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Remove the random element of luck and use this information to know who to approach for hotel discounts and how to get them to agree.

But - try as you might - you'll still find that too often, idiocy prevails and you may not get anything special at all.  Time to look for a different hotel in such cases!

 
 
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How to Negotiate the Best Hotel Room Rate Part Five

Who to Speak With and What to Say

Save Money when Booking a Hotel Room 

Is the receptionist the best person to ask for a special low rate?  Or should you book online?  Or?

Part 5 of a series on How to Negotiate the Best Hotel Room Rate - please also visit

1.  Optimize the Dates of Your Stay

2.  When is the best (and worst) time to make your hotel reservation

3.  What is Included and What is Extra

4.  Hidden extra fees and how to resolve them

5.  Who to Speak/Book With and What to Say

 

 

Sometimes the best hotel rates aren't where you'd expect to find them, and sometimes you'll be dealing with people who only have the authority to say 'no' and lack the authority or motivation to say yes.

Choosing who to speak to - and what to say to them - can have a major impact on any special deals or room upgrades you end up securing.

This fifth part of our series gives you some suggestions about what to say and to whom.


Your Different Places to Book a Hotel

These days we have lots of different ways to book a hotel.  Yes, you can always telephone, email, fax or write to the hotel directly.  And, yes, there are still plenty of traditional travel agents too - and they sometimes have great deals.

Then you might be able to book directly through a hotel's website, or through the chain's website that the hotel may belong to.  In addition, the various online travel agencies such as Expedia and Orbitz will also be delighted to book hotels for you.

Aggregator sites

Let's also not forget aggregator sites.  The best known of these is kayak.com.  Aggregator sites do two things.  First, by collating information from multiple other sites, they end up offering you a broader range of hotels than you might find on just one of the other sites.

Secondly, they check the prices from the sites they visit to save you needing to do it yourself.  Usually they also show the taxes and fees, and so you can see which of the other sites is greediest on the fees it adds to the upfront 'official' hotel rate.

This little nugget of information might only save you a dollar or two a night, but that's at least enough for a cup of coffee (or for a small Travel Insider contribution!).  Normally, if you just go to one site, few people bother to then check other sites to see if it is a dollar cheaper elsewhere, but if you start your search at kayak.com, the information is presented to you conveniently.

Last minute booking sites

Another option is to use sites that specialize in last minute discounts such as lastminute.com, laterooms.com and Priceline.com.

Sites such as lastminute.com typically have their best rates on offer one, two, or at the most, three weeks prior to the date of your planned stay.  So don't use them to book a stay three months in advance, because they won't yet have received any deep discounted rooms at that point.

The Unique Opportunity Offered by Priceline

Priceline is a particularly distinctive service, because it feature 'opaque' products - you don't know exactly where you'd stay until after you've bought and non-refundably paid for your stay.  But the flipside to this is that many times you'll get a huge deal on Priceline, better than anywhere else.

Due to the nuances and special techniques needed to get best use of Priceline, we've dedicated a complete four article series to 'How to Get Best Value from Booking Travel with Priceline'.

So which of these different sources is the best place to get the best value hotel rooms?

The answer is 'that depends'.  Fortunately, you are seldom limited to only one choice, and you may need to compare several different choices before deciding, so as to establish the relative values each time you're booking a hotel.

Negotiating a Special Rate with a Web Site

Okay, so this is a bit tongue-in-cheek.  There's no ready way to negotiate a discount with your computer screen.  If you were to resort to an 'old fashioned' phone to call the customer service at one of the online travel agencies (OTAs), it is very unlikely you'd get much of a discount, because they don't have a lot of margin to play with.

Think about it this way.  If the room rate is $100/nt, then of that $100, maybe the online service keeps $15, maybe the hotel also pays $5 to its master franchisor, and so it receives a net of $85.

The best case scenario sees the online service giving you maybe half their margin - $7.50, and frankly it is hard to come up with a compelling reason to offer to them as to why they should.  Even more difficult is finding someone who would be willing to cut a deal with you - the customer service people will just roll their eyes and say 'no' to you.

So, in general, what you see is what you get on an OTA website.  Take it or leave it.

There's another consideration at play too - the OTA probably figures 'he is either going to book Hotel A or Hotel B, and either way, we will make a commission' so it isn't really too motivated to do a special deal on any given hotel.

