There's a growing trend in the hotel industry called 'mystery bookings', whereby websites offer rooms at anonymous hotels for discounts of up to 50 per cent. Sure, it's nothing new – we have seen 'secret deals' for the good part of a decade now – but as hotels look to drive more traffic to their own websites and to protect their rates, distressed inventory (ie unfilled rooms) is being released to third parties for sale anonymously.
Who wins? As travellers we do, because in this current economic climate, some hotels will offer fantastic bargains to ensure properties are full, which in the end keeps managers and owners happy. It's like the old adage of 'there's no point a plane taking off with an unsold seat'. And who wouldn't want a 5-star room at half price?
How does it work? Jump onto a mystery booking website like hotwire.com, which is relatively new to the Australian market. On there, you put in your destination and dates and a series of mystery hotels will come up showing their rate, distance from the city centre and star rating (or self-rating if that's what the hotel has). You then select the hotel you are after and once the selection has been made and you pay for your room, the hotel is then revealed. Hotwire works with top brands in the market, so don't expect a flea-bag motel in some dodgy area.
When is the best time to book? Here’s a Time Out tip for you – the best savings (generally around 30-50 per cent) are 14 days out, so if you are planning a trip on short notice, then a mystery booking is a very worthwhile option. Even when cities are busy with big events, you can still find a solid range of options that should fit your price tag.
If you don't want to take the mystery leap, then next time you book a hotel, look to arrange your stay over two weeks out and the best way to blag an upgrade, free WiFi or a cheap brekky is to call the hotel and work your magic over the phone. In this day of the internet, it's amazing what discounts you can get by making a call and asking.