First: The Room Types
Once a customer service agent has located the lower bookable rate you found on a competing travel site, his or her next task will be to attempt to verify that the room type on the other site is actually identical to the itinerary you just booked. Bedding will be looked at first, perhaps smoking/non-smoking will be looked at next (for a match). If your booking is for "2 Double Beds", for example, it cannot be compared to a lower-priced "Double Room". Why? Because a "Double Room" could easily be 1 double bed, or it could refer to a standard room for 2 adults. We just don't know - and neither would your claim agent know! "2 Doubles" is specific, whereas "Double Room" is not.
Next: The Room Descriptions/Amenities
The next step for the claim agent will be to determine whether or not the room descriptions are a match. If the room you booked on Choicehotels.com, for example, comes with a "ocean view", then the room type on the competing website must also say "ocean view". Within our posts, we often highlight these important matches (such as: ocean view, free continental breakfast, in-room microwave, refrigerator, etc.) that we observe from BOTH competing websites.
Should I attempt a claim if the room descriptions/amenities aren't an "exact" match?
If you find a slight variation with these, the claim MAY still be approved (or more accurately, it could result in the claim going "either way"). One example might be if the Choice website says "free continental breakfast" and the competitor site says "breakfast buffet". Again, this is such a slight variation, that it will not likely be of great concern to an agent who is reviewing your claim. As long as the most important items (particularly bedding/room type, smoking preference, etc.) are clearly the same, with a rate difference present, a claim is certainly worth a shot! How closely the itinerary is matched up by the agents is basically anybody's guess! The closer the match, the better your odds.
Next: The Payment/Cancellation Policies
In most BRGs, you will need to compare "Free Cancellation" rates to free cancellation rates. Non-refundable rates must be compared to non-refundables. You get the idea.
With the Choice BRG, it's perfectly fine to compare their "Best Available Rate" - a "Pay at Hotel" type of rate - with a lower "Prepaid" rate on a competing booking site. We know this because hundreds, if not thousands, of claims have been approved in cases when a competing site such as Expedia.com, Travelocity, Venere.com etc. have been used. (and with these sites, prepayment for the rooms is required) Once in awhile, probably because of a rogue agent or two, a claim may be denied because the competing sites payment criteria does not match with Choice's, but this is usually not the norm. The same can be said of the Best Western BRG - their "Flexible Rate" (usually a pay-at-hotel) may also be compared with prepaid rates (just not "sale" or promotional ones).
All of this is based on experience, both from myself and my blog's readers. Of course, Choice and Best Western always have the right to "crack down" on these payment requirements in the future - requiring them to match. But for right now, this is what we're seeing.
I'm often asked, "Are cancellation deadline times required to be an exact match"? My answer is: usually not. Let me explain:
If Choice says that you can cancel the booking up to 6 pm on the day of arrival and the competitor site says you can cancel up to 10 pm, 24hrs prior to the arrival date, this shouldn't concern you too much. I won't say that this holds true 100% of the time, but don't let time differences deter you from filing a claim with an otherwise exact itinerary match. Smaller differences in cancel deadline times (such as a few hours) will probably be overlooked. Major differences in times (let's say, beyond a few days) stand a better chance of swaying your claim agent in a negative way, resulting in a denial. Ideally, try for an almost-exact (or exact) match, but again, don't stress if the times are a bit off - I never do! Will your claim be denied if the match isn't "exact"? .. it's possible, I won't lie.
Again - the degree of enforcement is always subject to change in the future!
One notable exception is with the IHG BRG, where cancel deadline times ARE highly enforced at this time!
The Bottom Line: You are the Best Judge!
Based on all the information we provide, you should be able to determine which of our featured opportunities offers you the best chances. It's never easy knowing which ones will work, and which ones won't. As we have always stated, the outcome of your claim is totally dependent on the agent's own interpretation of a "match". No two agents think alike! Some will focus primarily on bed type while others will also look at matching more specific amenities like those we've discussed.
So do your best with matching, and don't worry too much about those slight variations - nothing matches 100%!
As we often say: "YMMV" (your mileage may vary). Best of luck!