Shop around if you want to nab the best room rate – here is our resident hotelier Derek Picot’s methodology

Business travellers experience a wide and perhaps inexplicable range of pricing when booking hotels. My recent trip to Portugal was no exception. I stayed at three properties – the Sheraton in Lisbon, the Troia Design Hotel near Comporta and the Dom Pedro Vilamoura on the Algarve. Booking was like having several spins of the roulette wheel – I wasn’t sure where the ball was going to land, I only knew my euros were going to disappear.

First, a note on Picot methodology. When making reservations, I always check the hotel site prices against to see the best deals. The Troia Design hotel offered its lowest rate at €116, but the third-party website proposed €103 as I benefit from a 10 per cent Genius travel award. Genius is’s loyalty scheme for customers who book twice within two years, and is well named because we all like to think of ourselves that way.

Having secured a lower price on this site, I rang the hotel since there was a “never knowingly undersold” banner on its website. I asked the reservationist if she would match the rate. She told me this was not available on her system and that the room on offer via would be at the back of the hotel with no view. I ignored her advice and went with

When I checked in, I discovered she was right, but with a twist, since there were no rooms at the front of the hotel as they were all apartments. And when I took the lift to the tenth floor, expecting to have the broom closet next to the staff stairs, in fact I had been given a great room with views over the Sado River Estuary.

Creative charges

So far, so good; I was €13 ahead of the game. On to the Dom Pedro Vilamoura. Here I paid €81.90 via, which offered a 9 per cent saving for early payment, giving me a further €22.11 into the kitty for a three-night stay. There was a tempting offer on the hotel’s website for its Club Card, which gave 15 per cent off the rate card, but by my calculation this was still the more expensive option.

At check-in I offered my credit card and was told that instead of a “pre-authorisation” I had to actually deposit funds if I wanted to use any of the outlets. This was contrary to the information on its website, but rather than argue I left a €100 down payment; my room having been prepaid. I had also requested a double bed.

“We noted your request for a double,” the receptionist said. “The beds” – there was a pause and a challenging look – “are zipped.” So this was going to be three nights with a ridge of zipped mattresses down my spine.

When I got to my room, I found the door didn’t close automatically; it simply swung on its hinges. So I felt it essential to use the in-room safe, which was charged at €3.50 per day. My adapter didn’t fit their plugs and they charged me €5 for one of theirs. I then had to deposit €10 for the use of two pool towels in case I stole them. I am usually impressed when hoteliers find new and creative ways of charging guests for services, but my enthusiasm for this form of capitalism was wearing a little thin.

I turned to the coffee maker for comfort, but there was no milk. Perhaps it was considered heathen to add milk to a strong espresso. I hesitated to enquire if I was alone in Portugal in diluting caffeine beverages in this manner. Not so. As part of a morning ritual at the Dom Pedro, a number of guests could be found in the lift carrying small china milk jugs up from the restaurant.

Direct approach

Onward to Lisbon. Marriott’s Sheraton Lisboa Hotel and Spa has comfortable beds that didn’t double up as twins and an unsurpassable club floor.

Pricing on and the Marriott system was identical, at €251. Marriott calls it “advance purchase” and describes it as “nonrefundable”. Marriott does not allow changes – but the booking can be cancelled up to three days before, so there is a marginal advantage in using its site. I booked direct and the deal included free parking, breakfast, as much wine as I could drink in the club lounge and a gift of a half-bottle of Port. The room door shut automatically, the safe was free and milk was supplied.

The lesson is shop around. What’s your methodology? I’d love to hear about it.

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