Every time you book a hotel through a 3rd party OTA like Expedia/Agoda etc, that 3rd party keeps a share of the total stay. This can be as high as 20% in some cases, and as you can imagine, takes a big bite out of the hotel’s profits.
Therefore, hotels would much rather you book directly with them. But price is everything, so hotels need to ensure that the price you get from them is as good as what you’d find on OTAs. Enter Best Rate Guarantees (BRGs). You can read my full article here, but to summarise, the hotel promises that you will get the lowest possible rate through booking at their official website. If you find a cheaper price elsewhere, they will match that price and either offer you bonus points or a further discount off the matched price.
Of course hotels don’t want to do this. Offering free stuff costs them money. Take a cursory glance on Flyertalk and you’ll see that there are certain chains *ahem IHG ahem* who will go to ridiculous lengths to deny a BRG claim. And believe me, the T&Cs are wide enough to give hotels the leeway to do that. After all, if the customer has already paid a non cancellable rate directly with you, what are they going to do? They’re stuck. In many cases, BRG’s are nothing more than a marketing scheme to make the consumer say “oh look, they’re so confident their rates are the cheapest that I’m not even going to check 3rd party sites whee”
Starwood used to have one of the best BRG policies in the business because they did not require a pre-existing reservation to lodge a BRG claim. This meant that if you had the luxury of ensuring they’d match your claim before deciding to book. They also give you a choice of either 2,000 starpoints or 20% off the matched rate, both of which are extremely attractive gifts. (recall that 1 starpoint is 2 US cents, so if 20% off the matched rate is >US$40 go for the cash discount)
Unfortunately, that changed a few months ago and now Starwood requires you to have an existing reservation before it entertains a BRG claim (the only exception is if a 3rd party site is showing availability and Starwood isn’t). So what to do now?
Starwood allows you to BRG a flexible rate against a prepaid rate
This is a very important point so let me take some time to explain it.
Suppose Sheraton Singapore is selling a deluxe room at $150 prepaid, $200 flexible. You later see Agoda selling the same deluxe room at $135 prepaid.
Option 1: Book the prepaid rate with Sheraton Singapore at $150 and submit the BRG claim straight away- then worry that it may get rejected on some technicality (the price on Agoda might go up by the time customer service checks your claim, the rooms may be ever-so-different in a way you’ve overlooked, the customer service agent is having a bad day etc)
Option 2: Book the flexible rate with Sheraton Singapore at $200. Submit a BRG claim for Agoda at $135. If you do this and your claim is approved, you’ll get the $135 rate with the flexible cancellation terms. And if your claim is rejected, cancel your reservation and walk away.
So your approach can be the same as before. On Kayak, search for Starwood properties using the filter. Kayak always quotes you the lowest rates, which are almost certainly the prepaid ones. Once you find a 3rd party site with a lower prepaid rate than Starwood.com’s prepaid rate, book the flexible rate on Starwood and file a BRG.
I’ve just got a BRG claim approved for my last night in Koh Samui, bringing down the price of the Sheraton Samui from ~$300 a night to $240. I picked the 2,000 SPG points in this case.
That said, given Fred’s take on the Sheraton Samui I might just want to stay somewhere else, so good thing I got the flexible rate!