Four tips for negotiating low hotel prices

For the best hotel prices, pick up the phone and negotiate for lower rates, Hamm writes.

AP Photo/Paul Sakuma/AP/File
In this April 1, 2011 photo, Zen Hotel maid Ereyda Yanez makes a bed in a hotel room where she works in Palo Alto, Calif. Don’t just book hotel rooms online, Hamm advises, try negotiating over the phone.

Several years ago, Sarah and I visited the Amana Colonies in eastern Iowa with another couple. We decided to stay in a hotel there for two nights so we could stay up late with friends we hadn’t seen in a long while.

Our friends had chosen a hotel online and booked a room, so we decided to just stay at the same hotel for that weekend. However, when I went to book that room online, I was stunned at the price. I didn’t want to pay that much.

So, I placed a call to that hotel. I spoke to a receptionist, and then to a manager, about reserving a room for that weekend. I told him that our budget was limited and that we were considering staying at another hotel (presumably their main competition) as well as a bed and breakfast in the area.

The manager almost immediately offered me a rate that was about 40% of what I could find online. I agreed to the rate and placed the reservation, and I received a confirmation email shortly thereafter confirming the rate. 

The end result? We spent less for two nights than our friends likely spent for one night in the same hotel.

It’s important to note that this is a tactic that works best when you’re traveling to a less-populated place, such as a city under 50,000 people or a small tourist destination. I have tried this with great success in cities or areas with only a few hotels, and my success has been much lower in more heavily populated areas.

If you do try this, here are a few tips.

One, the manager at such hotels is usually the one with the power to offer low rates. Often, the first person you talk to couldn’t give you a low rate even if they wanted to, so feel free to go ahead and ask to speak to the manager.

Two, don’t be afraid to directly ask for a rate. Tell the receptionist or the manager that you already have a room quoted at a lower rate and that you’ll stay elsewhere if the rate can’t be matched. There’s nothing rude about this – you’re simply trying to find a bargain.

Three, don’t be afraid to shop around by phone right before the cutoff to cancel your reservation. Let’s say you have to cancel your reservation at 6 PM the night before your stay. At 5 PM that evening, call a few of that hotel’s competitors and inquire about a room starting tomorrow night and just directly compare that to the rate you already have.

Finally, include bed and breakfasts in your comparison. Most of the best lodging deals I’ve found in such places have been bed and breakfasts, where we’ve actually been staying in the attic of an older person’s home and they serve us a nice breakfast right at their kitchen table. If you call one of these places shortly before you’re going to stay, you can sometimes find one at a really low rate. The nicest bed and breakfast Sarah and I ever stayed at cost $30 a night and included an amazing home-cooked breakfast – I suspect the couple just loved having the company.

Don’t just book hotel rooms online. Try using the phone – sometimes you can get a very nice rate by just talking to someone.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. 

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