Marriott International Inc. is hoping to snatch more direct bookings from Internet travel sites and the abundance of lodging peddlers, guaranteeing the best available room prices at its hotels to customers who reserve with the company or through travel agents.
Starting January 1, customers who book through Marriott, its call center, or a travel agent and then find a lower rate—within 24 hours—from travel agencies or certain Internet sites for the same dates, hotel and type of room will get the lower rate and a 25 percent discount, the Bethesda, Maryland-based company said.
Marriott said its lowest-price guarantee goes beyond those of competitors—including Sheraton, Westin, Hilton and Intercontinental hotels—because it does not require rooms to be booked exclusively on the Internet.
Many of the programs were started after the September 11 terrorist attacks in an attempt to drive customers to use hotel Web sites, said Reneta McCarthy, a lecturer at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration.
Hotels are losing business to online travel agencies, such as Expedia, Orbitz and Priceline, which account for about half of all Internet hotel business even while marking up hotel prices by as much as 25 percent, McCarthy said.
“The hotel industry has lost control of the pricing of their own rooms,” she said. “You come up with a program like this to help the consumer feel comfortable about booking a room through your least expensive distribution channel—the Web site.”
Marriott spokesman John Wolf said the offer “levels the playing field to ensure all customers have equal access to the best available room rates.”
The deal won’t match prices found on Internet travel companies such as Priceline and Hotwire, Marriott officials said. Customers at these companies input the price they want to pay or certain hotel characteristics, but don’t know the brand they’ll be getting.
McCarthy recommended shopping for rooms on hotel Web sites, which usually have the lowest prices. She also said it’s rare that a hotel has to pay the discount rate guarantee.
“They make sure that the person who manages the inventory at the hotel is not putting them in a position where they’ll have to pay anybody the guarantee,” McCarthy said. “That makes you as a consumer know you’re going to get the lowest rate on the hotel Web site.”