If you book hotel rooms on the internet, you’ve likely encountered the online price guarantee. The specifics vary among chains, but the essential promise is always the same: Find the same room for less on another website, and we’ll beat it.
Choice Hotels takes it one step further by offering a free night to travelers who find a better rate on another site. As Choice boasts, “Simply book your hotel online at ChoiceHotels.com and if you find a lower published rate for the same hotel and accommodations for the same date at any other qualified online source, we will match that rate plus give you a free night for that stay. Just complete the Best Internet Rate Guarantee claim form within 24 hours of your booking and, subject to the Best Internet Rate Guarantee terms and conditions, the best rate plus a free night is yours.”
Just how onerous are those terms and conditions? Let’s just say that instead of thanking Choice for a free night on my recent BIRG claim, I wound up writing them this: “Your price guarantee essentially says that if a competing website offers a better rate under the SAME terms and conditions, you’ll give the first night free. But you’re telling me that if a competing website offers a better rate under BETTER terms and conditions, you will not give the first night free? When you’re outdone solely on price, you honor your guarantee. When you’re outdone on price and terms, you don’t honor your guarantee. That is about as ridiculous as it gets.”
What ended in frustration began with promise. First I used ChoiceHotels.com to book two rooms in Warrnambool, Australia, for $165 Australian Dollars (AUD) per room for just one night. Then I found the same rooms at the same hotel for the same night at helloworld.com.au for $132 AUD. Anticipating a potential obstacle on the road to a successful BIRG claim, I included the following comment in my submission to Choice: “helloworld requires pre-pay but is fully refundable. Your website also offers a pre-pay rate of $280.50 ($140.25/night x 2 rooms) that is still more than the helloworld rate but is not refundable. Thus, your lowest rate is higher than and more restricted than helloworld’s rate, so you should honor your price guarantee and give me both of my rooms for free for our one-night stay.”
Choice rejected my claim under the following reasoning: “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 pre-payment for all bookings…. The reservation you made at www.choicehotels.com is a cancelable and refundable rate prior to January 18, 2015, before 4 pm local hotel time. The reservation policy must be the same on the competing website as the reservation you made at www.choicehotels.com.”
Choice failed to acknowledge that the helloworld pre-pay rate was fully refundable (though, in fairness, helloworld allowed cancelation until the day before check-in while Choice allowed cancelation until the day of check-in). More importantly, Choice completely ignored the fact that its own pre-pay rate was $8.25 AUD more than helloworld’s pre-pay rate!
Using all caps to emphasize this point, I reminded Choice that “YOUR PRE-PAY RATE IS HIGHER THAN HELLOWORLD’S PRE-PAY RATE!” I then explained that “I didn’t book at your pre-pay rate because I didn’t want to be stuck with a non-refundable reservation before I knew you’d approve my price guarantee claim.” I asked, “What would you do if I booked at your non-cancelable rate and then submitted the helloworld rate that you seem to have deemed non-cancelable despite the fact that it is cancelable for a full refund? Would you have some new objection?” I implored Choice to “Please either approve my claim or escalate this case to a manager who has the authority to do the right thing.”
It took five days, but Heather, Team Lead, Specialty Desk, finally responded to my email and again rejected my claim. Heather quoted from the BIRG terms and conditions page: The competing rate must be “Available 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).” She added, “The rate on the competing website would need to be a pay at the hotel rate when the reservation reserved on our website is pay at the hotel. The competing website would need to be a prepaid non-refundable rate if the reservation on our website is the pre-paid non-refundable rate.”
Choice initially complained that helloworld’s rate was pre-paid while ignoring the fact that it was refundable. Now they were complaining that helloworld’s rate was refundable even though it was pre-paid. Most people would see pre-paid and refundable as better than pre-paid and not refundable. But I guess it’s Choice’s choice, not mine.
I thanked Heather for writing me back and told her that I wanted to make sure I had her position straight:
“Let’s say that your rate is $140.25, requires pre-payment, and is non-refundable.
“Let’s also say that a competing website offers a rate that is $132, requires pre-payment, and is refundable.
“So the competing website beats you on two counts: (1) it offers a better rate, and (2) that better rate is refundable.
“You’re telling me that you’d deny that price guarantee claim?”
Sadly, the answer is yes. With Choice, better is not as good as the same. To make a successful BIRG claim, you have to find a lower competing rate with the exact same terms and conditions as the Choice rate’s. If you’re unfortunate enough to find a competing rate with better terms and conditions, Choice will reject your submission.
Choice put me in an impossible position. To get Choice to consider a competing pre-paid rate, I had to book Choice’s pre-paid rate. But Choice’s pre-paid rate was non-refundable, so if Choice were to reject my BIRG claim, I would not be able to cancel my reservation with Choice. If I couldn’t cancel my reservation with Choice, I wouldn’t be able to book a reservation at helloworld, even though helloworld offered a better rate with better terms (refunds allowed). So much for a Best Internet Rate Guarantee.
I warned Choice that their “price guarantee should be used to retain loyal customers, not drive them away.” But now I’m headed back to ChoiceHotels.com to cancel my reservation. Good thing I didn’t book their non-refundable rate!
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Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.