Choice Hotels – another worthless rate guarantee?

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Dave Olsen thought he might have a valid claim under Choice Hotels’ best rate guarantee. Apparently, he thought wrong.

“I know you’ve written posts about the best rate guarantees,” he adds. “I know you’re opposed to them. But I wanted to share my situation.”

Slight correction: I’m only opposed to best rate guarantees when they don’t work as advertised.

But is this one of those cases?

Olsen found and reserved a $94 per night at the Clarion Victoria Hotel and Suites in Panama City, Panama, recently. But he wasn’t done shopping. He then clicked on Travelocity, where he found a $79 room rate at the same hotel for the same night.

The rooms were identical — or so he thought.

Fortunately, Choice offers a best-rate guarantee.

ChoiceHotels.com has the best Internet rates guaranteed – we’re unbeatable.

Simply book your room here on ChoiceHotels.com and if you find a lower published rate for the same hotel and accommodations for the same dates at any other qualified online source, we will match that rate plus give you a free night for that stay.

Ah, but as they say, some restrictions apply. Here’s the fine print. (This link opens as an annoying pop-up.)

So Olsen filed a claim. To its credit, Choice Hotels, which owns the Clarion brand, responded promptly.

Thank you for your interest in participating in our Best Internet Rate Guarantee program.

The Best Internet Rate Guarantee program terms & conditions state that the rate located on a competing website must match the rate terms/restrictions that you made at www.choicehotels.com. The competing website information you submitted requires prepayment. The reservation you made at www.choicehotels.com is a pay when you stay at the hotel.

The reservation policy must be the same on the competing website as the reservation you made at www.choicehotels.com.

If you have additional questions please see our terms & conditions page.

Sure enough, buried mouse print, you’ll find that the guarantee applies to reservations made for the “same hotel, dates, room type, type of currency and length of stay and is based on single or double occupancy with the same rate terms/restrictions (including but not limited to, advance purchase requirements; pre-payment and deposit requirements; and cancellation and change policies).”

But wait! Was the Travelocity rate really nonrefundable? Olsen phoned Choice hotels and argued that it wasn’t.

“I explained that the Travelocity site is not a prepayment in that they allow you to cancel, just like the Choice Hotels site,” he says. “But he insisted that their requirement for a credit card was different than the Choice Hotels requirement of a credit card. Amazing.”

Olsen didn’t take no for an answer.

I printed out the page and have a copy. But Choice explained the issue is not that they didn’t see the lower rate — he did — but that the rules were different.

I’m frustrated, just like others who have contacted you in the past.

If your readers think that Choice is correct, I’ll accept that. If your readers agree that this is just a bunch of nonsense to avoid giving me a free night, then I think further action should be considered.

Choice has already turned down Olsen on a technicality. Personally, I think Olsen has already wasted $15 of his time, and probably the $94 he’d get for his “free” room (ahh, I cringe to write those words “free” but I’ll get over it).

Also, why shop for a better rate after you’ve made a reservation? As my late journalism professor would say, down that road lies madness.

But I’ve agreed to put this to a vote, and if enough people vote to reopen this case, I will.

Does Dave Olsen have a valid claim under Choice Hotels' best rate guarantee?

View Results

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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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  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Best rate guarantees tend to be worthless, not just in travel, but in many sectors. Try invoking one next time you buy a mattress. Curiously, technology stores seems to honor them… but I digress.

    In this case, I think that Choice is correct. A prepay requirement may not be a big deal for some people, but being out money for an extended period of time prior to the travel can be a big deal for others.

    For example, I admit that I have made multiple hotel and car reservations when I am not entirely sure of my travel plans with the intention of cancelling the unneeded ones. The fact that I don’t have to prepay the reservations makes that much easier. But I’m less likely to do that with the air travel, even if booking a fully refundable rate. That’s because I’m out real money (ok credit, but still…)

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Also, why shop for a better rate after you’ve made a reservation?