Negotiating with the Hotel Franchisor

For example, maybe you are booking a Hilton hotel.  You could book the room through any of many different websites, including the Hilton main website.

You could also call the (800) number to go direct through to their reservation center.  Unlike the airlines, hotels don't charge you extra to make a booking on the phone!

You could certainly try negotiating a rate with the person who you're speaking with, and possibly they have access to a number of different rates for the room you want to book, and a bit of sweet talking and some suggestions about booking a cheaper room at a nearby competing hotel might persuade them to shift you to a different rate category.

The big difference between negotiating with an online travel agency (OTA) and with the online franchisor is that with an OTA, any rate reduction comes out of their margin.  With the franchisor, any rate reduction is passed on back to the hotel; so it isn't really costing the franchisor any money.

A secondary difference is that with the OTA, they don't really care which hotel you book, just so long as you book a hotel through them. The only real lever you have with the OTA is to say 'you are charging $102 all up for this hotel, but your competing OTA is charging only $98'.

However, for the franchisor, if you switch from one of their member properties to some other unaffiliated property, they loose all the revenue.  So they should be more sensitive to doing deals to win business.

Sometimes the franchisor can be the most motivated of all to cut you a deal, because they are most interested in getting rooms sold at any reasonable rate.  Let's face it - a 5% or so commission on $90 isn't all that much different to a 5% commission on $100 - it costs them only 50c to give you a $10 discount at the hotel, and they'd much rather slice their income from $5 down to $4.50 than to lose it entirely, and they'd also be happier to keep the booking going to one of their member properties.  If they don't give their members lots of bookings, there is a danger the property will switch to a different franchise/brand instead.

So this is very different to the situation with both the hotel and any OTA,  where every dollar of discount they give you potentially costs them exactly as the amount you receive.

However, there's an exception to the claim that giving you a dollar costs the hotel a dollar, buy you must apply a bit of 'verbal judo' to the hotel directly to flip around their perception.

Negotiating with the Hotel Directly

First of all, to state a perhaps obvious fact.  You can't negotiate a hotel rate (or much else) in writing.  You need to talk, interactively, on the phone.  So don't email or write or fax.  Pick up the phone.

In theory, you'd think that the best place to get the cheapest rate on a hotel room would be going directly to the hotel itself.

Sometimes this is true - the classic concept of the 'blackboard special' rate - a special low rate advertised on a blackboard/sandwichboard outside the entrance to the hotel is a time-honored example of a hotel discounting its rate deeply, particularly for bookings for the same night.

But these days, particularly when phoning the hotel some time prior to the actual date you plan to arrive, it seems far from uncommon to be quoted a higher rate than what you can find on other websites.

This is - on the face of it - crazy, and the reason is in part indeed due to craziness and in part due to calculated greed.

Now remember back to the calculation we did before.  For every $100 of a hotel nightly rate, it is a reasonable approximation to estimate that the company selling you the hotel room is probably getting $10 - $15 (sometimes considerably more, occasionally a bit less) and probably there may be another middle man or other costs to the actual hotel of perhaps another $5.

In other words, hotels are typically selling their room nights through various types of distribution systems with about a 20% discount - again, with plenty of exceptions in terms of margins, both up and down.

Now here's the thing :  Keeping to the example of a $100/nt room rate for which the hotel gets only $80 for, don't you think the hotel would prefer to get a full $90 from you directly, rather than to receive only $80 from its distribution network?  That would give them an extra $10, and it would save you $10 at the same time.  You'd both win.

I've very regularly been confronted with more extreme examples.  The hotel might say its rooms cost $100/nt, but online - even on their own corporate/franchisor website, I can see the same room for $90/nt (which the hotel would get about $72 for).  You would think the hotel would be delighted to accept $85 for the room - that is much more than it would get if the room was purchased online through another outlet, and it is also, of course, $85 more than it would get if no room was purchased at all.

So here's where the verbal judo comes in.

Using Verbal Judo to Get the Best Rate

If you say 'I am calling to ask for a discount' your call will be an unwelcome one.  But if you say 'I bet this is the first call you've received today from someone offering to pay you more than you normally get for a room' wouldn't that be a surprise to the hotel staff?

Say to them - 'look, I saw you rooms being sold on (whatever travel site) for $90 a night, and I'm guessing, if they are selling the rooms for $90 a night to me, they are only paying you about $70 for the room, right?'

