Southwest Airlines has discontinued its meetings program, effective immediately, according to an announcement on its Web site. And Marriott International will guarantee a matching lowest rate offer under certain circumstances, starting in January.

According to the Southwest Web posting, "All meeting agreements set up prior to November 12, 2003 will be honored through December 31, 2004. Historically, we have found that many meeting customers have forgone the meetings program and booked their reservations without an ID code due to the low fares and special offers available on southwest.com. By focusing on our core business and keeping our fares low, Southwest Airlines will be able to provide you with affordable fares that compete with other airline meeting programs without the hassle of contracts and ID codes."

Questions regarding meeting ID codes, including meeting reservations, should be directed to Southwest’s Group Reservations Center at (800) 433-5368.

In the Marriott program, set to launch in January, it has announced "that if a customer books through Marriott—either Marriott Worldwide reservations, Marriott.com, or directly with the hotel—and finds a lower publicly available rate within 24 hours for the same hotel, room type, and dates anywhere on an Internet travel site, through a travel agency, travel management company, or even Marriott, the hotel will match the offer and give an additional 25 percent off."

What will this mean for meeting planners and attendees? According to meeting industry attorney, Josh Grimes, "I think this new policy will have very minimal impact on meetings. There are three things to note: (1) the reservation must be made through a Marriott reservations channel, i.e., Marriott reservations or Marriott.com--not a housing bureau; (2) the customer must find a better rate and report it to Marriott within 24 hours of booking her reservation; and (3) the policy will not apply to "special negotiated volume discount rates." These three conditions make it unlikely that many meeting and convention attendees will be able to utilize this program and get better rates. It is also unlikely that the program will affect (for better or worse) the challenge of "booking outside the block."

Marriott says this goes beyond what other major chains are doing, such as Hilton’s policy, although it doesn’t provide any guarantees, it does offer a uniform pricing policy for rooms booked through all Hilton-authorized distribution channels. However, the Marriott program also doesn’t apply to Web sites like Priceline and Hotwire, which don’t identify the hotel until after you book the room.

"They mostly benefit leisure travelers--who tend to shop around for the best rates--and/or those customers who care to go through the effort of looking for a better rate immediately upon making a reservation, and then reporting it per the hotel company's rules. It isn't always worth it to save a few bucks," adds Grimes, Grimes Law Offices, Philadelphia.