Cut Your Hotel Bill By Starting A Bidding War

The New York Times has a round-up of money-saving travel hints for 2011 — and there are a few interesting ideas, like searching student travel agencies for trips with no age restrictions, and negotiating with the reservation agents at multiple hotels.

Here’s how you do that last one:

Though many hotels say that they offer their best rates online, it pays to ask the front desk for a lower rate. My colleague Seth Kugel regularly uses this tactic, as he pointed out in a column last summer: “I arrive with a solid reservation but then check out five or six other hotels and go back and forth between them in an attempt to set off a price war.” The strategy saved him $20 a night in León, Nicaragua. I have had similar success over the phone with reservation agents at New York hotels like the Ritz-Carlton New York and 60 Thompson.

Anyone actually done this? Any further tips or suggestions?

11 Tricks to Cutting Travel Costs in 2011 [NYT]


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  1. Jerry Vandesic says:

    “but then check out five or six other hotels and go back and forth between them in an attempt to set off a price war.” The strategy saved him $20 a night …”

    Sounds like a lot of work to save a few bucks. Schlepping between 6 hotels with baggage in tow is not something that I would be willing to do.

    • samonela says:

      If you are only staying one or two nights maybe…but $20/night x 5 days is worth it to some…

      • Jerry Vandesic says:

        It all depends on how you value your time. Even five days worth of savings is not going to get me to walk around for an hour between hotels just as I arrive in a new city. I will have put some time finding a good rate before traveling, but not after I arrive. This would go double if my family with me.

        • samonela says:


          Agreed…this would (and should) all be done well ahead of time during the planning stages and weeks (days are pushing it) leading up to a trip…

  2. Blueskylaw says:

    This same tactic works for buying tires. The store wanted around $1050 for 4 tires, I checked on their internet site and that was about $90- $100 lower than in store. I checked an internet competitor and went to the store with those prices and my credit card and said if you match this I will buy it right now. They matched it and I saved about $230 more.

    • NashuaConsumerist says:

      Christ, were they tires for a dump truck? That’s some pricey rubber….

      • Blueskylaw says:

        They are tire for a Mercedes CL500 and the massive back tires are bigger than the front ones.

        • Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:

          (*mental note: Blueskylaw has his pocketses overflowing with cash)

          • Blueskylaw says:

            I usually leave my pocketses at home. :-)

          • raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

            And probably got that way by being frugal in many transactions, using this as a good example of the topic at hand. Wealth is not just about earning money, but about spending what is earned wisely. What was that old saw about big-ticket lotto winners ending up bankrupt within a few years of their win?

      • travel_nut says:

        That would be cheap for dump truck tires. I work with construction equipment and you can easy spend $800 apiece on used tires.

      • Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:

        I’ve paid less for whole cars than that – Including one I am driving now. (Well, not RIGHT NOW while I post this, but, ummm, you get my point, right?)

      • Harry Manback says:

        4 tires for a Murano cost me $1200, so it’s not really that expensive.

        • Blueskylaw says:

          These are also “summer” tires I bought and not all season, if I bought the all season then the price would have been closer to $1600.

    • zzyzzx says:

      You need smaller rims.

  3. Spöönmann says:

    While I can not comment on the airline related tips, trying to start a bidding war when you have a reservation at a hotel can be very bad idea depending on the hotel’s cancellation policy. Trying it at a place with a 6 PM day before arrival cancellation policy will simply result in an annoyed or amused front desk clerk.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I agree. I would only try to negotiate a better rate by calling various hotels and telling the reservation person what another hotel offered.

  4. Terron says:

    Don’t most hotels have 24-72 hour cancellation policies? If you show up and decide to cancel, you are probably going to get hit with a no show fee.

    • Spöönmann says:

      Exactly. This is why you would end up with the amused/annoyed clerk in my comment above.

    • FishtownYo says:

      nope, cancel by 6 -m night of reservations most Hilton, Marriott and ICH, UNLESS you stay at someplace like Quality Inns or Extended Stay America, then 24 hours

  5. tbax929 says:

    I wouldn’t do this, not because it seems like a lot of work but because I’m so uncomfortable negotiating for things. My brother in law never pays full price for anything because he’s so good at negotiating. I wish I were that bold. I just feel really uncomfortable, even though I know the worst thing they can say is “no”.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Sometimes negotiation is actually just asking. I once got $150 taken off an entire year of cable. During Christmas, I ordered a gift and saw a better coupon code two days later. I asked whether I could get the price difference refunded and I did.

    • Holybalheadedchrist! says:

      I hear you. That confidence that he has didn’t come to him out of thin air. It was likely the result of asking for things and getting them–positive reinforcement. My suggestion to you would be to look for places where you think you can try this out. Not at Sears, buying a pair of shoes, but maybe the next time you are going to stay in a hotel, or rent a car. The people at the counter/at the hotel won’t be angry with you. they are used to people trying to get a better rate than the one that is advertised.

      The time to do it is when they quote a price to you. That is the first step in the negotiation. When the guy at the counter says, “I can get you an intermediate sedan for $75 a day,” realize that is the HIGHEST price they have. You, however, should not have to pay top dollar for a car. Be reasonable, but say something like, “Hmm, well, [the last place I went] charged me $55/day for the same car. Can you beat that price?” They might go for it, they might not. but if you try it, you could save thousands over a lifetime.

      Good luck!

  6. Rose says:

    WAAAAAY too much work for me, but maybe if you’re really broke and willing to take a chance…

  7. Murph1908 says:

    I’ve had some success when walking in to a place looking for the best price.

