Where to find the deals


How can Express Reservations, of Boulder, Colorado, offer a rate of $169 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, in Beverly Hills, where published rates start at $215?How can Capitol Reservations quote a weekend price of $109 at Loews L'Enfant Plaza Hotel, in Washington, D.C., when the official rates start at $230?Why does Quikbook charge $133 for a room at San Francisco's Mark Hopkins Inter-Continental that otherwise could sell for $260?

The firms mentioned are all "room brokers": discount reservations services that negotiate special rates with scores of hotels in major cities — and don't charge consumers anything extra to use their services. Hotels offer bargains to these middlemen to fill empty rooms. (On a typical night, one-third of U.S. hotel rooms go unused.)

If you have your heart set on a specific hotel, consulting a broker might not be your most desirable option. But if you simply want to find the best available rate in a given city at any good hotel and to do it in a single phone call, give them a try. Brokers' prices usually beat even the hotel's own lowest "sale" rates. Mention the part of town you'd like to stay in and the price you'd like to pay, and see what they have.

A few brokers require advance payment via credit card and send you a voucher, but most let you pay at the hotel. Since prices and availability are dictated by supply and demand, you may not be able to get a great bargain (or even a room) when major events or conventions are going on. Advance booking is not required — but the earlier you call, the greater your chance of getting the best deal.