Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Hotels Counter Frequent Cancelers with Nonrefundable Rates ; They Hope to Stem Losses from Guests Who Book and Then Look Elsewhere

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Hotels Counter Frequent Cancelers with Nonrefundable Rates ; They Hope to Stem Losses from Guests Who Book and Then Look Elsewhere

Article excerpt

Comparison shopping is a practice that has grown in recent years as powerful new search tools become available on the Web.

For hotels, they are the most maddening of customers -- those who repeatedly book and cancel rooms at no cost in search of the best deal. While the customer ends up with a low rate on a good room, the snubbed hotel is left with an empty room and no revenue.

It is a practice that has grown in recent years as powerful new search and comparison tools become available on the Web.

Now, hotel companies are starting to respond, offering lower nonrefundable rates to those who pay in full when they make reservations. Travelers who need more flexibility will still find it, but they will pay more for that option.

Andrew Greenwell knows the game all too well. He spends almost half the year staying in hotel rooms for his job in residential real estate and for vacation travel. He rarely uses the first reservation he makes.

"I book a room just to make sure I have something, but check about once a week online for better deals on a four- or five-star hotel," he said.

As travel comparison sites have proliferated on the Web in the last decade, so have the ranks of those who use them.

"Shopping around is a very common behavior with travelers now," said Tom Meyers, the editor of EuroCheapo.com, a Web site that reviews and books hotels in Europe. "It's almost a game. They book the room and then wait awhile and search around to see if prices have gone down."

The hotel industry, with its history of being accommodating on room reservations, is realizing there is more to lose than just an empty room, said Jeremy Murphy, chief executive of TheSuitest.com, which compares amenities and prices of hotel suites.

"Empty hotel rooms can also mean emptier hotel bars and restaurants, so a canceled room can have a greater effect than the lost room rate," he said. "Hotels prefer to lock in revenue rather than get stuck with empty rooms," even if that revenue is 10 percent to 15 percent less than they would get otherwise, he said.

Nonrefundable rates have always been part of the hotel industry, said Kathleen Reidenbach, senior vice president for marketing at Kimpton.

"It's just that they are more transparent now and not buried in the fine print," she said, and they are also promoted more often now.

A recent e-mail advertisement for the Kimpton chain, for example, offered a 20 percent discount for guests who lock into reservations that cannot be canceled and are paid upfront. "We do offer some extraordinary discounts and in return, we ask our guests to make a commitment," Ms. Reidenbach said.

The Preferred Hotel Group, which owns hotels in Cities like Los Angeles, Rome and Kuwait, offered a discounted nonrefundable rate for the first time in 2013, and it has quickly become one of the most popular rates with guests, according to Michelle Woodley, senior vice president for revenue management and distribution at Preferred. …

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