Tag Archives: brg

BookBRG- another useful tool for finding BRGs

Best Rate Guarantees, or BRGs, are cool ways you can make the cheaper prices offered by Online Travel Agents (OTAs eg Hotels.com, Expedia etc) work for you while still earning loyalty points and status with the hotel. Have a read of my refresher here on how BRG claims work.

Now, I’m one of those people who actively hunts for BRG opportunities every time he travels. I wrote previously about JustBRG, a rudimentary site that did something very similar.

However, JustBRG was slow, buggy and inelegant, and the site has not been working in a while. I think it’s safe to say the developer has abandoned that project.

Fortunately, I’ve learned about a new site called BookBRG. The interface here is much more like a traditional OTA, the site is a lot smoother and less buggy. Here’s me looking at potential BRG opportunities in Bangkok for my post Christmas trip-

You’ll note on the top left that I’m able to search for Hilton, Best Western, Marriott, Starwood, IHG and Choice hotel options. The engine also tells you the maximum value per point possible if you opt to redeem points.

The engine also recommends whether or not you should book direct or go with the 3rd party OTA and then file a BRG.

In this example, I can see 3 opportunities to file a BRG claim with Hilton, because the agency price < booking direct.

Let’s try this with the Conrad, since that’s the biggest price differential.

Clicking on Conrad sends me to this page where I can see all the competing sites that offer the $138 rate.

Just to verify that this $138 rate does indeed exist, I click through to Hotels.com and see this (the rate is actually even lower @ $131)

Versus this price on Hilton.com. Now in this case there’s actually an even cheaper rate of $120 on Hilton.com so perhaps this isn’t the best of examples, but hopefully this gives you an idea of how the general principle works. You use the search engine to identify possible BRG opportunities, click through and compare like for like rates between the OTA and the official site.

Just as a reminder, here are the BRG offers each chain has

  • Starwood- 20% off competing price OR 2,000 Starpoints
  • Hilton- 25% off competing price
  • Marriott-25% off competing price
  • IHG-Match competing price + first night free
  • Choice- Match competing price + first night free
  • Best Western- Match competing price + US$100 gift card

Hunt down BRG opportunities with Justbrg

I’ve written before about BRG opportunities, what they are and why you should be on the lookout for them. I’ve focused particularly on Starwood out of habit, but really the underlying idea is the same across all chains (just that the difficulty involved making a claim does differ) that offer such a guarantee.

I learned about a new online search engine called justbrg.com. The interface is ugly, the site is slow and sometimes unresponsive but damn if it doesn’t get the job done (and because it’s still a work in progress will I suppose get better over time). You can search the site for BRG opportunities in any given city for any given date- the site will compare OTA prices to the official site and flag any hits. JustBRG claims to support SPG, Hilton and Marriott but I was only able to get SPG to work. It might just be my browser though.

I looked at Starwood hotels in NYC and got some interesting data points. In this example we see The Westin New York Grand Central which is retailing for $227 a night on the official site versus $191 a night on a 3rd party site.

Click on “official” to go to the official SPG site where you can verify what they’re charging. Click on”BRG” to go to the third party site in question that is offering a better rate.

And indeed, it’s true! An OTA called “Prestigia” (which I’ve never heard of) has the room at US$191 a night

Versus the official site at US$227 a night.

If you’re still not convinced, click through to the final price and you’ll see that even after you take into account taxes and fees the 3rd party site is still cheaper

With Starwood, you’re given a choice of 20% off the lower rate of 2,000 Starpoints. So in this case, you could either save US$74 (227-80%*191) or get 2,000 Starpoints. I’d take the US$74 in this case given that I value Starpoints at at least 2 US cents each.

Now remember that with BRGs you need to compare like to like- so make sure the room you’ve chosen is the same type as that under the rate on the official site which you are matching to.

If you want a refresher on BRGs and how to file them read this or this.  All in all I think this is a neat tool and I’ll probably be using it to generate a few thousand extra Starpoints whenever I go on business trips.

Navigating Starwood’s new BRG policy

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!