Let’s say you want to spend a couple of nights at the Tim Hotel (a property that is starting to show its age but still holds a certain charm). You’ll probably try Googling it, and the first result should be the hotel’s own website, which should, if the hotel’s marketing staff are doing their job properly, offer the best rate. But you might also find the same rate, or cheaper, on any one of the thousands of hotel booking sites (Agoda, Wotif, Expedia et al) that will also appear in your search. You may also find a few local tour operators also offering good rates, and as they can also offer you airport transfers and sightseeing and the like, they may be an attractive option.
Some know-it-alls always claim that the only way to get the best deal is not to book in advance but simply to turn up at the hotel late in the day and haggle over the room rate. It’s not a bad theory, as long as you check in advance that your preferred hotel isn’t full, but in practice the vast majority of hotel reception staff, particularly in Vietnam, don’t have the authority to negotiate room rates and so unless the general manager or revenue manager happen to be hanging around when you arrive, you’ll end up paying the walk-in or rack rate which is always significantly higher than online rates. Furthermore, many hoteliers in Vietnam would, inexplicably, rather leave a room empty than suffer the indignity of seeing a customer get a good deal.
Knowledge is Power
Additionally, the cheap rates you see online are often online-only, locked into an allotment that is only available for web bookings, and which cannot be released for general sale by mere receptionists. The absurdity and inflexibility of this practice are illustrated by an experience I had in Phuket a couple of years ago. I’d booked an absolute bargain online, a four-star hotel with private pool for US$29 per night, for two nights, and on my second day I decided I wanted to stay two more nights, so I asked the receptionist to extend my stay. She replied that she could, but I could only get the cheap rate if I booked online. So I got my laptop out there and then, put it on the reception desk, and tried to book. The online allocation had sold out, though the room I was in was still physically available for that night, yet the receptionist still refused to book it for me at the same rate. So I checked out and moved into the hotel next door, another four-star, which was available online for US$27, while my original room remained empty for the next two nights (yes, being a pedant I did check).
So how do you make sure you’re getting the best rate? Try a price comparison site like Kayak, use Google, or — my preferred option — befriend someone who works in the industry, and buy them beer on a regular basis. Knowledge is power!