Secret hotels, sometimes known as the opaque channel, have rocketed in popularity in recent years. One operator, Hotwire has reported that hotel room bookings have doubled in the last year, in addition to 5,000 more hotels coming on board. In times of austerity and when fighting for a share of a market that Visit Britain has reported as worth £52bn in the UK alone, the potential for bargains is likely to accelerate this trend.
What does it involve?
Essentially, you get discounts on hotel rooms in return for not initially knowing where you will be staying. There is a trade-off inherent with secret hotels, which means you accept some unknowns in return for receiving savings on the hotel price. And the savings can be very good – 45 to 50 percent in some cases. Once you have confirmed the booking all will be revealed however.
While it would seem that there is some uncertainty about whether the hotel will match your expectations regarding quality and location, in reality a lot of this uncertainty is taken out of the equation because the secret hotel websites indicate the general hotel locations and there are also quality indicators to refer to before you confirm, – the hotel’s star rating and other travellers’ ratings from TripAdvisor.
Once you have confirmed your booking, that’s it – it’s final, so don’t book thinking that you’ll just go ahead and cancel afterwards. The secret hotel websites have a price match guarantee, which means they will refund the difference of any cheaper offer you find for the same hotel. On the Secret Hotels website their partner Lastminute allows you 24 hours to find a better offer – you’ll need to send a screenshot of any competing offer to claim the price difference.
How it works
The savvy traveller selects their location and dates and searches on the secret hotel website. You will be presented with all the hotels that match your criteria and you can narrow this down further using criteria like the hotel star rating, Guest Review Rating (provided by TripAdvisor), Best Sellers and Price. You can also click for additional information, such as hotel and room facilities. Once you have made your choice you just complete the payment details and you’re booked in. At that stage you will find out the name of the hotel you will be staying in. All in all it’s pretty straightforward.
Why hotels might do it
It is often actually in a hotel’s interest to offer discounted rates. Remember that the vast majority of their costs are incurred before a guest has stepped foot inside the hotel. They have to pay upfront for rates, commercial mortgages, refurbishment, staffing etc., even if the building is empty. Therefore, taking in additional guests does not significantly increase costs, whereas every room that is left unfilled represents a lost opportunity to generate revenue. From the hotel’s perspective they are not losing money by offering discounts on empty rooms, they are gaining revenue from selling rooms that would otherwise have gone unused.
Anonymity can also be used to protect a hotel’s brand. The key feature of secret hotel websites is the anonymity until the point of purchase. While some hotels go down the route of offering sales or discounts on their own or third party sites, others feel that publicising this fact may harm their brand. The reason for this is that some customers value the exclusivity that high prices ensures while others may get irritated if they knew that the guest next door had checked in at half the cost. In this situation secret hotel websites come into their own – making the two ends meet by selling spare hotel rooms in a way that won’t impact on the hotel’s brand but at a good price for the customer. It is something of a win win for both hotel and guest.