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THE MATTHEWS HOTEL-BOOKING METHOD
By Michael Matthews
August 16, 2012 -- Sometimes I feel like a schoolmaster who knows that he is teaching a class where only a small percentage of pupils are paying any attention. It's very demoralizing.

For years in this column, I have urged you to go directly to the hotel and even, if possible, to the general manager when searching for the best room rate. If you want to save money, that is the only way to book. It was the topic of the very first edition of Do Not Disturb back in 2004 and I repeat The Matthews Method of Hotel Booking with almost annoying regularity.

Some of you have heeded this advice and you've been nice enough to write in with your thanks. But those moments of enlightenment have, I'm afraid to say, been few and far between.

And I'm one frustrated schoolmaster after making one of my regular appearances on Rudy Maxa's World, the wonderful syndicated travel-radio show. Rudy's a very smart fellow and a fan of this column, but even he has yet to learn the lesson of calling direct to the hotel for the best room rate. Otherwise, why would he ask me to spend 10 minutes praising various hotel-reservation Web sites and recommending them to his listeners?

After I'd given Rudy an on-air earful and explained that I'd never heard of sites such as Jetsetter.com, Vacationist.com, Bloomspot.com or SniqueAway.com, I again repeated The Matthews Method of Hotel Booking. Then it struck me: What better way to convince skeptics of the efficacy of my method than to book a reservation with these sites and see how much I could save by going my own way. And, just for fun, I threw in Priceline.com because I like William Shatner. He played that lawyer guy on TV, right?

I first tested Jetsetter.com because I actually needed a hotel in Las Vegas, where my wife and I are headed for a wedding on September 6. I tried the Signature at the MGM Grand, one of the top-rated Las Vegas properties according to TripAdvisor.com. Jetsetter promotes suites at The Signature "from $90." For the dates we needed, however, Jetsetter offered a nightly rate of $120.

A call to the hotel secured me a suite for just $104 a night. Win one for The Matthews Method of Hotel Booking.

Then I tried Vacationist.com, a site that lavishly promotes itself as being part of the Travel & Leisure empire. If anyone or any site could beat The Matthews Method of Hotel Booking, I thought it would be an operation tied to T&L and its parent, the mighty American Express.

I asked the site to book The Madison in Washington for two nights starting on September 6. I chose The Madison because Vacationist.com advertises rooms there "from $132." For my dates, however, the quote was $224 a night. I called the hotel and that produced a room for $210 a night. Another win for The Matthews Method.

I fully expected to stump Priceline.com. After all, things just haven't been the same since Shatner took that header off a cliff in Priceline's TV commercials. Since a friend of mine travels regularly to Silver City, New Mexico, I asked Priceline to book Silver City's Holiday Inn Express. The quote: $109 a night. I called the hotel and was offered the same nightly rate. So we'll call that one a draw or, to be charitable, a win for Priceline.

Of course, I have a well-known bias toward the luxury end of the lodging scale, so I thought I'd book a stay at the Montage of Beverly Hills on September 6. For that, I tried SniqueAway.com, a division of TripAdvisor. It happily quoted $536 a night. I called the hotel directly and was offered a choice of rates: $444.40 a night on a nonrefundable basis or $522 a night for a fully refundable booking. In other words, two more wins for The Matthews Method of Hotel Booking.

I didn't call the general manager of any of these properties because I know some of them and I thought that familiarity would naturally skew the results in my favor. I only called the hotels' reservation offices. Had I called the general manager, I know I could have done even better--or at least commandeered an upgrade to go along with the quoted rate.

I hope, finally, that I have convinced you to employ The Matthews Method of Hotel Booking for your future lodging needs. And one more tip: The general manger's assistant actually has as much power as the general manager. So if he's on the golf course when you call, ask to speak to his assistant. She'll do you a good deal. (By the way, no sexist assumptions here. For better or for worse, most hotel general managers are still men and most of their assistants are still women.)

In the meantime, I'm sorry that I thought you haven't been listening. If you've gotten this far and have heeded my advice, flood me with E-mail to show that you are, indeed, paying attention. I promise a star from the schoolmaster in return.

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ABOUT MICHAEL MATTHEWS Michael Matthews has managed and marketed fine hotels around the world for more than 45 years. He spent 14 years in Hong Kong building the legendary Regent International group. He has also worked with St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton and Rosewood hotels. Matthews is currently based in Arizona. He began writing Do Not Disturb in early 2004.

THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Michael Matthews in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Matthews. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Michael Matthews.

This column is Copyright 2012 by Michael Matthews. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2012 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.