an exception for the Russ Thomases of the world. But you might as well, he says.

Thomas tried to invoke Best Western’s guarantee when he booked a room at one of its Las Vegas properties through its website recently. The guarantee seems like an attractive offer: If you find a better price on another website for the exact same reservation and notify it using its claim form the same day, Best Western will lower its price plus a $100 gift card.

He’d booked a room at the Best Western Mardi Gras for $62 a night. But later that day, Thomas noticed the identical room at the identical hotel for just $39 a night.

“I filled out Best Western’s claim form and they rejected it because they said they could not get the competitors website to work,” he says. “So I sent them links to five more competitors with the same price $30 less than I paid.”

Sound familiar? It should. Last week, I covered Kevin McDonald’s troubles with Delta Air Lines’ Best Fare Guarantee. In that case, Delta did the right thing after I helped McDonald find an executive contact at the airline, to whom he sent a polite appeal.

In this case, I reviewed the correspondence between Thomas and Best Western, and I thought his problems were serious enough to contact the hotel directly on his behalf.

The emails show his repeated efforts to get Best Western to acknowledge that its own rooms were being offered elsewhere online at almost half the price, and to honor its rate guarantee.

“Below are links to five different websites where I can book this hotel for $39 to $49, taxes included. Please verify these and let me know if you will be honoring the best rate guarantee,” writes Thomas.

“We have processed your Low Rate Guarantee Claim,” a representative writes. “The claim has been denied.”

Best Western listed the reason for rejecting his claim as a problem with the date.

“If I understand you correctly after me showing you five different booking engines that all show a rate almost half of the rate on your website you are now going to deny the best rate guarantee claim because one of the websites use the international date format of date/month/year rather than the US format month/date/year,” Thomas responds.

“According to our agent the claim was not yet denied,” says Best Western. “We just don’t have all the information we need to process your claim.”

Thomas then resubmits the information.

“Thank you for your email,” Best Western replies. “We have processed your Low Rate Guarantee Claim. The claim has been denied.”

If all of this reads like a bureaucratic nightmare, then that’s probably because it is. Even Franz Kafka couldn’t imagine a maddening exchange like this, and to make matters worse, the Best Western representatives sign their email with a cheerful tagline, “We are here to help.”

I sent the emails over to Best Western, and it promised to look into the matter. A few days later, Thomas contacted me.

“I just got a call from Best Western,” he said. “They said they discovered a couple of letters at then end of the website that created confusion and caused them to deny my Best Rate Guarantee, so they are honoring the guarantee by sending me the gift card.”

Thomas said he asked the Best Western representative about its “discovery.”

“Throughout the call they made it sound like they were following up on my emails, but when the guy said he had been working on it all day I knew he had received your inquiry, so I asked him to confirm that he was responding to your inquiry, not just following up on my correspondence with them, which he admitted,” he said. “The point is, it is obvious from the many email exchanges that there was nothing on Earth I could do to get them to honor their best rate guarantee. Once you got involved someone at the top made sure that a manager spent a whole day rolling heads.”

I wish that hadn’t been necessary. I’ve always felt that best rate guarantees are one of the travel industry’s scammiest promotions, just a step above travel clubs and those “free vacation” offers you get in the mail. Sure, the companies offering them will always be able to point you to a few folks who made a successful claim, but for every one person who got that $100 gift card, there are a hundred who didn’t.

I’m not sure if that should be legal.

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 chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Why ban them? At best, you can ignore them. Or better yet, try and claim it. But someone’s got to pay when they outright deny you without any basis…

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    I strongly disagree with banning them for the following reasons:

    Exactly how prolific is the unreasonable denial.  Of course we hear of anecdotal information of people being denied.  But is that normative?  When things go right people rarely contact elliott.org or similiar forums.  I would like to konw what percentage of otherwise legitimate claims are denied for obviously frivolous reasons.

