How to Haggle for Hotel Discounts

You've done endless online searches. You tried to cash in your hotel loyalty points. You even bid on Priceline. But you still can't quite afford that great hotel room. Don't despair. With occupancy rates down more than 8 percent in 2009, hotels are more willing than ever to budge on pricing and throw in extras like spa treatments, suite upgrades and more. All you have to do is ask. We've got 10 tips to help you sweet-talk your way into that ocean-view room. We'll tell you who to contact, when to call, and what to ask for. Let the negotiating begin!

Just ask

We've all gotten so used to the online booking grind-surfing different search engines, playing with dates-that it's easy to forget that it's not all up to the computer. Even when you think you've found the lowest possible rate online, it's worth seeing if some person-to-person contact can make a difference. "Travelers have more leverage than ever," Barbara DeLollis, USA Today hotel editor and author of the blog Hotel HotSheet says. "If you negotiate in a smart way and don't ask for outrageous things, you have a pretty good chance of getting what you want."

Be flexible on your travel dates

If you're set on a hotel but flexible about when you go, call the hotel and ask "When should I book a trip in order to obtain the best rate?" Scheduling your trip during a time when the hotel is less busy will give you more leverage in terms of getting a lower rate. Consider the shoulder season (that's the time between high and low seasons when the weather is still good but the rates start to drop), traveling midweek, or right after a holiday.

Know who to call and when

Never call a hotel's 800 number. The call operators there seldom have the authority to budge on rates. Instead, call the hotel directly and ask for either the sales/reservations manager or the general manager. Avoid calling during prime check-in or dinner hours, when the hotel is likely to be busy. If neither party is rushed, the negotiations are more likely to turn out well.

Know what to ask for

Check several hotel websites to see what the going rates are. Start off your negotiations by saying "Your competitor offered me this rate, but I really prefer your property. Can you match that rate?" Also, ask if the hotel has packages; often they're not well advertised and could knock down the price or score you bonuses like spa treatments, bar tabs, and more. Ask if the hotel offers discounts for any of the groups you might belong to (AAA, Sam's Club, AARP, American Express, etc). Some hotel chains even offer discounts to people who own shares in their company. If the hotel can't go any lower on the rate, ask for extras like room upgrades or free breakfasts. "Hotels right now are willing to deal, but they would rather give you things for free over discounting their rates," DeLollis says. Sometimes the money you save on free meals can be more than what you would save on traditional rate reductions.

Be ready to take a chance

If the hotel isn't able to meet your budgetary requirements, we'd suggest booking at another hotel with a 24-hour cancellation policy. Then, the day before your trip, call your preferred hotel again, express your strong desire to stay there and see if they have any open rooms. They need to get "bums in beds," so they'll often be willing to give you really great rates at the last minute. It's better for them to give a heavily discounted rate than for the room to go empty.

Know your worth

"You have to show a hotel that you're giving them something in exchange for taking money out of their pockets," top travel agent Catherine Whitworth says. Do you often book business travel to the area? Are you a loyal customer of their brand? Do you have a particular status in their loyalty program? Be sure to say all of those things up front. Give them evidence that this is a mutually beneficial exchange, and they're more likely to do favors for you.

Get an attitude adjustment

Yes, you should have the confidence to ask for what you want, but you should always be friendly and respectful. Try to keep the tone conversational. This is a negotiation for hospitality, not a hostile takeover, so you should adopt the appropriate mannerisms. Make them want to help you. Also remember that if you want to stay at this hotel again, it's best to end the negotiations on a positive note. Building a relationship with a general manager will be worth much more in the future than that extra $10 discount you've were pushing for.

Leave it to the professionals

Travel agents book thousands of hotel nights a year. They have relationships with properties and often have the ability to negotiate much lower rates than the average person on the street. For example, Whitworth recently convinced the St. Regis Atlanta to offer her clients $199 per weekend night instead of the regular $480 rate. "If the average Joe called the St.Regis, the best rate he will get is a Starwood member rate of $369. My rate out does that rate by a mile!" Travel agents are also more likely to get extras like spa treatments, upgrades, and free breakfasts thrown in. And because hotels generally pay their commission, you save yourself the work and won't have to pay them anything for their trouble.

Head back to the Internet

If all else fails, at the very last minute, you can stop negotiating with people and go back to negotiating on the internet. Priceline recently launched a new iPhone app allowing you to save up to 50% over published rates. You can book a room up until 11 pm on the night you need it, and it displays recent winning bids to give you an idea of how low to go. The catch here is that you don't get to choose your hotel. But if price is more important to you than a specific property, this could be the best way to get a low rate.

Get it all in writing

If you're negotiating over the phone, be sure to get a confirmation number and the full name and contact information for the person that you're speaking to. Then be sure to get the agreed-upon rate sent to you in writing. You want to be sure to have proper documentation in the event those problems arise further down the line.

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