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michael SHOPPING FOR HOTEL
RATES? MY NEW BEST ADVICE


BY MICHAEL MATTHEWS

January 25, 2007 -- So much advice is available on the Web about how to obtain the best room rates at a hotel that I generally ignore it all and follow my own advice. And my advice has always been: Call the general manager's office and book your room through him.

I can attest that this strategy works. It's worked for me in the past. And readers who have taken my advice have told me that it worked for them, too.

Well, it works most of the time.

I recently needed to book a room for one night in Los Angeles, where I was going to attend the largest hotel-investment conference in North America. So I called the general manager of my favorite LA hotel only to find that a room would cost me $550 plus tax, plus parking. That would bring the one-night charge to well over $600. Joe doesn't pay me enough for that! (Actually, he doesn't pay me anything. We're all volunteers.)

So I checked the hotel's Web site and the same $550 room was selling for $495 a night. Then I went to Orbitz.com and found the room for $485 a night. Still too much on a volunteer columnist's salary, so I went in search of something more affordable.

All of the hotels in Century City--the convention was being held at the Hyatt Regency Century City--were sold out. So were most of the hotels in nearby Beverly Hills. The rooms that were available also had rates in the stratosphere.

As readers of this column know, I am not prone to "hip" or "boutique" hotels. But that was all that was left, unless I stayed out at Los Angeles International Airport or in barren and isolated downtown LA. So after a lot of searching through a list of unfamiliar properties with names like Argyle, Standard and Mosaic, I came across one called The Angeleno.

Although I didn't know the name, I recognized the property. It's the famous circular building that towers over the I-405 freeway in Brentwood. It was once a Holiday Inn, but it was recently taken over and renovated by Joie de Vivre, a well-regarded San Francisco-based operator of boutique hotels. The Angeleno is the company's first venture in LA. The hotel's Web site made the property look pretty good. And, at least by LA standards, Brentwood is fairly convenient to Century City.

So I called the office of the general manager of The Angeleno. A delightful lady in his office offered me a room at $225 a night. But the Web site was offering the same king-bedded room for $205 a night.

Then I had an inspiration--or a rush of blood to the head. Since I was flying to Los Angeles on United Airlines and was already trawling the Web, I clicked the hotel link at the United Web site. Lo and behold, United's site was offering a king-bedded room at The Angeleno for $175 a night. (In all cases, of course, tax and parking would be extra.)

Not a bad rate--and $50 bucks cheaper than the offer from the delightful lady in the hotel GM's office. Okay, I figured, he won't know I'm coming and I won't get the ceremonial fruit plate. But, hey, 50 bucks is 50 bucks….

So what's the moral of this particular hotel-pricing tale? I guess it's shop around. Many hotel chains claim that their proprietary Web sites won't be undersold. But that assertion is undercut by the fact that individual hotel owners within big chains like Hilton, Marriott and Starwood can do pretty much whatever they want on rates and can post whatever prices they want. And, in fact, most hotel reservation departments really can't keep up with all of their own offerings. Large hotel chains have revenue managers and sophisticated computer software that tells them what to charge, but with so many franchisees and so much out there on the Web, it's hard for them to remember, let alone track, their own rates.

And I admit that this tale of many prices has forced me to revise my own best advice about hotel rates. Now I say: Shop around. Hit the hotel chain's corporate Web site, then see if the individual property has its own proprietary site. Check the prices at Orbitz, Travelocity, Hotels.com, even airline sites. Book the rate that is the best. Then call the hotel's general manager. Tell him you're coming and that you expect to be a regular guest. Then add: "I'd love to say hello when I'm with you."

Did I follow my own new best advice for my stay at The Angeleno? Yes, indeed. I booked through United and then called the general manager. But it was Saturday and his office was closed for the weekend.

Oh dear, no fruit plate after all. C'est la vie at Joie de Vivre, I guess.

This column originally appeared at joesentme.com.

Copyright © 1993-2007 by Michael Matthews. All rights reserved.