If you are able to plan ahead and don’t anticipate any last-minute changes in your travel itinerary, booking early can save you money. Many hotels offer a 21-day advance purchase discount, often up to 20 to 30 percent off the rack rate. If you know where and when you want to stay, and you want the comfort of a confirmed hotel room well in advance, the benefits may easily outweigh the restrictions.
Also, by booking early, you reduce your chance of finding a hotel sold out when your travel dates approach. This pays off during peak times, when hotels fill up early. But whether or not you should take advantage depends primarily on the predictability of your travel situation.
Hotels don’t uniformly advertise their advance purchase rates, so it’s up to the consumer to find out what an individual hotel offers. If you’re not sure the hotel you want offers an early booking rate, call and ask. Meanwhile, here’s a quick look at how some of the larger hotel groups handle advance purchases:
- The InterContinental hotel group, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, InterContinental, and Staybridge Suites, offer at least 30 percent off their standard, non-discounted rates. For example, at the Holiday Inn in Miami Beach, a weekend night in June is $129 without the discount, and $90 when you book in advance. However, you must prepay your entire stay at the time of booking. Another good thing to know is that you can apply the points you earn with this rate to InterContinental?s frequent use program, Priority Club.
- The Marriott family of hotels leaves the rates up to the individual properties. Some hotels offer seven-, 14-, and 21-day advance booking rates, with the 21-day advance purchase price saving you the most. If you’re interested in staying and saving at Marriott, Courtyard, Fairfield Inn, or Renaissance, call before the 21-day deadline to see if the individual hotel you wish to stay at offers an advance purchase rate. For example, we called five properties before we found one with the 21-day advance discount. The payoff for perseverance, though, can be worth it. One weekend night in June at the Renaissance San Francisco Downtown goes from $159 to $139 with three weeks advance booking.
- The Hilton family of hotels, Hilton, Hilton Garden Inns, Conrad, Embassy Suites, Hampton Inns, and Doubletree, is another mixed bag in terms of who offers the 21-day advance purchase rate. For Hilton Hotels and Hilton Garden Inns the 21-day rate is dependent on the individual hotel, so it’s important to call ahead to find out if the hotel you plan to stay at offers the rate. Doubletree offers 20 percent off its best available rates for those who book three weeks ahead. In all these cases, the first night is non-refundable and you must use a credit card to hold the advance purchase reservation, although the credit card will not be charged in advance. The other hotels may not offer an early-purchase rate. An example of the savings available is the price for a weekend room at the Doubletree in Seattle, which is $71 with the discount and $89 when you book without 21-day advance purchase.
- The Starwood family of hotels encompasses Four Points Sheraton, St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, Westin, and W. While most of these hotels do offer 21-day advance purchase rates, the existence and amount of these rates vary by season and hotel. For example, an early summer night’s stay at the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers goes from $169 to $139 when you book ahead. In addition, Starwood offers up to 50 percent in savings for AARP members who book 21 days in advance.
The downside is that most of the time, reservations of this type are non-refundable and can’t be changed if you need to adjust your travel dates. Also, advance purchase reservations often require that you prepay for all or part of your stay at the time you book, so it’s not just a deposit you lose if you have to cancel. Another potential for frustration is that the hotel might offer a cheaper price later as part of a sale.
Many hotels offer a polar-opposite alternative to the 21-day advance purchase rate: the last-minute deal. Geared towards people who have flexibility with location and the ability to make last-minute decisions about weekend plans, last-minute discount deals often include airfare, car rental, or a meal. Still, if you need a place to stay in a specific city on a specific date, you may be better off enjoying the savings and peace-of-mind of planning ahead.