A small rant about Government Rates

Discussion in 'Hyatt | Gold Passport' started by jfhscott, Jun 23, 2011.  |  Print Topic

  1. jfhscott
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    jfhscott Silver Member

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    This small rant is specifically about federal government rates, but likely applies with equal force to state and municipal rates as well.

    For background, what folks within the government refer to as the "federal government rate" is the amount as established by the General Services Administration as the maximum amount it will reimburse a civilian-agency employee per night on official travel. The rates vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and in most jurisdictions, from month to month. For example, the federal government rate in September for Chicago is $157. I cannot otherwise say that the term has a particular legal meaning.

    A federal worker may spend more, but to the extent he or she spends more, it is on his or her dime. Equally, no hotel is required to offer a room at the federal rate, but in my experience, yield management algorithms are set up such that most hotels will make a room available (capturing perhaps otherwise lost revenue) when they are otherwise offering a room on their websites at 150% the government rate.

    Hyatt.com (and Marriott.com) make it pretty easy to search government rates.

    My small rant is that what Hyatt.com lists as a "federal government rate" at times exceeds the federal government rate as defined above. For example, a dummy booking for September 5 at the PH Chicago shows a $316 "Federal Government Rate" - just over twice the official government rate. Now, I do not expect a room at the PH Chicago for $157. I just would like for such discrepancies to be more properly noted. A less informed traveler could end up booking and being left holding the bag for the balance.

    Marriott.com does get this right. At times, such as resort area properties, a search on the government rate will yield rates which exceed the government rates as described above, but Marriott.com prominently discloses that discrepancy in bright red letters. I do wish Hyatt might get this a bit better, and be more mindful of what the term of art "federal government rate" means in the eyes the people who qualify for it.
     
  2. HaveMilesWillTravel
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    HaveMilesWillTravel Gold Member

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    How do federal workers typically book travel? I am in the private sector, and we have a corporate travel booking system that we are required to use. It is meant to help us stay in compliance with policies by flagging airlines and hotel properties and/or rates that are not preferred or in compliance. In other words i'd never to to hyatt.com to book travel (but I very, very rarely travel on company business anyway).
     
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  3. jfhscott
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    jfhscott Silver Member

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    Well, there are many options.

    There is a site called www.fedrooms.com. It identifies hotels which at times offer per diem-compliant rooms, but I hate it as a tool, because it is not helpful for identifying availability on specific dates.

    There are also contracted travel agents, but I take a pretty dim view of them because they don't know my "needs" (location, preferred amenities, etc.).

    I travel enough on business, and to a limited enough number of locations, that it is worthwhile for me to educate myself and do it myself. I practically have the per diems for the cities I go to memorized.
     
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  4. jfhscott
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    jfhscott Silver Member

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    And, no, the photo in my avatar was not taken on a taxpayer funded trip!
     
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  5. jbcarioca
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    jbcarioca Gold Member

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    Too bad about that.:( Some year ago I owned an island in a remote part of the Bahamas. My nearest neighbors, about seven miles away on another island, were US government employees doing marine research of some kind. They had lots of such photos taken on trips at taxpayer expense. Perhaps you might search for a posting in such a location. There must be lots of them in the US VI, Guam, Midway and other such places. How would that affect per diem?
     
  6. RedTape
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    RedTape Silver Member

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    I'm also a federal employee, but recognize your rant isn't so much about government rates but about how some sites (Hilton comes to mind) make it difficult to search, but that's not just limited to government rates. Last time I tried using Hilton you first had to search for availablility and then check each hotel with availablility to see if they would honor the rate. When a trip to DC results in spending 30 minutes looking for a per-diem vacancy, its no wonder I switched to Marriott (using Kimpton as my backup). The fact that some Marriott properties will extend government rates to employees not on official travel is sometimes a bonus (sometimes its still more expensive than other rates).

    My agency uses the GovTrip software which is great in that I can pick my own flights, which I love, but I'm not required to use it for hotels which is nice as making changes with the software is a pain in the gluteal area.

    And its getting to be the time of year when city pair contracts are announced....almost as exciting as Christmas!! Who will be the contract carrier to DCA?? Will we be riding the Eskimo sled again, or will we come Untied at the thought of not being able to go nonstop? Will anyone undercut UA enough to bring down the contract fare to IAD to less than 100% more than DCA??
     
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  7. jfhscott
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    jfhscott Silver Member

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    Hilton.com is quite difficult to use for identifying government rates, but they are reliable; problem with Hyatt.com is that the user must double check. The situation discussed in my OP identified that Hyatt.com is not entirely reliable, offering a "federal government rate" which does not fall within established per diem.
     
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  8. RedTape
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    RedTape Silver Member

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    Kimpton sometimes pulls the "government rate" when they've sold out at the GSA-negotiated rate. That to me is as good as telling me that there are no rooms available. Perhaps Hilton doesn't see government travel as a worthwhile source of revenue to make it easy. I can't recall if looking for a AAA or a senior discount at hilton is just as difficult.
     
