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Why Are Hotel 'Rack Rates' So Exorbitantly High?

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A rack rate is the official price that a hotel charges for a typical room. Sometimes called the "walk-in price," the rack rate may be posted inside a hotel room (often on the back of the door). Hotel employees may also quote the rack rate to customers who call the hotel or show up at the front desk without reservations. But why is the rack rate seriously high, often several hundreds of dollars more than you would likely actually pay for the room?

In the hotel industry, the rack rate is the maximum amount the hotel usually charges for a room, when demand for rooms in the area is highest. The rack rate is akin to the asking price of a house or car, and hotels expect that guests will request and use discounts.

Although the federal government doesn’t regulate rack rates in the U.S., some states and counties require hotels to post the rack rate in a conspicuous place. For example, California’s Civil Code Section 1863 requires all hotels to post the nightly rate (or range of rates) in every bedroom, and it prohibits hotels from charging more than the posted price. Having the rack rate posted actually helps customers by preventing price gouging, fraud, and discrimination. If a customer knows the “ceiling,” he won’t overpay for the room, and hotel clerks can’t discriminate by charging some people more than others based on their race, religion, or gender, for example.

But because most travelers now use websites to find the lowest hotel prices (rather than walking up to the front desk without a reservation), rack rates are becoming outdated. Jeff Doane, the Vice President of Sales & Marketing, Americas, for FRHI Hotels & Resorts tells mental_floss that Fairmont Hotel's “rate structure has become much more dynamic over the years—setting daily rates based on demand rather than setting static rates that stay intact over time.”

Some hotel chains now use the phrase “Best Available Rate” instead of rack rate to discourage customers from asking for discounts. Doane says that, for his hotel, the best place to find the best deal is on the hotel’s website, which offers a “daily rate” as well as a “Best Rate Guarantee,” so guests “cannot find a better rate anywhere else.” So while the rack rate is the most inflated rate, you’ll most likely pay much less for your room.

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Big Questions
How Do Hummingbirds Sleep?
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How do hummingbirds sleep?

Anusha Shankar:

Ooh this is an exciting question—I’ve spent the past five years thinking about just this!

Look at these infrared images from a crowdfunded project we did in the summer of 2017: The bird on the left is generating heat, keeping itself warm, while the one on the right is in torpor. It has allowed its body temperature to become the same as the air temperature and has stopped "thermoregulating," or maintaining a high body temperature.

Hummingbirds find a nice and sheltered place at night, and they latch onto a branch with their tiny feet, and then they go to sleep. Some of them ... use a strategy called torpor, where they can lower the amount of energy they use by about 85 percent. They do this by basically shutting down a bunch of their bodily functions—they allow their body to get cold as the night gets colder. You and I spend a lot of energy keeping our bodies warm so everything functions normally. Hummingbirds in torpor give up this "normal" function, and become more like lizards, in that they can get ‘cold-blooded’ in torpor.

Torpor is a tricky state to be in, because they can’t respond to outside stimuli for 20 to 30 minutes, until they warm their bodies back up. They take that risk just to have enough energy in their tiny bodies to make it to the next morning.

I recently wrote a blog post for National Geographic to talk a bit more about hummingbird sleep (includes videos!).

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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Big Questions
Are There Number 1 Pencils?
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Almost every syllabus, teacher, and standardized test points to the ubiquitous No. 2 pencil, but are there other choices out there?

Of course! Pencil makers manufacture No. 1, 2, 2.5, 3, and 4 pencils—and sometimes other intermediate numbers. The higher the number, the harder the core and lighter the markings. (No. 1 pencils produce darker markings, which are sometimes preferred by people working in publishing.)

The current style of production is profiled after pencils developed in 1794 by Nicolas-Jacques Conté. Before Conté, pencil hardness varied from location to location and maker to maker. The earliest pencils were made by filling a wood shaft with raw graphite, leading to the need for a trade-wide recognized method of production.

Conté’s method involved mixing powdered graphite with finely ground clay; that mixture was shaped into a long cylinder and then baked in an oven. The proportion of clay versus graphite added to a mixture determines the hardness of the lead. Although the method may be agreed upon, the way various companies categorize and label pencils isn't.

Today, many U.S.  companies use a numbering system for general-purpose, writing pencils that specifies how hard the lead is. For graphic and artist pencils and for companies outside the U.S., systems get a little complicated, using a combination of numbers and letters known as the HB Graphite Scale.

"H" indicates hardness and "B" indicates blackness. Lowest on the scale is 9H, indicating a pencil with extremely hard lead that produces a light mark. On the opposite end of the scale, 9B represents a pencil with extremely soft lead that produces a dark mark. ("F" also indicates a pencil that sharpens to a fine point.) The middle of the scale shows the letters and numbers that correspond to everyday writing utensils: B = No. 1 pencils, HB = No. 2, F = No. 2½, H = No. 3, and 2H = No. 4 (although exact conversions depend on the brand).

So why are testing centers such sticklers about using only No. 2 pencils? They cooperate better with technology because early machines used the electrical conductivity of the lead to read the pencil marks. Early scanning-and-scoring machines couldn't detect marks made by harder pencils, so No. 3 and No. 4 pencils usually resulted in erroneous results. Softer pencils like No. 1s smudge, so they're just impractical to use. So No. 2 pencils became the industry standard.

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