Instead of honoring a “best rate” guarantee, they sent him a gift card

Steve Rabin’s name might be familiar to some of you, especially if you’re active in the comments. He’s a faithful reader of this site who turned to me for help a few weeks ago after he booked a room at the Best Western in Pasadena.

I have to admit, when someone emails me with a problem, I act as quickly as possible. But when I recognize that person’s name as a regular reader, I drop everything — particularly if the complain has some merit.

This one did.

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Rabin had booked a room for July 16 through 21 through the Best Western site. It quoted him a rate of $89 for the first four nights and $99 for the next night. He booked it.

“I decided to check just to see if the rates were different, and lo and behold, Kayak quoted a rate of $79 a night for all 5 nights for the same room and number of people,” he says. “Not being a trusting sort — and having read your columns long enough to know! — I saved a screen shot of the bookable rate from Kayak.

Rabin reviewed Best Western’s rate guarantee (PDF). By the way, I’m not entirely sure why Best Western publishes the terms of its offer as a PDF file, which some users can’t easily access, but that’s another story.

Best Western asked him to fill out a form with the pertinent information. After doing so, he expected it to honor the Kayak rate, plus send him a $100 gift voucher.

It did not.

He explains:

About 10 hours later I received an e-mail from Best Western’s customer care stating that they got a pop-up saying the room rate wasn’t available.

In their terms and conditions, they state the agent must be able to see the rate on a public viewable and bookable site (which Kayak certainly is).

I tried offering the screen shot, but they were uninterested.

I understand this, but what about the time lag? It’s entirely possible the rooms sold out and the rate unavailable in the 10 hour time frame, which is of no fault of mine.

To me, it seems that this “guarantee” is fraudulent, since all Best Western has to do is wait until the rate is no longer available, then inform the customer they couldn’t find the rate. What do you think?

I share Rabin’s concern. Given the dynamic nature of room inventory within the computer reservations systems, it’s possible to run down the clock on most “best rate” guarantee claims. That’s not fair.

I checked with Best Western, and it investigated Rabin’s claim. Here’s what it told me:

The terms and conditions state that the lower rate has to be available when Best Western checks it on the alternate website where the lower rate was found. In this instance, the lower rate was not available on in the morning following his claim.

The guest sent the claim after 9 p.m. and customer service closes at 8 p.m. so they were closed at the time of submission. The department re-opens at 6 a.m. and got back to him quickly thereafter they opened as they were not able to locate a lower rate on the site provided by the customer that morning (despite the screen shot) and hence the decision.

Best Western is not looking for ways to not honor these claims but rather following the terms and conditions of the program. We’ve been actively promoting the Lowest Rate Guarantee program as we want consumers to find the best rate available when they stay with Best Western.

Although Best Western wouldn’t honor Rabin’s claim, it sent him a $100 travel card, which he can use toward a future stay. Rabin accepted the card. But did Best Western do enough for him?