Pause at this point and give them a chance to agree with you.  If the person says 'I don't know' or anything less than a sensible/positive response which shows they understand how things work and are willing to be honest and open with you, you've found out something very valuable - you're speaking to the wrong person.  Ask to be transferred to the reservation manager or duty manager.

When you've found someone who understands this very basic bit of hotel marketing, continue 'Why don't we do a win-win deal, so that you get more than $70 while I pay less than $90?  Can we split the difference and you sell the room to me for $80?  That means I save a bit, and you get $10 more than normal, while also creating a direct relationship with an appreciative customer who will probably keep coming back in the future?'

If the person says something like 'We're not allowed to undercut our retailers' you could say 'I understand that.  Maybe there's some other way we could make a win-win deal.  Could you sell me at the standard/run-of-house room rate, but give me an upgraded room?'

Alternatively you could ask for breakfasts to be included or anything else at all that has some value to you.

The key bit of verbal judo here is that you're not asking them to give you a discount.  Instead, you are inviting them to accept your kind offer to pay them more money than normal.

Talking to the Right Person at the Hotel

I've touched on this already with the trick rhetorical question you should ask about the net return a hotel gets from an internet booking site.

In more general terms, you need to be sensitive to who it is that you are talking to.  Is it someone doing double duty as the front desk clerk/receptionist, and do they have a long line of people waiting to be served (eg if it is 9am with lots of people checking out)?  If you reach this person at a busy time, they're going to just quickly say 'No' to you so they can get rid of the interruption and get back to dealing with the impatient people waiting in front of them.

Or is it a low level low life reservationist who could care less about anything, and who only has the authority to say 'No' rather than to say 'Yes' to your requests?

How can you find out this?  When you call the hotel, do you have an option for reservations and other options for front desk, and so on?  Or do you just get through to someone, and you don't know who they are?

If you just get through to someone, you should first ask if they need to transfer you to a reservations department, or if they can help.  If they say they can help, then continue 'I've a couple of questions about your hotel, its rooms, and your rates.  Do you have time to discuss these with me now, or would it be better to call you back?'.

If the person says they have time, you've used verbal judo to get them to in essence offer to talk with you at length.

If they transfer you through to reservations, see if you can engage the person in a couple of sentences of discussion to see if they are a sensible helpful pro-active person or not.  You could ask them a question about amenities that may be included or not (eg 'Do you offer Wi-fi and cable internet, and if so, what does it cost?').

You could ask them 'I'm thinking about staying on these dates, can you tell me if you still have good availability or not?'.  That's actually a great question to ask - if they have good availability, you know to next say 'Oh, so do you have some specials for that period then?'.  If they have bad availability, you could ask a similar question 'Oh, does that mean you're now only selling at full rack rate, or do you still have other rates available too?'.  In both cases, you've now used verbal judo to flip the topic to discounts.

But if you don't like the sound of the person, you should politely say 'That's great, thank you for your help.  I've got an off-the-wall request, rather strange because it involves paying you more money than normal for a room.  Could you transfer me to the reservations manager or duty manager, whoever you think can best talk me through this?'.

The thing is you don't want the person who transfers your call to say to whoever you next speak 'I've got this mean nasty person demanding to speak to a manager who will give them a low rate, even though I've already refused to do so'.  In such a case, it is more common for the manager to back up their staff member than to overrule them.  But with your introductory comments the way you phrased them, you sound like a nice guy, and there is no way the person transferring you can say something negative about you.

Please continue reading on for more ways to couch your request for a discount, either to whoever answers the phone, or to a manager once you get through to someone with the authority and interest in listening to you.

Corporate and Negotiated Rates - Especially through Travel Agents

Larger hotels and particularly hotels that get some corporate as well as leisure business invariably have a 'corporate rate' that many times they'll give to anyone, anytime, if the person simply asks for the corporate rate.

 Sometimes you have to show a business card to qualify for the corporate rate, which is hardly a big obstacle for most of us (and if you don't have any business cards, print some up or take advantage of one of the internet free business card offers such as from Vista Print).

Travel Agents may have special unadvertised low rates

In addition, many travel agencies belong to buying groups and these buying groups have negotiated special rates with specific hotel groups and individual hotels.  These discounted rates can be substantially below the hotel's full undiscounted 'rack' or 'door' rates, and are only available through the travel agency and their group that negotiated it.

