Are prepaid hotel rooms worth it? - Travel code (2023)

Are prepaid hotel rooms worth it? - Travel code (1)

Let's face it, unless you're Bill Gates or something, we're all looking for ways to save a few bucks when we travel. Usually it's just a matter of waiting for a sale or getting lucky with a coupon. Almost everyone now knows that cheap flights are non-refundable. In other words, you pay when you buy your ticket and if your plans change, you're out of luck unless you want to pay a change fee, unless you're flying Southwest.

Hotels like thisHotels in Flagstaffonline they have always been different. when you bookHotel room with balcony facing the seaThere's almost always a cancellation policy, but it's usually pretty lenient. Standard terms generally require you to cancel or amend anytime between 6pm. on the day of arrival or 48 hours prior to arrival, or you will lose one night's room rate (though I should note that in tourist areas, national parks and during holidays the policies can be much more restrictive). But what you may not know is that...

Hotels are becoming more like airlines (sort of)

Yes it is. If you're looking to save a few bucks on a hotel room, the travel industry has come up with a new option: the prepaid, non-refundable hotel room, which appears to have been developed by online travel agencies (OTAs) like Travelocity. I first realized this about 15 years ago when I was planning a road trip to Vancouver. I used to book most of my hotels through Travelocity back then because that (or Orbitz, Expedia or whatever) was the easiest way to see all your options in one place in one session. When searching for a hotel in Oklahoma City, a so-called “buy well” rate appeared at the top of the search results. If you're using Travelocity, they're still there, as shown in the screenshot below:

Are prepaid hotel rooms worth it? - Travel code (2)

If you zoom in, you'll see the "Good Buy" label at the bottom. What is not entirely obvious at first glance is that this rate is NON-REFUNDABLE - once you book your credit card will be charged and no refunds are possible for any reason. If your plans don't change, it's really no big deal. You saved a few dollars. But if you decide you don't need the room, you'll be surprised when you call to cancel: you won't get your money back. There is no option to pay a change fee; Her entire purchase was thrown down the drain with no recourse. Which usually evokes a similar reaction:

Are prepaid hotel rooms worth it? - Travel code (3)

I call it the "Angry Hissing Cat On Fire Award" because it pretty much sums up what you want to do with that poor customer service rep on the other end. (For the record, Hercules wasn't actually angry in this photo. He was just yawning. A whiff of cat's breath on his face isn't pretty either.)

Prepaid rooms come with risks: is it worth it?

So now we've determined the risk of reserving a prepaid, non-refundable hotel room. You could end up with a big bag of nothing if you have to cancel. But is it worth the risk? If we're using the Crowne Plaza (the first option) in the screenshot above, here's what you'll see when you select it:

Are prepaid hotel rooms worth it? - Travel code (4)

The non-refundable, prepaid room is $18 per night off the standard rate, allowing you to cancel up to 48 hours in advance (the savings can be even lower if you sign up for a discount through AAA, AARP, or the how to qualify ). That's why I said "more or less" in the subtitle; While the difference between a non-refundable and refundable airline ticket can be hundreds if not thousands of dollars, the difference in hotel rates is usually minimal, on the order of 10-20%. Staying longer, say 5 nights, means you would save $90, but you would also have to shell out over $400 today that you would have to throw away if you didn't deserve the trip. Is it worth it? I guess it depends on your perspective but you should really think before you book.

Another thing to watch out for: unless you know what a "good buy" fee is, it doesn't appear from the first screenshot that the fee is non-refundable. The same applies if you use a "metasearch" site likeKayakto carry out your first search or even if you go directly to the hotel's website. The fee shown on screen may be non-refundable. Be sure to click on the plan and read the terms and conditions before providing your credit card information. Hotels tend to be very unforgiving if you book a non-refundable rate and then try to cancel, even minutes after booking.

So far I've talked about non-refundable rates offered directly by hotels, through an OTA like Travelocity or Orbitz, or found on a metasearch site like Kayak. What I haven't covered are the prepaid options offered by sites likehot wireor the old "set your own price" function inprice line(Despite Captain Kirk's recent attempts to downplay Priceline's offerings, Name Your Own Price still exists.)

These are slightly different; You're offered a price in a general area of ​​a city, but you don't know the name of the hotel until you pay. You can often tell what the hotel is by the features listed and the TripAdvisor rating, but I digress. These offerings are known as "Distressed Inventory" offerings; This means that the hotel cannot dispose of the room and is therefore often significantly discounted from the normal price. This is where the savings can be worthwhile, especially at the more luxurious hotels, as they could be half or more of the normal rate. But there's a big risk: the recent increase in "resort" fees not included in advertised rates.

I personally think "resort" fees are a total evil. It's usually an additional $10 per day fee, often hidden in the mouse trail, offering "free" services like parking, pool towels, or Wi-Fi. Fees are mandatory, so there is no way around it. I find these mandatory fees highly dishonest (they're a way to display a deceptively low price while avoiding occupancy taxes and travel agent commissions on the price), and I'm doing my best to boycott any properties that charge this fee. . I'm by no means a big government guy, but this is something where I think the FTC should step in and order the mandatory fees to be rolled over to the reported fee. If you obtain a room through Hotwire or Priceline, you are responsible for the fee in addition to the fee. The problem is that you won't know the fee until after you've paid, and you can't request a refund at that point. So buyers beware.

In fact, I find the resort fees so disgusting they deserve THREE angry, angry cats.

My advice

Honestly, since I'm AAA, I don't think the risk of a non-refundable hotel fee is worth the savings of maybe $10 a night. If you really want to save some money, it's better to book a regular rate and then check sites like Hotwire or Priceline as the date of your stay approaches. Often unsold rooms are not really "desperate" and are only booked a few days before your planned departure. If a really great offer comes along at the last minute, e.g. B. $99 per night at the Four Seasons, you can always cancel the first room and then book the offer. Chances are you are pretty confident at this point in your trip so the risk of canceling and losing your money is very low.

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