    Depends on which you have more of, Time or Money. When I was younger, I would scour the websites looking to save every penny. As I got older, a little further along in my career, the last penny wasn’t quite as important.

    Today, as long as I feel I got a “fair” rate, I’m good. But I might check on hotel or car rates the day before the cancellation deadline, just to see if they’ve changed. But I won’t do an exhaustive search. Usually just with the travel provider.

  • FQTVLR

    Why did he just not cancel the Choice Hotels reservation and book with Travelocity? Since his Choice reservation was pay at the hotel it was probably refundable. A simple solution to his problem without all the hassle of invoking the guarantee,

  • TonyA_says

    Maybe that old rate was gone after all his complaining.

  • sirwired

    Agreed; if the guarantee meant he’d get one night free or something, it’d make sense. But otherwise it does indeed make way more sense just to cancel one and reserve with the other.

  • TonyA_says

    RE: Olsen found and reserved a $94 per night at the Clarion Victoria Hotel and Suites in Panama City, Fla., recently. But he wasn’t done shopping.

    There is no Clarion Victoria Hotel and Suites in Panama City in Florida.
    It is in Panama, the country.
    There are 9 Choice properties in Panama City, Florida beaches, but no Clarions.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    You’re right. Fixed it.

  • John Baker

    The is pretty close to the one letter different in the model number trick (for those that haven’t figured that one out… major retailers have electronics manufacturers make unique tvs for them with slightly different options on things most shoppers don’t care about and give them unique model numbers. The unique model number means you can’t claim a price guarantee).

    In this case Choice is correct on a technicality. The bookings have to be exactly the same in order to qualify and they aren’t. While 100% refundable and you pay now is the same in the long term as 100% refundable and you pay at the desk, it is not the same terms and different in the short term.

    Too bad for the OP

  • Don Spilky

    Sounds like he knew Priceline had a better deal, and booked with Choice anyways in order to invoke the guarantee thereby receiving a free night stay.

  • Don Spilky

    A prepaid room (whether or not you can cancel) is most certainly different from pay at desk.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Respectfully I must disagree.

    Long term short term for anyone with limited funds.

    Think payday loans, check floats, check cashing stores, and other subprime markets

  • John Baker

    CCF … I think I said that … In the long term (ie after the stay), you’re out $94 either way and if you cancel you’re out nothing. In the short term (prior to the stay), one has you out the $94 and the other doesn’t. So they are effectively the same thing after the stay but different prior to the stay.

  • MarkKelling

    Went looking and picked a random date in late July for a room at that hotel. Right now, the hotel’s web site has a room for $97 a night, prepaid but cancelable. Travelocity has a room for — $97 a night, prepaid but cancelable. (King size bed, non smoking for one or two guests.) If you book the “flexible” rate where you pay after your stay using the hotel web site you do get quoted about $15 more. Since the pre paid rate is still cancelable, I don’t see the point in booking the so called flexible rate other than your funds are not tied up in advance (or you might not trust the hotel to actually refund your money if you cancel. ;-).

    Sorry, but I believe that the OP was just looking for the free night. Can’t blame him. But just goes to show you nothing is “free.” I don’t see anything wrong with the guarantee as offered by the hotel (and the terms are spelled out in text the same size as most of what is displayed on the rest of the web site so not seeing the “mouse print” referred to) and I don’t see where the OP qualifies under the current terms.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I think the difference is that I don’t see this as similar to the technicality in your example. I see them as very different rates.

  • emanon256

    At first I was with the OP, and hoping he woudl get his best rate guaranty. Then when I learned he booked a post paid, and the lower rate is pre-paid, I no longer felt for the OP. Even if is a pre-paid and refundable as the OP claims, he still parts with his money sooner, so its a different rate. I voted that Choice is right on this one. Its apples to Oranges. Pre Pay is not Post Paid.

