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Don't pay full rate for hotel room

No, Virginia. You don't have to pay full price for a hotel room any more.

The so-called rack rate has pretty much gone the way of the eight-track tape player. It's becoming the Edsel of the tourism industry.There may be instances where you have to pay full price, sometimes more. The rate for a room in Las Vegas heads for the strat-os-phere when a major convention is in town, for example.

Take the Stratosphere, the hotel/casino on the north end of the Strip and the highest free-standing tower in the United States. Room tariffs, which begin at $39, might peak at $229 during a major convention.

It's a matter of supply and demand, just like you learned in Economics 101.

More often than not, especially if you're a leisure traveler who plans ahead, you can shave dollars off the rack rate by doing a little homework.

Here's how:

- First, scan the ads in the travel sections of newspapers such as the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. Thumb through them at local libraries or buy them at local bookstores.

A recent issue of the New York Times Travel Section, for example, had a couple of pages of local hotel ads including a weekend package (two nights) at the World Trade Center Marriott or the Financial Center Marriott for $139, a deluxe room at the Gorham for $199, a weekend rate of $199 per room at the Regal U.N. Plaza Hotel.

Look at travel sections from newspapers that serve your destination. Consult the Miami Herald if you're headed to Miami, the Boston Globe if you're going to Boston, the Seattle Times if you're sleeping in Seattle.

And don't ignore your local newspaper, especially if you're planning a weekend getaway at a hotel in your hometown.

- Second, call hotels directly and ask about special discounts. Generally you'll find that the more upscale the hotel, the more room there is to play around with the price.

We phoned toll-free reservation numbers of hotel chains (see below for a partial list), and asked if there were any chain-wide discounts and requested the phone number of a particular hotel. We then called the hotel.

For example, we found that you could live like a king for the price of a queen at the top-of-the-line Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles at Beverly Hills. Weekend nightly rates (Friday, Saturday or Sunday night) run from $255 to $385, depending on the type of room and availability. Comparable corporate rates range from $330 to $505, said a hotel reservation agent. Four Seasons hotels are renowned for their top-notch service and sumptuous accommodations. Deseret News food editor Jean Williams recalls that when she stayed in the Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago, housekeeping ironed her dress and shined her shoes.

Holiday Inns nationwide have a promotion called "great rates." It's year-round, based on availability. Rates vary from one Holiday Inn to another. A recent "great rate" at the Fisherman's Wharf hotel was $127.96.

- Third, ask a hotel if it has a package deal that includes something in addition to your room. Breakfast is one example. A two-for-one dinner at the hotel's restaurant is another.

Participating Holiday Inns have a "bed and breakfast" rate that includes a full breakfast.

The Renaissance Madison in Seattle offers a "romance package" for $149 that includes a deluxe guest room, a full breakfast, parking, champagne and chocolate dipped strawberries, a newspaper and coffee delivered to your room.

- Fourth, consider your timing. Rates in major cities often plummet on the weekend, when a paucity of business travelers leaves hotels with a large inventory of empty rooms.

Here are reservation numbers for some of the major hotel chains.

Best Western, 1-800-752-2204

Best Western International, 1-800-528-1234

Canadian Pacific Hotels and Resorts, 1-800-441-1414

Comfort Inns, 1-800-228-5150

Courtyard by Marriott, 1-800-321-2211

Crown Sterling Suites, 1-800-362-2779

Days Inns, 1-800-329-7466

DoubleTree Hotels (see Red Lion)

Econo Lodges, 1-800-553-2666

Embassy Suites, 1-800-362-2779

Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, 1-800-332-3442

Hampton Inns, 1-800-426-7866

Hilton Hotels, 1-800-445-8667

Holiday Inns Worldwide, 1-800-465-4329

Howard Johnson, 1-800-446-4656

Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, 1-800-233-1234

Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts, 1-800-327-0200

ITT Sheraton, 1-800-325-3535

Marriott Hotels and Resorts, 1-800-228-9290

Motel 6, 1-800-466-8356

Quality Inns, 1-800-228-5151

Radisson Hotels, 1-800-333-3333

Ramada, 1-800-272-6232

Red Lion and DoubleTree Hotels and Inns, 1-800-232-1287

Residence Inns by Marriott, 1-800-331-3131

Ritz-Carlton Hotels, 800-241-3333

Shilo Inns and Resorts, 1-800-222-2244

Renaissance Hotels and Resorts, 1-800-468-3571

Super 8 Motels, 1-800-800-8000

Travelodge, 1-800-578-7878

Westin Hotels and Resorts, 1-800-228-3000

Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, 1-800-996-3426

The subject of next week's column: hotel consolidators and brokers.