Best hotel rate guarantee ever?

(Courtesy princessAngela/myBudgetTravel)

The world's largest hotel company says no one can beat the prices on its website: Find a cheaper rate elsewhere, and your first night is free.

Best price guarantees are a dime a dozen for hotel-booking websites. Just about every travel site has one, from Expedia to Marriott to Hyatt and beyond. Typically, the guarantee states that if a traveler finds a cheaper rate after he's already made reservations, the original booking site will match the lower rate -- and often, throw in an additional discount.

Expedia, for instance, promises to refund the difference in rates and send the customer a $50 travel voucher. Marriott and Hyatt will match the lower price and knock an additional 25 percent and 20 percent, respectively, off the rate.

The InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG), the world's biggest hotel company, which operates major lodging brands like Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, and StayBridge Suites, just announced a new "Best Price Guarantee" that, at least upon first glance, blows the doors off all the other guarantees out there.

Here's the deal: Say you book a room with any IHG hotel through the company's website. If, within 24 hours of booking, you find a cheaper rate for the same property (same date, same type of room, same restrictions) through another booking site, IHG will give you the first night of your reservation free of charge.

Is it likely you'll actually get a free night out of the deal? Um, not exactly. There's plenty of fine print that makes it difficult to land a freebie. The 24-hour limit for locating a cheaper rate is one of the restrictions. The rules also stipulate that to qualify you must use IHG's Best Available Rate when booking (as opposed to other rates such as AAA or military discounts), and select the lowest available hotel rate found in your search (presumably, this means no suites or family rooms). Finally, the original booking and the cheaper rate found afterward must be an apples-to-apples comparison: same hotel, same dates and length of stay, same restrictions (refundable or non-refundable), and so on.

Winding up with a free night because of the guarantee is also unlikely because, as you might guess, IHG works extremely hard to ensure that its website prices are never undercut by the competition. Many hotel companies, in fact, have contracts with third-party booking sites that specify hotel rooms can never be sold at rates cheaper than those booked directly with the property.

But perhaps the biggest reason few travelers will ever realize a free night out of such a guarantee is that scouring the web for cheaper prices takes up too much time and effort. After all, who wants to keep searching for hotel rates after their room is already booked?


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