One important thing - when talking to a travel agent, you should ask them if they have special deeply discounted rates through their buying group or hotel discount program, and (assuming this is true) tell them you'd be willing to change you first choice of hotel if they can offer an alternative hotel at a much better price.

AAA and AARP rates - Possibly other Discounts Too

Particularly when talking direct to hotels, be sure to ask about any discounts for AAA or AARP members.  Even if the hotel doesn't offer them, you are sending them a signal that even if they don't extend you such a discount (typically about 10%, but sometimes much more and occasionally somewhat less), the other hotels near them might do so, and so the rate relativity has been changed, and this knowledge might encourage the hotel you're talking with to improve their offer, because you've shown yourself to be a savvy consumer/shopper.

If you're traveling to visit a company or other large organization which presumably has many visitors, ask the company and/or the hotels if they have special rates for people visiting that company.  For that matter, if you're traveling somewhere that has a large organization in the area, you can simply ask hotels if they offer discounts for visitors to that organization perhaps even if you're not visiting there.

It does no harm to simply ask the hotel 'Well, do you have any other discount categories that I might fit into?'.  They might volunteer something that you'd never have thought of, maybe 'If you're coming here to attend the Annual Ladies' Flower Show' or who knows what else.

It never hurts to ask. 

Frequent Guest Programs

Here's another case where you should use verbal judo.  Don't call and say 'I'm a very important frequent guest and I demand you give me your best room at your lowest rate'.

Instead, try something like this.  Say 'I really enjoy staying at your chain's properties, and I'm also keen to keep my status level at its current (whatever it is) level, so I'd really like to be able to stay at your property this time.  But (excuse here - such as 'I'm limited by my corporate travel policies to the rates I can pay' or 'I'm required to stay at the lowest priced hotel within the quality category I'm approved for' or just simply 'Much as I'd love to stay with you for all reasons, the fact is that your competitor is offering their rooms at (some lesser amount).'

You would win massive credibility and goodwill if you then followed it up by saying 'Look, I know you have to make a fair profit too, so I'm not asking you to destroy your rate, and I'm not even asking you to match your competitor.  But - and because I'm offering to book direct, meaning you don't have any commission expense - and because I'm obviously a frequent traveler and likely to return - could you (and then insert your request - eg 'meet me half way' or 'take $15 off the rate which I guess is about the commission cost if I booked through an OTA' or 'at least upgrade my room and include breakfast' or whatever else)?'

Do you see how this approach is more subtle, and uses the verbal judo to put the problem and the responsibility for solving it onto the person you're talking to.

Should You Feel Embarrassed at Asking to Speak to a Manager?

So there you are, wanting to book a short two night stay at a hotel; let's say their offer to you is $135/night and you're hoping to save a few dollars on the rate.

Maybe you might worry that this is too trivial a matter for a duty manager or reservations manager to bother about.  Indeed, if all you might get is $5 - 10 off the rate (ie, for a two night stay, $10 - $20 in total) maybe it isn't even worth your while either?

Not so!  The time it will take to have this discussion represents maybe five minutes maximum, and probably only three minutes.  Think about this from both the hotel manager's perspective and your perspective.

For the hotel manager, he or she has spent three or four minutes, and has managed to generate $250 or more of new business for the hotel (plus all the extra money from meals, drinks, internet, and so on that they'll get from you too).

That means his hourly rate equates to something like earning $3750/hour if all he did all day was to handle calls such as yours.  That's a brilliant earnings rate that should delight the manager and his boss, too.

And as for you, your four or five minutes of time has saved you $10 or maybe $20 - and probably a bit more when you consider that you're not now paying 10% or more taxes on the hotel room rate savings too.  Worst case scenario - five minutes saves you $11 - that's the same as $132/hour.  Best case scenario - four minutes saves you $22 - that's a $330 hourly rate.  Isn't that worth your time, too?

Read more in the rest of this series

This is part 5 of a series on How to Negotiate the Best Hotel Room Rate - for more strategies, please also visit :

1.  Optimize the Dates of Your Hotel Stay

2.  When is the best (and worst) time to make your hotel reservation

3.  What is Included and What is Extra

4.  Hidden extra fees and how to resolve them

5.  Who to Speak/Book With and What to Say

 

 

If so, please donate to keep the website free and fund the addition of more articles like this. Any help is most appreciated - simply click below to securely send a contribution through a credit card and Paypal.

 

Originally published 10 Feb 2012, last update 02 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 

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