Starwood

The flaw in Starwood’s BRG (Best Rate Guarantee) -don’t get caught in it

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As you are probably keenly aware, there has been a big push in recent years by hotel chains to get you to book directly with them rather than with a third party like Orbitz or Hotels.com. After all, when you book with a third party, Starwood has to pay them a commission that may be more than 10% of the rate.

They encourage the direct booking by degrading your benefits if you book any other way. With Starwood’s SPG program, not booking directly means loss of your status recognition and all associated benefits, your stay credit, your earned points, and your complimentary WiFi.

So there is pretty good reason to go out of your way, if you are an SPG program member, to book directly.  So what happens when you find a better rate elsewhere but still would prefer to book directly?  That’s what they created the Best Rate Guarantee program for.

Ironically, Starwood’s Best Rate Guarantee could be the exact reason why you lose the better rate.

Overall, Starwood’s Best Rate Guarantee program works well. If you find a better rate on a 3rd party site, just book a cancellable rate on the SPG site that is otherwise the same. For instance, this means if the cheaper third party rate includes breakfast and the SPG.com rate does not, it’s not the same rate.  But if the non-refundable rate on SPG is, say $200 and you find a non-refundable rate elsewhere for $150, you can go ahead and book a higher but cancellable rate on SPG so they can review and adjust your rate. The program terms state that they will give you the same rate you found elsewhere, plus an extra 20% off the rate OR 2,000 Starpoints. The check in time for your stay must be at least 24 hours away from the time you book.

Once you book the cancellable rate on SPG.com, you just use the claim form and wait for a reply, usually within 24 hours.  You just type in the rates and where you found the deal and SPG will independently verify the 3rd party rate.

This generally works well and I’ve used it in the past a couple of times with success, but it FAILED so badly for me this past weekend, that I had to write this post to make sure none of you experience what I did.

While looking on Saturday for a room in Philadelphia on Sunday, I found the deal of all deals using the HotelTonight app. (if you don’t have it, it’s great for last minute deals – get $25 with my link). The Le Meridien Philadelphia was available for just $106 + taxes and fees or $123 total. Total bargain. But on SPG.com the rate was decidedly higher at $259 + tax. We are talking a $153 one night difference!!

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The Hotel Tonight rate. I screen captured this at the time the rate was available – 2:17pm on Saturday May 29.

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At the time, there was a $259 non-cancellable rate that was the same as the $106 rate on HT. I was instructed to book this cancellable rate for $289. I just screen captured this from my email when creating this post, so the timestamp is not from that day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wasn’t exactly sure how to BRG HotelTonight because it’s prepaid, so I got in touch with @SPGAssist on Twitter who were great and even got me a direct phone number to BRG so I could walk through my scenario with them.  I wanted to book directly with SPG. I told them that if they could just look at the rate on HT while I was on the phone and match it, that would be all I needed. Didn’t need the extra 20% or the 2,000 Starpoints if I could avoid the whole BRG process – but that was not possible.  The agent that helped me on the phone was amazing and polite and did all she could – within the confines of BRG’s setup.

So we did the claim form together and then I waited.  Only maybe 45 minutes, which is great, but in that time, the Le Meridien pulled the rate from HotelTonight. I had proof (from screen capturing the rate with time stamp when I found it) but was told that couldn’t be used to verify the claim (fair enough, I suppose screen captures are easily doctored).

The end result, though, was that I lost the rate. If I had just booked it at HotelTonight, I’d have enjoyed a night at the Le Meridien for a super low rate. But I’d have been frustrated on arrival to be treated like I wasn’t an SPG member.  But instead, by following the SPG BRG “procedure” I lost the rate altogether and wound up staying elsewhere.  It obviously left a bad taste in my mouth as well, because I felt like I was trying to do everything I could do book directly and in the end that cost me the rate.

Here’s what I don’t get: In a situation like this, where I have time stamped evidence of the rate existing, why is there no way for the BRG team to look up what the property was selling rooms for on a particular booking channel?  Readers, please tell me if hotel data doesn’t work this way, but I would think that one way or another (whether it is automatic data reporting or a phone call to a hotel revenue manager) SPG could verify an extreme case like this.

Unless they can fix the program to avoid a mess like what happened to me this weekend, I would only risk BRG when there is a minimal rate difference to a cancellable rate. In that case you have the cancellable rate booked and are only hoping for a small bump and the 2,000 points. But in the case of a large difference, say $20 or more – certainly the more than $150 I had – just book the third party. Don’t risk losing the rate altogether.

My purpose in writing this post is two-fold:

  1. Make sure none of my readers make the same mistake I did.
  2. To hopefully get someone at SPG to see this and figure out a way to adjust the program to avoid these kinds of outcomes. I know some people at SPG and everyone there is committed to member happiness and loyalty. I think this is an unintended flaw in the BRG program and hopefully, with some attention, it can be upgraded.