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
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.
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
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 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
Negotiating a Special Rate with a
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
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
Negotiating with the Hotel
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
This is part 5 of a series on How
to Negotiate the Best Hotel Room Rate - for more strategies, please
also visit :
Optimize the Dates of Your
When is the best (and
worst) time to make your hotel reservation
What is Included and What is Extra
Hidden extra fees and how to resolve them
Who to Speak/Book With and What to Say
Related Articles, etc
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10 Feb 2012, last update
21 Jul 2020
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.