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My problem: I recently booked a business trip about three months out, noticing slightly too late that there's a huge event (Formula 1 race) happening in town the previous weekend and all the remotely convenient and/or comfortable hotels are asking crazy rates (US$500+).

The usual rule of thumb of booking flights and hotels is the earlier the better, since prices usually go up but rarely come down. In this case, though, I have a sneaky suspicion that hotels may be demanding too much and there may be a fire sale of unsold inventory right before the event.

So: Do hotel prices generally go down right before big events? Bonus points for answers with data instead of just speculation.

(Note: this question has been edited, as I'm more interested in the general question above than the specifics of my situation.)

Interim answer 1: I've followed simbabque's answer and booked a mildly inconvenient and mildly crappy but fully cancellable and not crazy expensive hotel to cover my ass, and will check & report back on the hotel situation before arrival.

Interim answer 2: Idly poking around, I noticed that a big chain hotel near the office that had previously been 100% full had a room free for all three nights at our normal corporate rate (~US$120). Booked! But I'll still check before arrival and report back for science.

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Earlier is not better for flights, or at the least, there is a threshold. Not very many deeply discounted seats are released at T-330; additional ones get trickled out later depending on demand. On most flights at most times of the year, what I can get at ten weeks tends to be better than what I can get at forty. The trick is that sometimes things get even better at four weeks out, and other times they go up. – choster Mar 2 at 6:59
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What is the overlap between the F1 event and your presence, and how long are you staying? The per night price may vary a lot during your stay, but some special rates that apply during the event may be applied to your whole reservation even if there's only a single night that "should" be under this rate. Check rates night per night (including cancellation policies), splitting your reservation may help. – jcaron Mar 2 at 9:35
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@choster, What is T-330? 330 hours? Seems like an arbitrary number. – JPhi1618 Mar 2 at 14:07
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@JPhi1618 I assumed he meant 330 days (i.e. 11 months out.) – reirab Mar 2 at 15:37
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@celeriko Yes. In the first sentence (and also in several comments on answers.) – reirab Mar 2 at 16:18
up vote 25 down vote accepted

A lot of hotel booking sites offer free cancellation up to the day of the stay as an option that costs a few EUR or USD more. Business-oriented booking sites sometimes even have cancellation up to early evening of first day of the stay. (HRS.de is advertising this on TV right now in Germany as their main feature).

I would pay the few more dollars for that, get a room at the expensive rate, and then check back regularly, maybe even on the day you arrive. As soon as you find something reasonably cheap, cancel the expensive one.

This also works for flights, but those are often paid in advance, so you would have to fork out a lot of money to do that up front.

Also check international booking portals. You don't have to make your hotel booking through a booking portal that targets your country.

As mentioned in the comments, if you are not responsible for booking in your corporate setting, clarify this with your management, HR or whoever is in charge of booking, and have them do it.

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If this is a Formula 1 event, I wouldn't bet on a last minute flash sale. You can be 99% sure that all the hotel rooms will be fully booked weeks in advance. By waiting, the risk you are taking it to see prices jumping even more.

Still there are some solutions :

  • check if you can find any package including low cost Formula 1 tickets with the hotel (I know you aren't looking to see the race but you might find packages that includes a ticket with the hotel at a lower rate than the hotel alone)
  • call the hotel directly, explain the situation and try to negotiate. If you have some kind of level in a loyalty program for that hotel, it might help.
  • check out Air BnB offers.
  • place a price alert and check daily how the price is fluctuating, based on that, make your booking when you feel it is ok for you.
  • stay far from the race. It might be cheaper to be 50 Kms and pay for the taxi even if it isn't really convenient.
  • rent a camping car (trying to be creative here) :)
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The first option is also dangerous. If you plan to put that hotel+tickets package in the expense report, be prepared to have it refused and pay from your own pocket. – Dmitry Grigoryev Mar 2 at 11:16
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Just listing the options here... Obviously, he needs to agree upfront with his company on what he is allowed or not to do. If the package is cheaper than the hotel on its own, then the solution will be perfect. Then for Air BnB, sorry but it is pretty common for business trips nowadays... – Olielo Mar 2 at 11:43
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I assume that in most jurisdictions it's not illegal to give F1 tickets to your employees, but the tax agency might consider the ticket as a benefit instead of a business expense and collect income tax from the employee. – Moyli Mar 2 at 13:04
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It is obviously not illegal, even in France... A lot of companies are paying F1 tickets to customers and internal staff for marketing and rewarding purposes. This isn't a tax fraud at all. It would be a fraud if the CEO were to buy tickets for him and his family and then have the company cover all the costs. But this isn't what we are talking about here... The tax agency will eventually ask to add this to the employee income if this is significant and recurrent... But this isn't really the case here. – Olielo Mar 2 at 13:11
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@Olielo The tax fraud aspect relates to income tax. A common but fraudulent way to pay less tax is for the company to give its employees 1000EUR plus "gifts" worth 1000EUR, so the employee only declares an income of 1000EUR. In reality, they should be declaring an income of 2000EUR (even though it's not all paid in cash) and paying tax on all of that money. So, if the asker's company reimburses the cost of buying F1 tickets, that would probably count as a taxable "gift instead of salary" rather than tax-free reimbursement of business expenses. – David Richerby Mar 2 at 16:28