  9. icurhere2
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    icurhere2 Gold Member

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    I can attest to the problems with Hyatt, in the rates initially offered and when CONUS changes after the reservation is made but before the stay. I once had the GH SAT try to charge me $7 per night more than my reserved rate because there was a CONUS increase in the interim.
     
  10. jhflau11
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    jhflau11 Silver Member

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    Another federal employee here. I get annoyed by the same thing when trying to book travel. I haven't tried with Hyatt but at least Starwood and Hilton make it semi easy to find a government rate. Hilton has government theme site:

    http://www.hilton.com/en/hi/themes/gov/index.jhtml

    I know you can also check on the regular site too. I spent a good bit of time trying to find a hotel at the government rate yesterday.
     
  11. HaveMilesWillTravel
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    I always search for AAA rates on Hilton.com and it's pretty easy. They (used to?) require a AAA number, but also accepted a country code, so I just entered "430" instead of entering my entire AAA number.

    Is it really that difficult to determine the Per Diem? In a previous life time I briefly worked on a project that involved implementing expense policy enforcement (in software) and I had a look at the government per diem tables to see how they could be used/enforced. It seemed pretty straightforward for most locations. Has that changed or is my memory just bad or did I misinterpret the tables?
     
  12. Wurm
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    Wurm Silver Member

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    Back in the late 1980s, my then-employer (private sector) decided to use the federal government's per-diem rates as "guidelines" for what was allowed for a hotel night (exceptions/overages were allowed). I was tasked with going to the library (remember those), making a copy of the Federal Register pages with the current rates, then having more copies made to distribute to the people in the company who traveled regularly.
     
  13. HaveMilesWillTravel
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    HaveMilesWillTravel Gold Member

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    Seems a lot easier now. Googled "Federal Government Per Diem Rates" and found this site:

    http://www.gsa.gov/portal/category/100120

    Entered "Chicago" and "Illinois" from the OP's example and found $173 for September.
     
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  14. jfhscott
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    jfhscott Silver Member

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    Its not difficult at all to determine the per diem and Marriott.com does an excellent job making sure that anything listed as within per diem really is. Hyatt.com is correct at least 90% of the time based on my experience. But at times (such as I discuss above), what gets reported on hyatt.com is NOT the "federal government rate" as reflected in the per diem tables. Rather, it is nothing more than a discount which you can get upon presenting a federal identification.

    I travel enough to know that when the Park Hyatt Chicago lists $316 as the "Federal Government Rate", it is not the permissible per diem. More sporatic federal travelers could easily be confused. For their sake, I would think it proper to characterize only per diem compliant rates as a "Federal Government Rate". They should not be expected to identify when Hyatt mischaracterizes, going back to the tables to verify that Hyatt was correct.
     
  15. HaveMilesWillTravel
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    I hope there aren't too many federal workers who feel the government should or would reimburse $316/night :)

    I think if I was a federal worker, I'd go to that website I linked above first to look up the lodging allowance and the meal per diem, and then I'd go about finding a hotel in my price range. Wouldn't you have to look up the meal per diem anyway (unless you don't care about staying within the limit)?

    So I guess I don't feel it's that bad of a problem. Sure, I certainly agree that Hyatt could do better, but I don't think it would be a big hassle for me if I was a federal worker traveling occasionally. There are LOTS of things on the Hyatt site that I would prioritize higher for improvements :D
     
  16. jfhscott
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    jfhscott Silver Member

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    Its a bit more complex, and experincing it live might be more helpful.

    As for hotels, to keep our numbers round, lets just say the government rate for a time/place is $100/night. If you go to hyatt.com and search without clicking "government" a hotel might be $125, but not wanting to pass up $100, will come down to $100 if you click the government button, listing a "Federal Government Rate". I'd like for a federal worker to be able to rely upon hyatt.com to report only per diem compliant Federal Government Rates or, as marriott.com does, prominently disclose when a rate characterized as a government rate is not compliant. I am not among them, but there really are those who would rely on hyatt.com's indicating to them that they will get reimbursed $316/night for the PH Chicago.

    As for meals and incidentals, I never look at the chart. And the reason is that federal travelers get a set stipend per day, which varies depending on locality. GSA sets these for the 48 states, DOD for AK and Hawaii, and State for foreign locations (some of these are really generous - I still do not know why I "needed" $111/day in Winnepeg). The amount for Chicago this fiscal year is $71. An employee who eats peanut butter and jelly pockets the remainder but when I want steak and lobster, any overage comes out of my pocket. Some outside of government will likely find the ability to turn meals and incedentals per diems into a personal profit center troublesome. (This phenomenon does not apply to room rates). I would just encourage them to view it as being preferable to engaging a platoon of federal bookkeepers in the exercise of tracking receipts for sandwiches, coffees, meals, etc., and determining if any given expense is reasonable for Kansas City, Tampa, or wherever.
     
