Ethics: Should You Use a Corporate Code For Significant Discounts When You Are Not Eligible to Do So?

pon finding two rates for the same hotel room where the difference is $78.00 per night, an interesting question has been raised in this article posted at Points, Miles & Martinis: “Do you book hotel corporate rates you don’t qualify for?”

It is a similar question to “Ethics: should you use a corporate code for significant discounts when you are not eligible to do so?” — which I asked in this article back on Friday, September 20, 2013; and not one of the readers who expressed their thoughts and opinions defended the illegitimate use of corporate codes.

There are a number of ways to get low rates on different aspects of travel, which include various discounts and promotions. However, sometimes the lowest rate which can be procured — and perhaps earn frequent travel loyalty program miles and points and access benefits which elite level members typically enjoy — is by using a corporate code not typically available to the public.

Although I am an Executive level elite status member of the Emerald Club frequent renter loyalty program of National Car Rental, a client of mine gave me a corporate code to use, which results in a lower rate per day and automatic insurance coverage.

What if you plan on renting a car from National Car Rental and asked me to give you that corporate code so that you may use it for yourself? Would it be ethical of either me to give you the corporate code — or you to use it even though you are not an employee or service provider of that company?

Depending on the company, I could potentially get in trouble for encouraging the violation of the terms of the agreement between the company and the travel provider — like, for example, losing the client. If I were an employee of that company, my employment could possibly be terminated. Or, perhaps no one at either the company or the travel provider will even know or care — especially if use of that corporate code is not abused by a wide audience…

…and with rental cars, the last thing you would want to do is be involved in an accident — whether or not it is your fault — if you rented a vehicle under a corporate rate of which you are not eligible to use. The main reason is due to potential issues dealing with the insurance policy linked to the corporate rate.

Some frequent fliers have argued that using corporate codes is not ethical; and that they should be used by a qualified person — for if anyone other than a qualified person uses that code, it could violate the legal agreement between the company and the travel provider. Others contend that the more people who use the corporate code are actually doing a favor for the company by giving enough business to the travel provider to warrant the special discount and benefits in the first place — as well as give the company more power to negotiate with the travel provider.

What if someone publicly posted a corporate code on either Milepoint or FlyerTalk for you and everyone else to use, rather than me give it to you privately? Would that be unethical?

The main reason why some people like to use corporate codes illegitimately is because the risk of getting caught is usually low and there are usually no problems — but note that the key word here is usually.

Keep in mind that if you do decide to use a corporate code and you do not have proof that you can use the code legitimately, you could be forced to pay the full rate on the travel product or service which you plan to use — or you may be turned away altogether. The front desk of a hotel property on the first night of your stay is not the ideal place or time to learn that not only can you not take advantage of the corporate code, but that you might have to pay full price — or perhaps find lodging elsewhere for the night.

If you want to use a discount code, there are usually plenty of public codes from which you can choose; but those codes do not usually offer as much of a discount. You many not be able to take advantage of possible benefits with a public code like you would with a corporate code.

Interestingly, corporate codes are not always a bargain. For example, I also have access to a corporate code with Hilton Worldwide — again, legitimately from a client — for stays only at hotel properties branded as Hiltons; and even then, fewer than half of them recognize the corporate code. Although I do get discounts and benefits with that corporate code whenever I am successful at using it, the room rate at hotel properties worldwide can be more expensive — never mind getting the discount or benefits. I mention this simply because a corporate code does not guarantee the user any benefit.

In fact — more often than not, according to my experiences — the American Automobile Association rate is less expensive than the Hilton corporate code to which I have access; and yes, I am indeed a legitimate member of the American Automobile Association.

“Integrity is doing the right thing, when nobody is watching”, laggers — who is a reader of The Gate — commented back in 2013. “If you have NO right to use the code then let it alone.” Other readers of The Gate tended to concur back then…

…but do you agree today? Would you attempt to use a corporate code which you are not eligible to use in order to procure a significant discount and possible benefits? Do you frown upon the idea of other people using corporate codes when they are not supposed to do so?

  1. If you cannot be trusted with little things, how can you be trusted with important things?

    1. Many companies negotiate rates with local hotels so that their customers and contractors can stay at a price advantage. More often than not, local hotels will even offer businesses discount rates so that the companies bring them travelers that might otherwise stay at a competing hotel.
      That is the biggest reason that some corporate codes only work in the vicinity of the company’s offices/factories.

  2. I legitimately have access to the government/military rate, which is specifically authorized even for personal travel – but I’ve had the same experience as you! The government rate can be good, but it can also be higher than the AAA rate, or even higher than the published rate! It depends on the property, the time of year, and also on the cancellation policy – oftentimes if the hotel has a restrictive cancellation policy but a higher government rate, it’s because the government rate has a more friendly cancellation policy.

    1. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any rate which will be the lowest 100 percent of the time, Dan.

      These days, all rates should be explored to get an idea of what are the costs — and a surprise will sometimes arise…

  3. Using a corporate rate that you are not authorized to is unethical. I have two rental car codes that my employer has provided me that I have used over the last two and a half years and it has saved me ballpark $1,000. I am all in favor of glitches and sales and coupons but corporate rates are different. They are issued to specific people and organizations not the general public. For me, I would never use one not because I am the most ethical person in the world, but for the reason you mentioned above, that I don’t want to get caught and have to pay rack rates. My vote is that corporate codes should only be used by people authorized to use them.

  4. I know someone that uses these codes and scams front desk people all the time, asking for upgraded rooms to impress his boss and stuff like that. He’s what he calls a “professional hacker”. I think this is totally unethical and borderline stealing. I have walked up to a hotel desk to check in and he has put his name on my reservation so he can get points. Is there a place where we can report these people?

  5. Use the codes. If you feel better paying a corporate chain more of your hard earned cash, so be it. I lack empathy for billion dollar companies…

  6. Is it ethical for a hotel to charge one traveler $138/night and one $458/night for the same room because the 2nd one doesn’t know the right code?

    Also I would think most contracts with hotels and rental car companies are between the client and the provider, not to be used by vendors, consultants, 3rd parties, even it that company gives you their code.

    Are you ethical enough to ask the hotel or rental car company that even though you work for Microsoft, you’re doing a project for Citibank and want to know if you are eligible to get the lower Citibank rate and benefits?

  7. There is a much easier and completely ethical way to handle this. If you see that a rate is being offered that you don’t technically qualify for, pick up the phone and call the hotel directly and explain. The people at the front desk have quite a bit of discretion when it comes to adjusting the price dependent of course upon how booked they are. But if they are offering it to someone else for $200 and you for $300, it stands to reason that the hotel is able to make a profit even at the lower price and would welcome the chance to have someone stay in that room rather than miss out on the booking altogether.

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