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Get the Best Deal on Hotel Reservations

Use these tactics to find the best hotel for your travel needs and budget.
November 12, 2001
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/46256

Introduction
It can be difficult for business travelers to minimize hotel costs. Unlike vacationers, business travelers usually cannot schedule trips for off-peak periods or hotel specials. They also tend to require a high level of service and amenities during their stay.

Despite these restrictions, there are many options business travelers can pursue to limit costs without compromising their stay.

This guide is designed to give you the facts you need to evaluate and choose a hotel for your business. The various sections are listed in the box to the right. You can choose to read this guide from beginning to end, or jump directly to a section of interest.

Matching Hotel to Need
Hotels have traditionally differentiated themselves in terms of price, allowing travelers to choose among budget, midrange, upscale, or luxury lodgings. However, when choosing a hotel, it can be helpful to look beyond price and consider hotels according to the level of service they provide.

The majority of hotels follow the traditional, full-service model. These hotels feature full-sized lobbies, hotel restaurants, and meeting rooms. They are useful for business travelers who expect to meet with clients in the hotel.

However, many business travelers simply need a place to spend the night. Limited service hotels offer a less expensive option for individuals who do not expect to be at the hotel past breakfast. These hotels offer attractive, full-sized rooms, but do not include on-premise restaurants or meeting rooms.

Other travelers spend a lot of time working in their rooms, even meeting with customers. In these cases, it often makes sense to get a suite that has separate sleep and work areas. Suite hotels typically offer suites for about the same price as a traditional hotel room, allowing businesses to conduct in-room meetings or interviews in a professional environment.

Extended-stay hotels offer an economical alternative for business travelers who find themselves in one location for several days. Extended-stay units are equipped much like small apartments, offering small kitchenettes and some living space for travelers.

Business Amenities
As more business travelers try to get serious work done on the road, a hotel's selection of business amenities has become increasingly important.

One very common amenity is the use of a fax machine and photocopier. While most hotels make these machines available via the front desk, some now provide this equipment in the room, or on specially designated floors. In addition, as hotels upgrade their phone systems, they are increasingly making voice mailboxes available to guests.

For more significant business needs, hotels often rent equipment such as overhead projectors or computer equipment. However, keep in mind that although hotels can secure equipment and services for you, they tend to charge a bit extra for the convenience.

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Assessing Hotels
Mobil and the American Automobile Association (AAA) publish two of the most popular hotel rating guides, although both cater to leisure travelers rather than businesses. Zagat's also offers a guide to major hotel chains.

You may also want to consult the directories offered by hotel chains. These typically detail the type of amenities offered by individual locations, with details on meeting rooms, restaurants, and the type of business amenities that can be found in each location.

Chains vs. Independent
Hotel chains offer several advantages over individually-owned hotels. The primary advantage of chains is that firms can negotiate discounts based on the total volume of business they conduct with a hotel chain. Travelers may stay only a few nights in any single property and still be considered a valued account. Even if specially negotiated discounts are unavailable, chains often offer upgrades or special perks to frequent visitors through affinity programs.

Another advantage of chains is that they offer a similar level of service throughout their properties. Travelers can be assured of a certain level of quality without specific knowledge of a particular property.

Independent hotels are best suited for companies that frequently travel to one city and can take the time to find appropriate lodgings. Firms will generally find that independent hotels are much more willing to negotiate discounts than a larger chain. In addition, there are loose co-marketing agreements between independent hotels that can act much like affinity programs from a large chain.

Obtain Better Rates
There are many ways to get reduced lodging rates when traveling for business. The first way is to request a corporate rate. In many cases, a traveler can receive special discounts as a member of various organizations or as a trade show or conference attendee. It also makes sense to ask about any ongoing special programs, since these may provide rooms for less than the quoted rates.

Travel agencies can also be a good source for hotel discounts. Agencies can often obtain more competitive rates for their clients because they book rooms in bulk. This is good news particularly for smaller firms that do not conduct much travel.

Negotiating Special Rates
Firms that conduct a fair amount of travel may want to consider negotiating specific rates or discounts. Hotels begin offering discounts at about 50 person-nights per year, with sizable discounts for firms that stay 200 person-nights or more per year.

Discounts may be available even if your company has not spent all these nights in one hotel chain. Documentation verifying the volume of stays and a promise to consolidate stays with a hotel can be sufficient for negotiations.

Travel agents will typically conduct these negotiations on a company's behalf. However, companies can also approach hotels directly.

Pricing
Room cost varies depending on hotel and region. Business travelers can get rates as low as $20 per night for extended-stay housing to rates as high as $300-$400 per night for luxury business hotels.

Travelers should expect to pay about $15-$20 more for a room equipped with business amenities.

Special Tips
Avoid reservation lines and in-person booking
Lower rates are sometimes available by reserving directly with a hotel rather than by going through the reservation line. Also, travelers have a greater advantage asking for discounts when reserving a room over the phone rather than by inquiring about room availability in person.

Frequency=savings
Make sure to sign up for any frequent stay programs. You may even be able to obtain airline frequent flyer miles with your stay.

Consider suites for meetings
In situations where you will be holding a small meeting, a suite hotel can be a less expensive alternative to renting a full meeting room at the hotel.

Local bureaus can help
If you are looking for extended-stay housing in a particular area, contact local convention and visitor bureaus (CVBs), area Chambers of Commerce, and tourism offices.

Check the phone jacks
Make sure to inquire about the availability of a regular phone jack if you plan to use a modem during your stay. Many hotels have phone systems that do not use the modular jacks required by peripherals such as modems or fax machines.

Ask before you dial
Find out about phone charges before using the phone. Hotels have historically charged outrageous rates for phone calls. Even if you use a calling card, learn if there are any added hotel surcharges before using the card.