    It’s like the car rental experience.  Sure, we read about the bad experiences people have, but the overwhelming majority of car rentals go without a hitch or no one would ever rent a car. My first car rental was about 2 weeks after I got my driver’s license.  I was a young stupid inexperienced 16 year old. In all those years since then I have never been assessed car rental damages.

    My other objection is that there are much better ways of resolving this issue if indeed it is the epidemic that its been suggested.   Simply bring it under the consumer protection/fraud laws and add some civil penalties.  In some states those laws have teeth.  Civil fines and penalties do wonders to ensure compliance.  For example, here in California, an NSF check remaining unpaid for 30 days can be assessed a civil penalty of $1500 by the court regardless of the amount of the check.

    I can see some enterprising attorney advertising:

    …”Best Rate guarantee denied? Come to the office of Dewey Cheatum and Howe or our UK office of Sue, Grabbit & Runne”

  • Chris_In_NC

    Banned? That’s a bit harsh

    However, the vast majority of “best rate guarantees” are shams because its nearly impossible to invoke. As I have said in previous posts, I book once I find a fare price, and stop checking rates. Perhaps I am just a consumer without sense, but it gives me much greater peace of mind

  • Raven_Altosk

    Glad to hear that this story had a happy ending. It sounds like BW just wanted the OP to give up and disappear. Good to hear he stuck to his guns.

    Course this begs the question: How many others did BW swindle with their scam?

  • $16635417

    Banned? No way. Other websites are filled with successful stories of various guarantees. 

  • emanon256

    I voted “no.”  I don’t think they should be banned, however I think they should be followed by the companies offering them.  I also think if a hotel offers it, and doesn’t follow it, there should be some type of punitive damages.  Though I have no clue how that could ever be enforced, so it will probably never happen.
    I think this case is horrific, the OP clearly found a lower rate, and the hotel still denied it.  I understand Delta and the different fare classes since they are based on published fares, but this was not the same.  I am glad it worked out in the end, but it should not have been that much trouble.   
    I am also shocked at the repeated, “The claim has been denied.”  It reminds me of when I signed up for a Sears’s credit card when buying an oven in 2005.  The first bill came 2 days after the due date.  I paid the bill the same day, and kept the envelope with the postmark on the due date just in case.  I called as well and was told that this happens all the time with first bills and they know about it and I wouldn’t get a late fee and not to worry. Three week later I got another bill with a late fee and interest.  I called and asked them to waive them as the bill was mailed to me on the due date, and it would not have been possible to pay on time.   The agent said it was my responsibility to pay the bill on time, even if they didn’t mail it on time.  I asked again that they waive it, and the phone rep asked me if I would like to appeal the late fee.  I told him I did and he instantly responded, “Appeal Denied.”  On my third call, I finally got someone who not only told me they could see in their computer that it was mailed on the due date, but they also said that was ridiculous and waived the fees.

  • BillCCC

    I don’t think that banning them woudl be useful. Perhaps making them more transparent would be a help. Making them easier to apply would certainly help.

    Good work on assisting this traveller, this case certainly benfitted from having the TT on board.

  • jgb123

    No, not banned. If a company makes a statement they should be held to it.  If they repeatedly don’t stand by their statements they should be sued for false advertising.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/5KOZI6MFVHYMCJDSDVVZR4ZVNE JessicaJ

    What’s the argument for banning them? If anything, just ignore them (I do) and look for the best rate yourself.

    Also, the comments here seem to only be from people against banning it…

  • john4868

    First, the Kevin McDonald reference is a red herring. As was covered in the comments there, he didn’t qualify for the guarantee. He purchased a higher fare class and the
    guarantee only covers circumstances with the same fare class. Be ready to see this more since the DOT requires airlines to hold reservations for 24hrs which will mean more inventory churn as people release seats they previously held.

    Assuming that the OP has told the whole truth, there are a number of consumer protection laws already on the books that he could use to recover his money.  