    I worked the desk at a hotel when in college. The hotel manager told us not to let anyone walk out before offering a certain lowest-acceptable-profit rate. We were to quote the standard rate, and if the potential customer didn’t like it and was going to look elsewhere, we were to offer the AAA rate, since ‘we were below capacity’ tonight.

    If that didn’t work, we’d ‘work with them’ and ask, ‘are you travelling on business,” suggesting that if so, they’d be eligible for a corporate rate. Finally if all else failed, we’d offer the lowest rate, which was less than half of what we first offered.

    It didn’t ever happen to me where we got down to that lowest rate. Most took the ‘corporate rate.’

    So I do the same when I am travelling and need a hotel without a reservation. I start to walk out after the first quote, and try to talk them down to their best deal if they try to save the sale.

    • BBBB says:

      Sometimes the desk clerk doesn’t have the authority to offer lower rates beyond the standard AAA or Senior discount. One clerk told me to call the reservation line to try for a better rate.

      Another tactic is to be nice. On a few occasions after being patient and nice during check in the clerk gave me a free meal voucher or some other perk (the people in line ahead of me who were impatient or demanding didn’t get this.)

  8. Jubes says:

    I’m pretty anal about trip planning, and I would never, ever start a bidding war on arrival. When I travel, I want to know everything about the place I’m sleeping in, not leaving it to the best price. Do a comparison well before you book, reach out and get email confirmation of rates. I just completed all the planning/purchasing for a trip with my dad, brother, and my boyfriend in 4 different countries and I spent three weeks looking at hotels, airfares, train fares…basically everything we needed other than food and spending money. I probably emailed about 50 hotels. It took time, but I’m satisfied with all the choices and the rates. Our accounts will be switched to ones that avoid foreign ATM fees, we’ve got our park’n’fly coupons, the only thing I haven’t booked is our train tickets between Amsterdam and Paris since they only go on sale 90 days prior.

    It’s so much easier than people think to travel inexpensively. It takes a lot of reading and searching, but this 3 week trip is costing less than $1500 per person for everything other than food and money.

    • raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

      Researching places in advance also helps weed out places that have consistently bad reviews; I’ve avoided several restaurants by looking at their review sections. It isn’t precisely easy to tell the difference between an honest report and a shill, but there are certainly some glaring warning signs.

  9. goldenargo85 says:

    Link fails please log in it says

  10. Zydia says:

    well yeah, in Nicaragua.

  11. badtypo says:

    I worked a hotel and this wouldn’t have worked. My supervisors would have questioned why the rate changed on the day of arrival. If the guest decides to stay with one of those cheaper hotels, they’d still owe one night’s room and tax due to the cancellation policy. And a person would have to assume all of the hotels in the area are of the same quality to get the same price.

  12. Justinh6 says:

    Not worth it at all. If you read the Priceline forums, you can see what people are paying for rooms, and how they are getting them.

    99 percent of the time you can duplicate what they did, and get a stupid low rate.

    I stayed at a Westin in Fort Lauderdale for $40 per night using priceline. The room was $129+ extra fees.

    If I would have called Westin and offered them 40 per night for their room, they would have hung up, or shown me the door if I tried this tactic in person!

  13. EBounding says:

    I usually book online, but my wife and I were on the road in the middle of nowhere and needed a place to stay. I stopped at a Super 8. I first asked if they had any rooms (they clearly did, the parking lot was practically empty). The desk said yes and I asked what their rates were. She said it was $80. I just said, “Oh, okay. Thanks”. I was looking to spend no more than $70, so I was going to leave to see what the prices for other hotels were. I was willing to swallow my pride if the Super 8 ended up being the cheapest.

    I started walking towards the door and she asked me if I had a AAA card. I said no, and she said that she could offer me the room for $60.

    I really should have asked right for a lower rate right away. So if its clear the hotel isn’t busy, always ask for a much lower rate.

  14. muenginerd says:

    Time to negotiate is at reservation not at time of arrival. We have a computer program that gives us all the available rates for every room type, and these rates will change based on capacity. If a guest simply calls up and says I want to pay $X/night and we have an available room rate at that price we give it to them without argument. Even if it is a government, military, AAA, corporate rate. Only rate we can’t give out off the street is travel agent because you have to log their ID number.

    When you hit the front desk the program is different, if the rate changes at arrival it flags the manager as a “problematic” stay and they have to review and comment on every allowance made. We can’t fluxuate the roomrates at will here. We can however offer you upgraded rooms or meal voucher if hotel capacity is low.

    We also do daily call arounds to all hotels in the area and check their going rates, our rates tend to stay in line with like hotels based on capacity. So trying to negotiate the rate of a Super 8 at a Hilton will just get you an apologetic smile and an “I’m Sorry”. We would love to have you as a guest, but we do have to keep minimum margins on the rooms.

  15. spamtasticus says:

    I do it all the time with Marriott properties. For example the last time I went to Indianapolis to watch the MotoGP I made a reservation in 1 of the 3 Marriott properties down town. The cheapest one in fact. Before checking in to that one I drive up to the lobby of the full service (most expensive) property and try to check in. When they tell me that I have no reservation there I look at them with a puzzled look and fumble for my info on my phone. “aahhh, I have a reservation at the courtyard marriott. What a fool I am”. I then tell them that I would much rather stay at their hotel but can’t pay more than the lower rate. In all instances that the Marriott had a room available they have given me their room and canceled the reservation at the other property. Often putting me in a room twice as expensive as what I’m paying.