    And I agree, if you find a rate you are willing to pay, stop looking, it does lead to madness.

  • emanon256

    I remember when Office-Max, or Office-Depot, or Biz-Mart (Can’t remember witch) used to have a guaranty that if you found it cheaper anywhere else, they would beat it by 40%. I successfully used it twice. Once on a heard drive and once on a Tape Drive (It was a while ago). Best Buy has one now for 5% I believe and I tried to use it and found nothing matched. The same laptop with the same specs at Best Buy was Model Number S1098B75, while at Target was S1098L75. So Best Buy wouldn’t price match. I wonder if they have contracts with the manufacturers to make slightly different model number just so they don’t have to price match. End of the day I got a similar laptop, with some extra features for the same price on New egg.

  • emanon256

    Probably because he would get a ‘free’ night with the guaranty. So the lower rate, plus one night on the house.

  • emanon256

    Say I book a 4 night stay 6 months in advance. Based on current investment growth rates, I would be out $23 in interest in the long term. I guess its not that much, but enough that I won’t book pre-paid nights.

  • http://gspirits.com/ Zod

    Yes…you are correct. Companies will have slightly different model numbers for the same exact item just so you can’t claim their lowest price guarantee!

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Curiously, I’ve used the match at Best Buy and Fry’s often, as recently as two weeks ago. Granted though, I’m buying stuff that’s fairly standardized.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I’d be more worried about the general drama of getting a refund.

  • MarkKelling

    Yep, just accept what you paid and move on unless you want to be an angry frustrated person.

    I had a plane ticket that the day after I bought it the price dropped $500. So I called the airline and asked about it. I was told they would be happy to cancel the already booked ticket and issue me a new one at the new lower price and refund the excess. But there would be a $450 change fee (clearly spelled out in the terms when I booked) and the $50 phone center fee. So, sure I could get the lower ticket price for exactly the same amount of money out of my pocket. ;-) I declined the offer.

  • kbiel

    That was my thought when I read through this. A reservation is easily cancelled without costing a dime. He should have just booked the Travelocity room and cancelled the direct reservation. My guess is that Mr. Olsen either wanted to use his complaint to get a free night or wanted the lower rate without prepaying.

  • TonyA_says

    I’m not sure this complaint makes any sense.
    If you all remember, last September 8, 2013, Elliott posted an article titled ” Will the Travelocity-Expedia deal be good for travelers?”
    It looks like Travelocity hotel search is nothing but an Expedia search.
    So the questions to ask is — can or will Travelocity/Expedia undercut Choice Hotel pricing?
    Hmmm… these 2 companies duked it out publicly in 2009, then kiss and made up.
    It sure looks like Expedia is posting Choice’s Advance Purchase Rate which is about 20% off Best Available Rate.
    I think the OP is confused between those 2 rates. Both have cancellation options (albeit different days prior arrival). Also with ADV PUR RATE, your credit card will be billed immediately.

  • bodega3

    On the day of your reservation, if you have done your homework, then once you book, yes, walk away. Now depending on how far in advance you book, I would check on rates once a week to see if anything new in a lower rate showed up. If I see rates changing a lot and I would then check daily. On our own Hertz rental, which was for 3 cars, I booked early but know rental rates go up and down daily. With three cars, I rebooked several times, often daily bringing down our rate by over $300 per car. One weekend, I rebook the cars twice as rates dropped from earlier in the week on Saturday and then again on Sunday. The day prior to our pickup, the rates were up quite a bit. I have hotel rates booked for a pending driving trip in the fall. I will continue to check weekly and rebook if specials show up. I do this for clients, too. Part of the service they get for working with me!

  • Common sense

    The policy sucks, but it’s been applied correctly. It says prepayment is a difference.

