We’ve booked our fair share of hotels over the years and always have to decide whether to reserve the advance purchase rate or the best refundable rate. Hotels offer a lower price if you’re willing to pay for the entire stay upfront but is it worth the savings to pay for your stay in advance?
Unlike having to pay for your train, plane or cruise ship ticket ahead of time, you’re able to pay for other travel expenses, like a hotel room, when you’re finished with your stay. It didn’t take long for hotel companies to figure out that people were canceling reservations at the last possible minute, so hotels now give an incentive to pay ahead of time for your room, in the form of a lower price.
For example, here are the prices for a weekend stay at the Residence Inn in Cape Canaveral.
The flexible member rate is $359 for a two-night stay.
The advance purchase is much lower, only costing $269 for the same room.
That’s a $45 difference per night or $90 for the stay. However, there’s a downside to the prepaid rate, as it’s also non-refundable.
As of September 2021, Marriott hotels around the world are once again able to set their own cancellation policies.
You have to decide if you’re willing to risk losing $269 if you need to cancel to save $90. I’m looking at a reservation that’s just 3 weeks away, but many things can change in that amount of time.
I try never to book a non-refundable advance purchase rate. I’m not willing to risk the money just to save some dollars. That’s why I’m not a gambler (and why we only visit Las Vegas for the shows and not the casinos).
I’m still looking to save a buck wherever I can. Thankfully, there’s a way for me to have my cake and eat it too. There’s a AAA rate in between the two prices. Remember that AAA is worth more than just road service.
With a total price of $296, that’s only $27 more for the two nights. For $15 a night, I get to pay for the room after my stay. Note that there’s no deposit required for the AAA rate. Here’s the cancellation policy:
You may cancel your reservation for no charge before 11:59 PM local hotel time 1 day[s] before arrival.
That’s the same policy as the Flexible rate.
There are cases where I may book an advance purchase rate. If I read the policies and can cancel the room up until a few days before the stay and get a refund, I’ll consider paying in advance if the price is right. I’m also more willing to pay in advance the closer I am to the day of the stay. If I’m booking a room only a day or two in advance, I might be within the cancellation policy anyway so why not save a few bucks?
I don’t see many instances where it’s worth it to book a hotel room where you need to pay the entire amount in advance and lose all your money if you need to change your plans.
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And don’t forget; there’s often a “senior” rate that is the same as the AAA rate (for non-AAA members).
Actually for Marriott, the senior rate can be another 10% less than AAA rate. While the actual age is supposed to be 62, I have not had a front desk clerk ask my age yet (I am 64 and don’t look it). Years ago, my corporate rate for Starwood was 50% off the best available rate. Which made for some really reasonable hotel stays in Asia. Marriott in all their greed, ended all those corp. rates.
AARP rates usually give the same discounts and cancellation as AAA rates (at Hilton, anyway)
You’re absolutely correct about the “flex rates” and no cancellation policies. When I did research into hotels and B&B’s for a European trip in 2019, one of the biggest complaints I read in ratings were from people who got the advance purchase rate but then had to cancel and couldn’t get a refund. Every booking I made, which were months advance, had a no cost cancellation policy of at least up to 48hrs before day of stay. I did have to change or cancel one or two and was able to do so without cost.
I have booked the advanced purchase rate, only for the rates for all types to fall by a lot afterwards. I think if you know you will go someplace and will stay overnight, it is ok if the price is what you are willing to pay. However, if there is uncertainty, look for a hotel chain has has reasonable rates for cancellable rooms. Finally, I once booked a cancellable rate, paying a little more. I realized that I would be midflight to Europe during that time period, so I should have just gone for the cheapest rate since I would not have been able to cancel.