    Based on these two cases, I see no reason to take the drastic step of banning all guarantees.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Best Buy tried the same thing with me in 2000. I bought a washer/dryer on their credit card to get a discount. I paid the bill in full with two weeks to spare. They claimed they never got payment. I had to get a copy of the cancelled check and prove it to them. Bunch of crooked scam artists!

    I have never shopped there since.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Why ban them? What they should do is honor them.  

  • Charlie Funk

    I am persuaded that if any member of congress or any of their associates read these blogs then we can expect this one to trigger an investigation with an eye to passing legislation that punishes companies that don’t honor such guarantees or at least do not unreasonably reject claims for honoring such guarantees.  It is apparent that this is a significant source of consumer frustration and perhaps even outright fraud that needs a firm statutory hand to control and administer it.  I can also envision a staff of a score or two employees to monitor such offers and administer complaints.  It probably won’t take more than $11 – 12 million a year to enforce such laws and regulations.

    And if anyone knows where I might find a medical person on short notice, I seem to have jammed my tongue in cheek so hard this time that it is stuck.

  • Nancy Marine Dickinson

    I don’t believe banning them is the solution. Companies following and honoring their guarantees, that’s the solution!

    I can’t believe they made the OP jump through hoops the way they did and to respond to each jump, not with a “Good boy” but a “Gotcha” is nothing short of infuriating.

    Good thing I’m not a Best Western kind of person or I’d have been putting them on my list of “Don’t stay here”.

  • andi330

    Best Buy’s credit cards (even the in store ones) are actually handled by a bank. When I had my credit card with them the bank was HSBC, I think they now use Chase for new customers. Regardless, it wasn’t Best Buy who didn’t process your payment correctly, it was the bank, and they are the ones you should avoid doing business with if you are going to stop patronizing someone because of the payment problem.

  • Michael__K

    Of course we hear of anecdotal information of people being denied.  But is that normative?

    What makes me suspicious in this case is the $100 gift card reward.   There’s no way a modest chain like Best Western can turn a profit giving out too many of those (effectively paying its customers to spend the night with them.)  

    The creators of this guarantee program had to believe that opportunities for legitimate claims would be virtually non-existent and that they could immediately fix any rare exceptions.  If their assumptions proved to be mistaken, then they would have a great temptation to systematically reject claims on dubious grounds.  [I agree that this isn’t a reason to ban guarantees.  It just makes me extra-skeptical of guarantees that promise a big reward for successful claims.]

  • DavidYoung2

    Agree – don’t ban them but certainly don’t count on them.  When making a purchasing decision, completely ignore them. Then, if for some reason you need to invoke the ‘best rate guarantee,’ you have something on which to fall back (which is better than nothing, but not much.)

  • Mary Ramsey

    don’t ban them.. people need to learn to think before they buy.

    for all the people who have denied claims, probbaly less then 1 % write an email to you or consumerist.com.

    everyone else will learn a valuble lesson
    -shop around
    -clear your internet cookies

    then after that STOP LOOKING

  • LFH0

    There’s nothing wrong with a company making such an offer, and therefore such offers should not be banned. What is wrong is a company reneging on its offer.

    A person making a reservation at Best Western, and making a promise to pay for a room, has entered into a contract with Best Western, which incorporates the”best rate guarantee.” Best Western becomes obligated to perform on that guarantee. If it does not perform, then the other side to the contract–the hotel guest–has a right to seek enforcement of the contract, i.e., to sue the hotel.Most jurisdictions have quick and inexpensive fora for doing so through their small claims courts.

    This is same remedy that exists for virtually every contract for which a consumer might be a party. To suggest that a “best rate guarantee” program should be banned, when an adequate legal remedy exists, is tantamount to suggesting that all consumer contracts should be banned.

  • Steve_in_WI

    Personally, I don’t find either option (ban companies from offering the guarantees, or choose to ignore them and allow companies to market misleading guarantees) to be satisfying. I think companies should be allowed to offer them but should have to stand by them.

