This "Old School" Trick Can Get You a Better Hotel Rate

All you have to do is pick up the phone

Man looking at woman signing at reception desk in hotel lobby
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You can shop online all day, looking for a hotel bargain. You can check a dozen websites. You can use one of those sites that won't tell you the name of your hotel until you're committed. You may think you did a great job of bargain-hunting.

You might be wrong if you haven't tried one thing that's so simple and old school you might think it couldn't possibly work: Call the hotel on the telephone.

I got the idea from Consumer Reports magazine, which claims its shoppers got the best hotel rates by calling the hotels directly. That's compared to online services that promise discounts or to using hotel websites, even if they have low price guarantees.

My friends have tried it, and they say it works, too. A few years ago, by calling, one of my pals got nearly 30 percent off a weekday rate at Disneyland's Paradise Pier Hotel.

How to Get the Best Hotel Rates With a Simple Telephone Call

First, you need to talk to the right person. Don't call the hotel's 800 number. Instead, contact the front desk and ask to speak to someone in the hotel, not their central reservation center. Hotel managers may have more flexibility to bargain than a reservationist does. Independent Traveler explains, "Many chains allot only a select number of rooms to the central reservations system, so 800 agents may even tell you a hotel is sold out when the hotel is discounting rooms."

Some say Sunday is the best day to call, while other sources claim the deepest discounts surface on Sundays, Mondays, Thursdays, and right after the holidays. 

Firstly, know the lowest rate you can get online. You can check that on TripAdvisor. Know what the hotel charges for parking. To find that information, you may have to dig around the hotel website in sections with names like Amenities or FAQs. If you can negotiate free or discounted parking, that will also lower your total cost. Know the best deals in the area for hotels similar to the one you're talking to.

This is not the time to be loud, demanding, or pushy. Instead, make the person you're talking to your friend. Tell them about your plans and how much you want to stay in their hotel. Be polite, but be persistent.

Use these phrases, questions, and tips to facilitate your discussion, and ask every one of these questions if you have to.

  • When you ask for the lowest rate, Consumer Reports suggests using these magic words: "cheapest, non-refundable rate."
  • After they tell you that rate, ask: "Is that the best you can do?"
  • If you're still not happy, ask: "Do you have any specials that I should know about?"
  • You're not done yet. Say: "That's more than I can spend."
  • Mention better deals you've found elsewhere, especially if they're from a similar property. Say: "The Big Fancy Hotel near yours has a special. Can you match their price?"
  • If you reach the lowest price and they won't go any further, ask: "If you can't lower the price any further, can you give me an upgrade or free breakfast?" "How about a parking discount?"

Protect Your Bargain

In the best of worlds, you wouldn't need this advice. Unfortunately, I read about misunderstandings and miscommunication with hotels all the time. And about unhappy travelers who feel like they were cheated. Here's how to keep that from happening to you.

Confirm all the details. Say, "I just want to be sure I get this all correct." Confirm the rate and dates, extras, and discounts. Ask for a confirmation number and the name of the person you spoke to. Ask them to confirm by e-mail or text. When that message arrives, read it and check all the information. Be sure you have all that with you to use at check-in.

Getting an Even Lower Rate

If you negotiated a particularly good deal, it might be a good idea to call again a few days before your trip to confirm everything one more time. Hotels often get last-minute cancellations, and it's a good idea also to ask if they have any new deals or lower rates you should know about.