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Best Hotel Rates

Best Hotel Rates
by Rudy Maxa for Marketplace

You know that plaque? The one on the back of the door in your hotel room? It lists the rate for the room? If you paid that amount for your room, you probably overpaid.

That rate is called the "rack rate," and hardly anyone ever pays it. In fact, a hotel would probably throw a party if it could fill even a quarter of its rooms at the posted rate. Most people ask for -- and get -- a corporate rate. Then there are weekend rates and negotiated rates. Hotel prices are one of the few American commodities for which almost anyone can haggle.

So how do you get the cheapest rate? First call the hotel directly and ask for their best price quote. If you think it's too high, ask if they'll throw in some extras, like free parking or breakfast or an upgrade to a suite. You might also want to call a hotel consolidator, a company like Quickbook or Hotel Reservations Network, and see what hotels they can offer you and at what rate -- usually, but not always, their prices are lower than the ones you can get from a hotel. Consolidators buy up big blocks of hotel rooms in advance at a discount, so they can pass deals on to you.

And the latest twist in finding cheap rooms involves bidding for them on line. You might remember eight months ago when a company called Priceline http://www.priceline.com made its debut auctioning airline tickets on line and over the phone.

Now, priceline.com has entered the hotel room business, and, happily, it's less complicated and more attractive than booking airline seats on line.

First you choose from the 26 cities. Then you pick a neighborhood and specify whether you want an el cheapo one star or a luxury, five-star hotel. The rating system, by the way, is Priceline's own.

At Priceline's Web site, a listing of average hotel helps you determine ballpark figures of hotel rates in the city you're interested in. Make your bid, and within minutes you'll learn if you scored a hit. Consumer Reports Travel Newsletter asked for a three-star hotel in New York for the night of December 15th and bid $175, not including tax. Priceline confirmed a room at the very nice Renaissance New York on Times Square. That's $25 less than the hotel was willing to offer directly.

Now, some chains have been offering Internet specials for a couple of years now, but with Priceline, you're not limited to a single chain of hotels. Is it cheaper than dickering with a hotel directly or using a hotel consolidator? Might be, might not be. I'd see who offers the lowest price, then shave ten or twenty bucks off and see if Priceline can match that. So when you check into your next hotel, you might find yourself laughing at the price on the back of the door.

Savvy Traveler on Marketplace

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