  • Steve_in_WI

    Clearly, this was a case where Best Western tried to renege on their offer. Shame on them. Unlike the confusion over the myriad fare classes on a Delta ticket, a room rate is much easier to compare: there are really only two basic “rate classes” (cancellable vs. prepaid and non-refundable).

  • Steve_in_WI

    I think there are a few things to consider regarding the gift card.

    1. I assume the gift card can’t be used on the reservation for which the guarantee was invoked – in other words, the person receiving it will have to make a new reservation.
    2. A certain percentage of gift cards will just simply be lost or forgotten.
    3. Virtually no one will use almost the entire gift card value without spending their own money. From BW’s standpoint, ideally someone will book several nights and the $100 gift card will act as a discount off the entire booking rather than a freebie.
    4. Depending on occupancy rates, the incremental cost of allowing someone to use the gift card could be next to nothing. I have no idea how to estimate on average what each $100 gift card actually costs Best Western, but I’m sure they employ people who do.

  • vmacd

    They shouldn’t be banned, but they should be honored by the company without all that hassle.

  • TonyA_says

    Weak enforcement does not mean it’s better to ban the offering of best rate guarantee. In fact, good consumer laws should require that vendors have a best rate guarantee. I hesitate to think what the opposite will be. “Since we cannot offer you a rate guarantee, then you are SOL”.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/2NZAJ6KPWUWJV23TTE3TNBMJZI Trudi

    Although I was scammed by a ‘guarantee’ in the past, I still don’t think they should be banned. I don’t bank on getting the ‘lowest rate guarantee’, but it might give me leverage to deal with the hotel directly. I just hate to see more and more rules established because I think that makes negotiations even trickier. For every rule, there’s going to be another way to get around it. Just beware when booking that there may be a better deal, and you may lose out on it. (If it’s deliberate bait and hook practice, that’s different; it’s already illegal to advertise something that isn’t available.)

  • William Foster

    The Best Rate Guarantee should not be banned, it should be HONEST and IMPLEMENTED!

  • y_p_w

    I’m sort of wondering how they get any kind of “fair” comparison these days with all the permutations for room and rate types.

    There are differences in the number of guests, location of the room, room type, number of beds, prepaid non-refundable discounts, included meals (sometimes meals come in the form of vouchers that aren’t available from resellers), or even room location.  I remember booking a room where there was a hefty discount for prepaid non-refundable (at least a week in advance) and they had different rates depending on the side of the building (one side had a view of water, while the other side had a view of the freeway in addition to the noise of a freeway).

  • Raven_Altosk

    It was HSBC, but since Best Buy branded itself to it, and was highly unsympathetic when I went in and told the manager the story, eh.

    I don’t need them.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Gonna toss this story out here…

    Back in the late 90s when I was part of that group that answered emails/letters for some local franchise hotels, I can tell you one property had a big problem with their “rate guarantee.”

    The biggest problem involved large youth sports groups that used a booking service. The service would book the rooms at rack rate (sometimes higher!) so the agents could get a larger commission. On the way to the hotel, the groups would always manage to stop at some rest area where “hotel discount” coupon books were available. They would then try to get the property’s desk clerks to honor the coupons. 

    However, the coupons clearly stated on them “subject to availability” and “walk-up rate” only. That didn’t stop them from trying. Most were understanding, but still wrote us emails/letters in which we had to respond pretty much “So sorry, your contracted rate is not available for discount…”

    However, one of the members of one of these groups was a real piece of work. He took a swing at a female clerk who informed him over and over that she could not give him the rate because: 1. They had reservations and 2. They used a booking service that wouldn’t even let the clerk apply a AAA discount.

    Enraged, he reached across the desk and tried to hit her. When he missed, he grabbed the front of her shirt, shaking her and trying to grab her hair. The property called the cops and had him arrested and removed from the hotel. 

