Saving On Your Hotel Room

The rack rate is the maximum rate that a hotel charges for a room. In China these rates are nothing more than the first bid in a bargaining discussion, designed to keep the final price you will actually pay as high as possible. You'll almost never pay more than 90%, usually not more than 70%, frequently not more than 50%, and sometimes as little as 30% of this first asking price. Guidelines on discounts are given for each city. Here are some tips to lower the cost of your room:

• Do not book ahead. Just show up and bargain. In China this applies as much to the top-class joint-venture names as to all the others. The best price is available over the counter, as long as there's room. For most of the year, across China, there are far more rooms than customers at every level. For ordinary Chinese hotels you may well pay double by booking ahead, and there's no guarantee your reservation will be honored if the hotel fills up or if someone else arrives before you, cash in hand. E-mail is almost never replied to, and faxes get ignored. Most Chinese just show up and bargain.

• Book online. If you want to be absolutely certain of a particular joint-venture hotel at a busy period, look at its website for rates. Major hotel chains operating in China often have their best published rate on their own websites. However, these rates fluctuate constantly according to demand, and are sometimes directly linked to computerized inventory which alters prices at frequent intervals, sometimes hourly. Prices for any time of year booked a long way ahead will always look uninviting. They'll be much cheaper nearer the time, unless some major event is taking place. Ordinary hotels, if they have a website at all, will just quote rack rates.

• Dial any central booking number. Contrary to popular wisdom, as the better hotels manage their rates with increasing care, the central booking number is likely to have a rate as good as or better than the rate you can get by calling the hotel directly, and the call is usually toll-free.

• Avoid Chinese online agencies. Avoid booking through Chinese hotel agencies and websites specializing in Chinese hotels. The discounts they offer are precisely what you can get for yourself, and you can in fact beat them because you won't be paying their markup. Many of these have no allocations at all, and simply jump on the phone to book a room as soon as they hear from you.

IN HONG KONG & MACAU

Hong Kong in particular is well stocked with hotels that regularly make their way onto lists of the world's best. Service is second to none, and they are worth flying halfway around the world to stay in. None of what's said about mainland hotels above applies.

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