So should I take my chances and hope for the best on HotelTonight & friends on/just before arrival? Or should I bite the bullet and pay lots now, to avoid having to sell a kidney if rates go up even more? (And no, I can't change my travel plans.)

The last thing I would do is "take my chances" on a business trip. You need that trip no matter what, so you're in no position to gamble.

Also, my understanding is that you don't pay that price yourself, your company does. Having to spend those $500 from your pocket after all the taxes seems like a big deal (and it is), but it's much less of a problem for your company to write off a $500 expense. On the other hand, if you gamble and have issues with your trip later on, that will be a big deal for both you and your company.

Also, I would advice against booking the hotel yourself, unless it is your direct responsibility. If your company has people responsible for bookings, by all means let them handle the situation. You'll save yourself from the risks of doing something wrong, which you don't want to take when considerable amounts of money are involved.

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Not every individual participation is always a big deal and not every company is rich. It's quite possible that a company decides to send 4 rather than 6 employees if travel costs are significantly over-budget. – gerrit Mar 2 at 10:16
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I need to stay for three nights, and my company's limit for hotel nights in this particular city is around US$120. Expensing US$1500 without a really good reason isn't going to fly... – jpatokal Mar 2 at 10:20
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You have a very good demonstrable reason why it costs so much - I would ask the person who signs off on expenses what to do now - if they care so much on costs they can reschedule – Mark Mar 2 at 10:22
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jpatokal I think @Marks point was, your company likely doesn't require you to pay for business expenses out of pocket. The limits are set as what is expected to be reasonably available in the location. If you know $500 a night isn't going to fly, go say "what now?" I'm not paying for this trip out of pocket so what should I do. – 8bitwide Mar 2 at 10:49
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8bitwide's point @jpatokal is that you need to ask now anyway. Don't wait until after the expenses have been paid and you're waiting to be reimbursed. State the problem and ask the company what they would like to do. – Ben Mar 2 at 12:27

To decide if you want postpone the Hotel booking to very close to the Formula1 Race. You should include what country will be this event, not all the formula1 race have the same attendance. Some are really overcrowd and others you can see the empty seats on tv.

China and Russia are an example of low attendace because not so many fans and also very far so you can expect some price reduction at the end, Japan is totally the opossite very passionate fans.

New races are also very crowd like last year race in Mexico.

Also events are never the same, if the event is at end of formula1 season and the fight for championship is very tight the number of attendance go UP on last minute. But if is like last year where the champion was already decide with two race remainning the buzz get low.

Other example was this year superbowl on San Francisco seat prices where around 3000$ and previous one in New York price were around 5000$. Not sure if ppl like more NY than SF but my guess hotel prices on NY were much higher too.

Final advice just be aware about the event schedule (Free Practice, Qualification, Race, Concerts, etc), traffic jam are very frequent on those times. So try to book for hotels far from the formula1 track and you may get better prices and less traffic.

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The question explicitly says that hotels are booked up and rooms are crazy-expensive. It doesn't matter how popular the race is on the global scale: it's popular enough to be causing the problems the asker is facing. Saying what is essentially "oh, it might not be as bad as you think" doesn't answer the question. You are speculating about how bad it might be; the question already tells us how bad it actually is. – David Richerby Mar 2 at 17:59
    
@DavidRicherby My answer try to address the OP idea of postpone the hotel booking decision in order to get better prices. If OP race will be on China, the chances of getting better prices close to the event date are much better than Japan. Same if championship is very thight at end of the season the prices will go higher and cost OP more money to book. – Juan Carlos Oropeza Mar 2 at 18:05

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