By Sharyn Alden
You’d think getting a good deal on a hotel room is a guarded secret. It’s not – and there’s a lot to gain if you stick out your neck when shopping for a hotel room.
Don’t think that a hotel won’t negotiate just because it’s a big-name hotel, has a long history, or is known for its upscale amenities. They may be very ready to deal, especially if it’s the slow season or part of the hotel is under construction. Low rankings on consumer sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor can help negotiations, too, regardless of whether the reviews are true (and they may have been written at a time when part of the hotel was under construction, for instance).
So should you go looking for hotels with image and financial problems just so you can get a good rate? Not at all. What I am saying is that very few hotels won’t honor a lower price at one time or another if your timing is right and you propose a lower price based on your savvy.
Here’s how to do it.
Pick up the phone. You can get good deals online (more on that later), but in my experience you have to talk price directly with the hotel where you want to stay – not with a website representative. When you call the hotel, ask to speak to the front desk manager or the head of reservations. The hotel will almost certainly have reservation agents, but negotiating means getting the right person. At the very least, you’ll be perceived as someone who knows what they’re doing, to say nothing about having gumption and travel smarts.
Avoid calling any 800 number. Calling the hotel directly doesn’t mean calling a chain’s reservations 800 number, or the 800 number of a website like hotels.com. If you call these numbers they’ll more likely play by the rules and you won’t be able to negotiate rates. To bend the odds in your favor, call the hotel directly— and it’s typically it’s not an 800 number.
Strut your stuff. I never ask a hotel for a deal without putting another negotiating chip on the table. You should get at least one discount when you mention the following connections and memberships (and show supporting evidence):
- A hotel rewards membership
- Government or corporate connection
- Connection to travel/hospitality/media professions
- Stockholder in the hotel company
- Member of the military
- Frequent traveler who stays usually stays at the competition (tell them you’re eager to find out what you’ve been missing by not staying with them)
- You’re looking for a place for a future event (like a family reunion or wedding)
Watch out for “add-on” prices. Negotiate a low rate, then tell them you’d like that rate for a room with a view. Try to get them to keep the rate you want without adding more for a room that’s not next to an elevator, back stairwell or facing a significant construction project.
Ask for an “out-of-order” room. There’s not a hotel on the planet that doesn’t have some construction going on, even if it’s minor, like fixing a closet door or replacing a dead refrigerator. They can’t sell these rooms for full price. Ask for an out-of-order room, ask why it’s out of order, and if the reason sounds reasonable, you can save a lot of money.
Be wary of “third-night-free” Internet deals. It may sound great, but read the fine print. You may be paying a premium for the first two nights. You might get the third night free in exchange for agreeing to some perk like the delivery of a $200 bottle of wine. Thanks, but no thanks.
Do consider Internet sites that offer deals. Sites like Roomer, Secret Escapes and Hotel Power are deal-oriented all the time. Just remember to read the fine print before purchasing. Better yet, call the hotel with the good rate online to see if they can give you a better deal … just because you asked.
Don’t count on last-minute discounts. Sure, there are good last-minute deals, but there are only so many beds in any hotel. So if you call at the last minute, that great deal may be adjacent to the only vending machine and ice dispenser on your floor. If you’ve got to catch an early-morning flight, the thrashing coming from a pop machine may not be worth saving a few dollars. Find out where the great-deal room is before you book.
Always get a reservation number. You’ve spent time negotiating; now get the good deal in writing, via text or email – or better yet, while you’re still on the phone with the hotel.
At the end of the day it pays to ask for the deal, no matter what the circumstances – even a raging blizzard that cancelled a slew of flights at O’Hare. Like other stuck travelers, I started looking for a place to stay the night, and decided to take a chance.
I got a shuttle over to the nearby Hilton Garden Inn. After a short wait in line, I stated my plight and asked for the lowest rate, since paying for a night’s stay was an unexpected expense. Unfortunately, I was quoted the same rate I was given when I was on the phone at the airport.
But I wasn’t through negotiating. I waited for the crowd around the front desk to diminish, until it was just me and the front desk manager. I restated my case and got a nice discount. Why? The manager said he didn’t want to give me the lower rate before because there were too many people within earshot.
So if you’re negotiating in person, look for a time when the desk manager is not busy. Lower prices, at least at some hotel desks, are still a guarded secret.
Sharyn Alden is a long-time travel writer with a media-relations business, Sharyn Alden Communications, Inc., based in Madison, Wis. Contact her at email@example.com.
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