Hotel reservation agent: “I feel very guilty about lying”

Mary is an in-house reservation agent for an upscale, full-service hotel in a major American city. I’m not using her last name for reasons that will become obvious in a moment.

Mary has a lot on her mind. People who call her hotel to reserve a room are getting ripped off, and she wants to come clean about it. Here’s our interview, which was conducted by phone this morning.

Tell me about what you do.

I work in the in-house reservations department of [a hotel]. When people call the hotel to book a room, they’re put through to me.

What do they say when they’re connected to your department?

Normally, they ask for the best room rate.

And what do you tell them?

I give them what we call the “bar” rate — it stands for “best available rate.”

Is it?


Why not?

I could offer a lower rate, but my revenue manager won’t let me.

Can you give me an example?

Sure. This weekend, the “bar” rate for a standard room is $200 per night. Our website has a $130 rate for a winter special. We could offer that when you call, but we’re not allowed to — unless a guest asks for it.

And do they know to ask for it?

No. From my experience, hotel guests think they’re more savvy than they actually are.

What if you offer the lowest rate without being prompted?

I’m severely reprimanded. Our revenue manager listens to our conversations.

So what’s the magic word?

They should ask for the very lowest rate. Not just the lowest rate – the very lowest rate.

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Anything else?

You should say you have lots of memberships [like AAA or AARP] so that if you qualify for a negotiated discount, I can volunteer it.

OK. So you quote me a rate, and I think it’s a little high. I’m about to hang up. How do you stop me?

I can offer a better rate, but still not the very lowest rate. Usually, people are happy with that, and they’ll book the room.

And if that doesn’t work?

I’ll tell you that we have many citywide conventions and that availability is limited. Even if it isn’t true. Again, that’s something we are instructed to say.

You’re told to lie?

Yes. I feel very guilty about lying. I also feel guilty when I don’t offer the lowest rate.

But many hotels have best-rate guarantees. Couldn’t I make a claim if I found a better rate elsewhere?

Our hotel has a best-rate guarantee, but we make it so hard to file a claim, and people rarely do. It’s better to do your homework before you book a room.

(Photo: allen jael ee/Flickr Creative Commons)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at

  • srigrace

    Online hotel reservation
    is becoming a very popular method for booking hotel rooms. Travelers
    can book rooms from home by using online security to protect their privacy and
    financial information and by using several online travel agents to compare
    prices and facilities at different hotels.

  • Mike

    Well, I work in a business hotel – Hotels love to overbook the lowest grade rooms, Then, if we end up staying overbooked we can upgrade guest. It is honestly a big bonus to the guest as long as the whole hotel is not overbooked (which is also normal). However, when it comes to upgrading rooms, members (at franchised hotels) get upgrades first, then its done by rate, and room locations are generally decided at check-in based on how we stereotype you.

  • Mike

    From my hotel experience….

    You can always get a better rate from the agent on the phone than you can online.

    However – Rates like to change with occupancy, and some companies put average rates for a particular room class for some period of time, or will pick a low rate date by default.

    However, when you put your actual reservation dates in, you will see the actual rate you can book at.

    This leads to a giant misunderstanding of the rate. Typically when we say we cannot match that rate online, were telling the truth. (However, at hotels where the FD makes the reservations, sometimes we just don’t want you to stay with us we can already tell you will be a headache.

    Mike’s rule of thumb – “Those that pay really low rates will always complain”

  • Mike

    I work at a front desk

    We are paid to

    (1) Smile
    (2) Be nice
    (3) Be that a****** that charges you crazy fees for breaking the rules that were clearly stated on the reservation card at check in – but who reads those?

    (4) If you want a lower rate – do your research – know what is a fair price is for that room. At the end of the day – most of us don’t make more with higher rates, however typically higher rate guest are easier to deal with.

  • Mike

    Protip –

    If the hotel is actually busy – We won’t lower the rate at all for you.

    We know we can sell it for the full rack (Best Available Rate)

  • Mike

    I work at a Front Desk, I make reservations at this hotel as well.

    The lowest rate means -> The lowest rate you qualify for with the given information we have.

    Well, we don’t have any additional information- and therefore it is the lowest rate you qualify for.

    Special sales, etc have a restriction that the guest must mention it (same with bereavement, you can say, you have a funeral etc, your mother died, etc… you still got rack – however if you don’t ask for the bereavement rate, your not going to get it unless your really nice… and even then… good luck. The restriction for me at least is the guest must say “Bereavement”, however in this circumstance if they cannot remember the bereavement word, and try to use it without giving me the whole life story of whom died – I’ll honor it.

    On a positive note – I do tend to upgrade these guest that are there for such a tragic event or give free breakfast because they are paying a crazy high rate compared to what they are eligible for.

  • mike

    Eh – Just don’t be too annoying.

    I’ll put a comment on your reservation that says “annoying – no upgrade, etc”

    But – I’m just your a****** FD clerk, that manages to lie well enough to guest that I get away with it.

  • James Norris

    I am a fan of the Florida booking agents. I even consider hiring one for my honeymoon. Thanks for sharing this information.

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