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  17. mattsteg
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    mattsteg Gold Member

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    Is Hyatt representing their Fed Govt. rate as within the federal per-diem? I've never thought of federal rates at hotels as representing any sort of claim about being within the allowable per diem (unless explicitly stated otherwise) - rather they are a discount available to federal employees, who have a responsibility to look up the allowable per diem when traveling/booking.
    I would think that sporadic travelers would be especially vigilant about checking the tables. I don't think "miscategorize" is necessarily accurate terminology here. To the best of my knowledge, Hyatt doesn't represent their government rate as anything other than a discount available to federal employees.
     
  18. jfhscott
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    jfhscott Silver Member

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    Here is a quote from the "rate description"

    Federal US Government Employees Only With Active US Government I.D. At Check-in. 1room Per Government Employee. Up To 2 Rooms Under One Name at Booking But at Check-in One Valid Id Required Per Room.

    It speaks for itself and obviously does not say anything about whether it is the amount a federal employee can be reimbursed.

    I nevertheless state that the term "government rate" in the hospitality industry is understood to mean the amount the government (whether state, local or federal) will reimburse. Indeed, I have at times called front desks/reservations offices of a hotel to inquire about the availability of "the government rate" and they very well know the term to connote the fixed reimbursable amount, or, to put it in other terms, the amount they can charge without the guest having to reach into his or her own pocket. Hyatt.com's "Federal Government Rate" is at times inconsistent with this understood term.
     
  19. HaveMilesWillTravel
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    Undoubtedly true here and everywhere!

    It's not only the government that uses this approach. And I think it's a reasonable one. The employer defines what they are willing to spend on the employee's meals. It makes travel costs predictable and reduces the expense audit cost. My company doesn't use that approach, and on the few trips that I have been on I have certainly observed co-workers who treat the company's money differently than their own ("I deserve to have dinner in this really nice restaurant even though at home I'd just grab a burrito on the way home"). And as a manager who sometimes gets to approve expense reports it certainly taints my impression of employees when certain expenses "stick out" as somewhat over the top.
     
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  20. jfhscott
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    Indeed, many private companies adopt the government-set per diems as their own, even with respect to hotel rates. To this end, the hospitality industry was not thrilled when the current fiscal year started and federal lodging per diems, by and large, dropped to reflect the market.
     
  21. Scottrick
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    Scottrick Gold Member

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    I'd just like to say thanks to everyone as this thread has been more informative than a half dozen administrative staff at my university. Since we rely on federal budgets, we have to follow federal rules when traveling, but those rules aren't explained to us at all. Now I know a little better what to expect. Still, I have a little rant to give:

    I'm trying to book travel to DC for a conference this fall, and have found a great fare for $330 from SEA. Everyone starts by telling me to look at a contract fare, but that costs $800. As for my cheap fare, I'm not allowed to book it on my personal credit card and as a student I'm not allowed to apply for an official travel card. That leaves me with using the contract travel agency, which will reduce my available travel grant by an additional 10% to book a ticket I already found. I could ask someone else in my department to book it using their travel card, but that would require filling out a form and the administrative staff can't understand why I would fill out a form to save me and my colleague a combined $60. (That's five pitchers of PBR. It's worth the effort.) The "Travel Advisor" in our department has such a card and could bypass the form but refuses to make reservations for me because that would involve figuring out how to use Orbitz. Seriously.

    Separately, I'm the new chair of a seminar series that invites people from around the country to talk about why they escaped academia. (Like the first rant didn't make it obvious.) Currently we have several thousand dollars in excess from the last year, plus more money coming in from other departments because they have excess funds and think we're a great place to dump them at the end of the budget cycle. Except I'm not allowed to spend them. I get emails when we go over budget, but no one will tell me what the budget is or how much money we have. Apparently we can spend $32 per person for dinner with the committee members and the speaker, regardless of how many people there are or how much money we have. I have managed to guess that $32 comes from the dinner portion of the federal per diem for Seattle, even though none of us are traveling. I have asked for this number to be reconsidered, but have been told that approval is unlikely. Apparently the risk of being told "no" is paralyzing to a bureaucrat. So now my plan is to choose cheaper restaurants and upgrade the snacks at our seminars from pretzels to an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet, because that part of the budget is completely unregulated.

    So to the OP, yes, Hyatt is being a little deceptive. But I have learned that the key to succeeding in government is to know and enforce the rules yourself. Even when money is plentiful, using it is incredibly difficult unless you do a little creative accounting. In fact, it's almost exactly like redeeming miles or points, where spending 67.5K for a saver award in F makes more sense than a standard award in C for 100K. Except then some bureaucrat tells you that you aren't allowed to fly in F and you have to pay for C. And a little part of you dies...

    Yes, a red stapler sits on my desk. And you better not touch it.
     
  22. HaveMilesWillTravel
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    Just don't think it's that different in large companies. :D
     
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  23. NYBanker
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    I hope your job and your screen name aren't related.
     
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  24. NYBanker
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    Federal salaries remain taxpayer funded.
     
  25. NYBanker
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    Financial services business, professional service organizations and entertainment companies tend to be more relaxed about matters like this.
     

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