  • TonyA_says

    I tried to post this earlier but it got erased.
    Comparison of Hotel vs Expedia rates (today is 10JUN):
    Date Hotel Expedia
    Thursday, June 12, 2014 107 91
    Monday, June 16, 2014 107 107
    Tuesday, June 17, 2014 90 96
    Tuesday, June 24, 2014 85 96
    Monday, June 30, 2014 85 86

    The hotel’s advance purchase rate program begins to kick in if you book at least 7 days in advance. Prior to that, the hotel will only sell Best Available Rates (BAR) online unless you have some discount coupon or affinity.

    Expedia takes advantage during this seven day (blackout) period. They discount the hotel’s BAR rate by offering a discounted pre-paid rate. But look what happens when the hotel’s own advance purchase rate kicks in. They can be cheaper than Expedia’s.

  • TonyA_says

    Are you booking the rental cars on GDS?
    This looks like a lot of work.

  • bodega3

    Sometimes yes, sometimes online via the agent site. It is very easy to do. And in our case, we saved close to $1000, so well worth it!

  • VoR61

    Absolutely! Did that with a car rental and saved on the rate, plus didn’t have to leave a deposit …

  • Raj W

    why didn’t he just cancel his reservation made directly with the hotel and then simply rebook on travelocity? It sounded like the direct booking did not have a pre-pay penalty…

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    there are 55 different rates for same hotel room, just like there are 55 different prices for airline seats.
    Rarely is online the cheapest.
    Often look online then email the travel agent.
    Recently I found Hilton’s dodgy price guarantee not even close.
    I got a better rate through a travel agent + it included breakfasts + lots of other extras that weren’t on Hilton site.
    Both rates were prepaid no refunds whatsoever.
    The travel agent booked it through a wholesaler. Agent said 99% of the time, hotel rooms are cheaper through a wholesaler than direct to hotel, as wholesalers buy big blocks of rooms.
    Just like airfares. Look online then call the agent.
    Fly to USA often & agent has fares (they call them nett fares) that don’t even appear on any online site.
    Last time I flew OZ/LAX flew one airline over & other airline back.
    Actually went to both airlines sites & even called both of them & no they couldn’t sell us the airfare that agent sold us & didn’t even have anything like it, so it wasn’t even a case for price matching.

  • Cybrsk8r

    The only thing I ever look for a better rate on after booking is car rentals. I can do the second booking and then cancel the first. I generally don’t keep looking for hotels or airfares after I book them

  • bodega3

    Yes, there are many places to book car, hotels and air, that aren’t available to DIY’ers. As most know, TA’s often get discounted room rates, but I can often beat our discount through my vendors and no online company that allows DIY’ers to book can get these discounted rates. The only disadvantage is if a traveler is trying to earn points with a frequent stay or flyer program, as the rates don’t apply.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    When you book through a vendor, do the same rules apply as when you book directly with the travel provider, e.g. cancellation policy.

  • bodega3

    I have two that have similar cancellation policies as some hotels, usually up to 48 hours prior to cancel. It does vary to the rate I book, but I usually go for the rates with the 48 hour rule. As I mentioned, the negative, is that if I book a Hilton through them, you don’t get Honor points. But the savings can be tremendous!

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    So is this a resale situation,i.e. the vendors purchase the room and resell to the traveler via the travel agent? I’m assuming prepaid as well?

  • PsyGuy

    THose guarantees in my experience tend to be worthless. They are marketing tools, as the restrictions are so lengthy and technical that getting them honored is very difficult, and often when they are is done more as a customer courtesy than as fulfilling a guarantee.

  • bodega3

    Some rates are prepaid, some not. For international, most are prepaid with the 48 hour cancellation allowed. I used one of the companies for our month long European trip. Knowing I had 48 hours prior to arrival to cancel was comforting due to unforeseen reasons causing the need to adjust the trip. We stayed at the Hilton in Mainz, right on the river for over 1/2 off the best rate the hotel’s website offered and beat my TA discount. However, no HH points. The bottom line, what you see online as a DIY’er isn’t always the best rate.