Most hotel websites offer a "price guarantee" -- a reassurance (backed by a price match, additional discounts, credits, free nights, or other promises) that you won't find a lower room rate for a similar category room elsewhere.

The potential perks should be enough to ease the mind of anyone who's thinking twice about making a reservation, right?

Sure, at least that's what hotels want you to think. But hone in on any rate guarantee to see how to cash in, and you'll be squinting at so much fine print (much of it legalese) that you may need a pair of reading glasses.

When it comes to deciphering price guarantees, here is what to watch out for when reading through the requirements, and what to do if you find a lower price. We also walk you through the various booking channels -- hotel websites, online travel agencies, opaque sites, flash-sale sites -- to help you find the best one for you.

What Do Price Guarantees Cover?

So you've clicked on "book" to confirm your reservation on a hotel website -- only to find a room that's priced lower on another site! Now what? Do you qualify for a price match, credit, or additional discount under the hotel's promise of the best rate? Though price guarantees vary slightly from brand to brand, here are five eligibility requirements that you can expect across the board:

1. The room that you found on a different site must be exactly equal to the one that you booked. This means that everything -- including the bed size, the views, the dates of the stay, number of guests, and the cancellation policy (did you book a prepaid, nonrefundable rate?) -- must be comparable to the room that you booked on the hotel website. The price must also be quoted in U.S. dollars (as foreign exchange fluctuation can often account for rate differences.)

2. Negotiated, promotional, or group rates don't count; neither do those found on opaque, auction, and membership (including flash-sale) sites. You can't compare the price of the room that you booked with a room bought with an AAA (, AARP (, or other membership discount. You also can't compare room rates with prices posted on sites like Hotwire (, Priceline (, Jetsetter (, SniqueAway (, and Vacationist (

3. You'll need to file a claim within 24 hours after you book. The actual amount of time that you have to take advantage of a price guarantee is limited -- usually 24 hours, though sometimes up to 72 -- so you'll need to act fast (or even better, think before you buy).

4. The deal must be bookable at the time your case is reviewed. The sooner that your case is reviewed, the better -- or else the link with the competing price may expire.

5. Guarantees are calculated on the base fare. So be sure to subtract taxes, booking fees, or other charges when comparing your reservation and the website that's offering a better deal.

If these five conditions alone seem limiting, it's because hotels know exactly what they're doing. Hotel rates -- similar to airline pricing -- change quite frequently, even hourly. But it's uncommon for a dramatic price decrease to occur within 24 hours of booking (and even more uncommon for a traveler to take the effort to search for it). Hotel guarantee claims typically need to be filed within 24 hours after you book, but statistics reveal that price drops are more likely to occur over a longer period of time. Out of the 200,000 hotel stays registered through hotel (and airfare) price-tracking site (, 31% experienced a rate drop. Out of that percentage, only 19.56% happened over a period of 0-6 days; the average rate drop occurred over a period of 36 days -- long after the window for filing a claim has expired.

So after excluding special discounts, opaque, membership, and auction sites, what's left?

Hotel websites and online travel agencies (OTAs) like Travelocity ( and Orbitz ( -- though some hotels don't take these third-party sites into account. Keep in mind that the chances of cashing in on a price guarantee are slim to none. Because some hotels have agreements with OTAs on the published room prices (few hotels will allow listings that are lower than what's on their own websites), it's unlikely that you'll find a lower rate on an OTA that will qualify you for, say, a 10% discount that Wyndham offers as part of their rate guarantee.

Since you'll rarely find a lower price elsewhere, it's also improbable that you'll have to bother with filing a price-match claim with a company like Choice Hotels (, which operates brands such as Comfort Inn (, Clarion (, and MainStay Suites (

Why do price guarantees exist if they're so difficult to claim?

Hotel brands continue to push price guarantees to build consumer confidence. Kimpton ( and InterContinental Hotels Group (, which has InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, and the Holiday Inn under their umbrella of brands, have recently launched new initiatives. Kimpton will match the price found on a third-party site and throw in a $25 dining and beverage credit, while IHG just kicked off what they call "the most powerful web guarantee ever" -- the first night free, and the remaining nights of your stay at the competing price.

"Best rates are about brand integrity," says Anthony Del Gaudio, vice president of global distribution for Loews ( For example, if a customer makes a hotel purchase and then finds a better price on another site, that traveler feels cheated. Transparency about price helps to build brand loyalty, Del Gaudio says.

How to File a Claim for Hotel Guarantees

Despite the odds, chances are that you may find a more attractive room rate on a competing site. Luckily, the process of filing a claim is straightforward: most hotel groups will recommend that you call their reservations line or direct you to an online claim form. You'll have to provide your booking confirmation number, and the URL that links to the better deal. In some cases, your claim can be resolved quickly -- and when price matches are offered, at least in time for your stay.

If you can't be bothered with a claim, then it's possible to cancel and rebook at the better price (assuming that your purchase was refundable, and that you won't be paying a penalty; check your hotel's cancellation policy).

How to Avoid Buyer's Remorse: 4 Ways to Book a Hotel Room

It can be a headache to wait for refunds, to fill out forms, and to wrangle with customer service agents. Rather than make a hasty purchase (and deal with the consequences of a not-so-well-thought-out decision), here's a channel-by-channel summary that will help you make the right choice without regrets.

Hotels: Hotels will offer "best available rates" (public rates) on their websites, as well as packages and other promotional offers. While the non-promotional rates may not hit the rock-bottom prices of an opaque site, you'll typically get a better choice in rooms (sometimes properties withhold the best inventory for themselves), earn points on your membership card, and receive direct customer service.

Online Travel Agencies: Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz will offer roughly the same rates as hotel websites (and no lower). OTAs are best for comparing hotels -- seeing what's out there -- and reader reviews, plus the sites have enticing price guarantees of their own. For example, Orbitz's Price Assurance will automatically give you a cash refund if another customer pays a lower price for the same room.

Opaque Sites: Opaque sites like Priceline and Hotwire cater to customers who are price-driven above anything else. Markdowns can run up to 60% off published rates, according to Brian Ek, Priceline's spokesperson. The tradeoff for a heavily discounted room? Purchases are prepaid and nonrefundable (though often backed by a price guarantee). You also typically do not know the specific name of the hotel until after you've booked. A bit of a "last resort" option for hotels, you'll find an abundance of last-minute deals on opaque sites.

Flash-Sale Sites: Here, you'll find prices more attractive than published rates. But unlike opaque sites, flash-sale sites like SniqueAway, Jetsetter, and Vacationist are for people who plan ahead and are just as discerning about the price as the property. Because the number of rooms is limited and the booking window is short, you'll have to carefully browse the pre-sale calendar and pounce on the purchase once the sale is out of the gate. Rooms are often prepaid and nonrefundable with no rate assurances, so spontaneous purchases are highly discouraged.