Call it a perk or call it a gimmick; the latest innovation (or invention) of hotel chains is the Member Rate. Hilton and Marriott have a new siren song for travelers. “Book direct with us!” they say. “Avoid the shopping around! We have a beautiful Members-Only rate for you!”

A Familiar Tune

Ah, but we’ve heard this before, haven’t we? Just as with the debilitating proliferation of ancillary fees, the hotel chains are taking a page from the airline playbook: get the traveler to come to the single-source wonderland of your own branded booking interface, and they’re less likely to comparison shop. And these corporate sales and marketing barons are on to something. A compelling brand experience helps us part with our cash a bit more readily. (This from the girl who goes to Starbucks every morning. Because they know my name. And their branding is en flique. And I’m a sucker for those things.)

But hoteliers are trying to up the perk-ROI. Rather than just promising the benefits of a (highly-fluctuating) Rewards Program for booking direct by promising a few extra points (most of which you’ll get, anyway, because your Rewards Program number is in your traveler profile, right?), they’re promising you a lower price. Just for you. Because you’re special.

And it sounds lovely.

Short Field Trip: Down on the Farm

I’m gonna digress a bit for an etymology lesson. Horses’ teeth grow over time. The longer the teeth, the older (and less useful) the horse. The aphorism “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” simply means: if you’re being given a gift, don’t disrespect the giver by looking for its shortcomings. Just take the gift.

Meanwhile, Back in the Office

Okay: off the farm; back to the office. The Member Rate is not a gift, despite the fact that it’s presented like one, all shiny and sparkly. No, it’s an agreed-upon exchange of payment for goods and services rendered.

And now we get to the heart of the matter: although the Member Rate may come in under any other price in the GDS or your negotiated rate, the hotelier isn’t promising that. Both Hilton and Marriott have plenty of fine print associated with these Member Rates. And who can blame them? All’s fair in love and business. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll see that the discount percentage varies drastically with time of booking, days of the week, global region, and chain, or even specific hotel. And the starting point for that discount percentage? That’s a crap-shoot as well.

Let’s Get Down to the Balance Sheet

So is your traveler’s Member Rate actually saving more money than your negotiated rate, or our IHG®Partnership rates, or our Radius Rates? Great question. The answer is: it’ll depend every time. But also: probably not. Your odds of getting a better rate, especially if our Consulting Services Department has helped you score an industry-competitive negotiated rate with your preferred hotelier, are greater if you book through your TMC. The beneficial variables are stacked in the TMC’s favor.
• Access to corporate negotiated rates
• Preferred partner booking preference (to increase your numbers for next negotiation season)
• IHG® Partnership rates
• Radius Rates
• Virtuoso Consortium Benefits
• Ritz Carlton STARS Benefits
• Access to inventory at “sold-out” locations
• Policy-compliant booking
• Traveler tracking for Duty of Care
• Data aggregation through WorldReports™

But Wait; There’s More!

Still hung up on the glitzy allure of the Member Rate? Alright, keep your Members-Only Jacket. It looks nice on you.
Because, as a member of Radius Travel, World Travel, Inc. is among the “select corporate travel professionals” referenced in the Marriott Rewards Member Rates press release from March 11, 2016. As such, your stellar agents (and your customized OBT set-up) is able to access and offer Marriott Rewards Member Rates to travelers who book through us and are Marriott Rewards Members. Provided, of course, that their Marriott Rewards Number is correctly entered into their traveler profile. That means, when it comes to Marriott Rewards Member Rates, we can compare prices to what’s in the GDS, and everything else in our bag of tricks.

What about Hilton Member Rates? They work the same way. As we track these bookings, we're consistently finding that our negotiated rates come in cheaper than the Member Rate.

The point of all this? No matter how well-branded a campaign is, or how special it makes your traveler feel, business is business. Our business is finding the best possible price for your hotel bookings (while taking into account all your corporate and personal preferences and weighing the benefits of included ancillaries for some rates over others).

So open wide, Mr. Ed. Let’s take a look at those chompers.

Chesley Turner

Written by Chesley Turner