    Now, all of this was on security tape and it even made the local paper. (Small resort area; this was big news)

    What does this bozo do? Sends us a letter demanding a full refund for his stay and a “settlement” for the “emotional distress” of being arrested in front of his wife and kids.

    Trust me, that’s not in the most bogus/insane letter we ever received.

  • Steve_in_WI

    It depends on the property. Many don’t charge more for extra guests until you have more than 2-4, and many don’t charge more for a king bed vs. 2 doubles. And based on my experience, charging different amounts for different parts of the building or views is true for a minority of properties (obviously, those with ocean views or some other reason to charge more).

    Even in a case where there are many room/rate options, it still shouldn’t be hard to determine whether the hotel’s site really offers the best rate. (Though I can sympathize with CSRs who have to argue with guests who don’t understand why an refundable ocean-view room with breakfast included isn’t cheaper than a prepaid, no-frills Expedia reservation).

  • jim6555

    If a business offers credit cards with its name on it, that business should be ultimately responsible for consumer problems that are connected with the card. 

    You board a Delta Airlines airplane and the pilot decides to cancel the flight because of a mechanical problem. After you get off the plane, you go to the ticket counter and ask for a refund because the cancellation forces you to miss a meeting that was the reason for the trip. Could you possibly imagine the Delta Agent saying “sorry, this aircraft was last serviced by XYZ Maintenance Company and the problem that led to the cancellation is their fault. They are responsible for your refund. Here’s their address and phone number and thank you for choosing Delta”. You wouldn’t stand for being handed off to a third party in this situation. The same reasoning should apply to branded credit cards.

  • y_p_w

    I understand that there are differences, and that some hotels are very basic with few permutations other than number of beds – especially with places that don’t allow smoking.

    However, the place I stayed at had numerous options which changed the price.  Bay view or mountain (I saw freeway) view.  One king or two full beds.  Breakfast included or not (and the price was the same for 1-4 guests).  Refundable or advanced payment.  Some had combinations, but not all possible combinations.

    I actually booked after the advanced payment option was gone, so that’s another wrinkle.

  • andi330

    Your logic is off in this case jim6555 because in your example, Delta is the one actually running the flight and is ultimately responsible for the safety of the flight regardless of who performed the maintenance. In the case of the credit card, it is offered by the bank (HSBC or Chase), not Best Buy. Best Buy promotes that they are available, and they can process applications in store, but ultimately the bank makes the decisions on who gets a card, and manages all aspects of that card. Best Buy does not take payments for the credit cards in store at all, and the website actually just routes you out to the bank in question’s set up page for any information at all pertaining to the card. It may still have all the pretty Best Buy logos on it, but it is the bank’s account management system that handles all the payments etc.

  • IGoEverywhere

    Internet fools and their money are soon parter. Let the cheapskates fight on their own for guarantees like this. It is maddening, but he should have looked first, then bought. I feelthat he intentionally payed more to scam BW.

  • Meebo

    Ban a company giving a guarantee.  Should the government tell hotels what towels to use as well?  Banning something is just the wrong approach.  Why not just honor the deals?  Have the FTC slap the chain with a couple million dollar fine for bait and switch.  I guarantee after one of those incidents no customer service monkey is going to pull that crap.

  • Laureen

    Hi, I stumbled on this website as well because I am having a similar issue with Best Western’s lowest rate guarantee.. they will not honour it because they are saying on the competitor’s website, it shows a room with two “twin beds” which, apparently is not the same as a room with two “single beds”… however, before I booked with Best Western.com I called and spoke with one of their agents to confirm that “twin” and “single” beds were the same thing and they indeed confirmed it!

    Any suggestions on how I should deal with this? I’ve called and spoken with their customer service reps a few times to which they keep telling me I’ve been declined because “it’s not exactly the same”. However, when I start the conversation with, “is a room with two single beds the same as a room with two twin beds?” they are always say “Yes, that is” but when I get into my case they start back pedalling…