Confessions Of... A Hotel General Manager

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How to save on hotel stays: the discounts, the concessions, the lures.

I was a hotel general manager with a major hotel company and have over 22 years' experience. Now that I'm on the other side of the check-in counter, I'm able to divulge several powerful tools for saving on your lodging costs:

1. Negotiate with the hotel. When business is slow, no property will turn down a reasonable offer. Earlier in my career, as a front-desk manager, I would leave for the night and allow the desk clerks the flexibility of negotiating discounts should they experience resistance to the hotel's published rates. We found that by selectively reducing prices, we could avoid turning away any business when we needed it.

2. Though it's best to phone ahead, you can negotiate on arrival. If you walk in without a reservation and are unhappy with the rate you are quoted, tell the desk clerk and ask if there is a lower rate or offer a rate that you are willing to pay. Always wait until the desk is not busy. This will allow the clerks to quote discounted rates without being overheard by other guests who may be checking in. You'll be surprised at how often you are successful in receiving a discount on your room just by asking.

3. Despite the possibility of last-minute discounts, it's best to make your reservations long in advance. As soon as you are aware of your travel plans, call and make your hotel reservations. As your arrival date nears, the demand for that room will usually increase. As demand increases, the discounted rate will be sold out and only the high regular rate will be available.

4. Never call the 800 number. Dial the hotel direct! Usually, the rates quoted by the national reservations services (the ones you access by phoning the 800 number) are simply regular or premium rates. The majority of the discounted rates will be available only through the hotel itself.

5. Ensure that any special request you make will not trigger a "rate add-on." For example, asking for a golf view, a pool view, or a beach view usually means a more expensive room than one with a less desirable location. Always confirm the rate first-then, and only then, state any special preference or request. You'll avoid being given an add-on rate.

6. Always request a reservation number. Or the name of the person who took the reservation. This will become invaluable should a hotel renege on a rate.

7. Be sure to request super saver rates. Ask if the hotel offers any super saver rates, discounts, or specials. Most hotels will offer some type of discount off the regular rate if it encounters resistance from the would-be guest. This is also called a hotel "fall-back" or "bottom out" rate.

8. Or request an AAA or AARP rate, a senior citizen rate, or a hotel membership rate. Many hotels offer discounts of at least ten percent to such persons.

9. If you fit the bill, request a government or corporate rate. If you are in the military or if you work for a government agency or as a government contractor, you may be eligible for a government rate, which can be as much as 50 percent off; indeed, government rates are among the hotel industry's best rates. Similarly, if you're a traveler on business, always ask for the corporate or business rate, and let the telephone reservationist know the name of the company for which you work. If you are employed by a company that has an office close to the hotel, you may receive a substantial discounted rate that is aimed at capturing the majority of your company's out-of-town guests.

10. Occasionally, shareholders of hotel chains are entitled to discounted rates. Shareholders should inquire directly with individual hotel chains for details.

11. There are travel industry, hotel employee, long-term, and "good samaritan" discounts to be had. If a member of your immediate family is a travel industry employee, you may be eligible for travel-industry discounts. As a hotel manager, I have received numerous discounts at hotels, rental car agencies, and on airlines. Always ask. If you are planning on staying five to seven nights, ask whether discounts are given for extended stays. And lastly, keep in mind that many independent hotel operators and some major hotel companies offer good samaritan rates to guests experiencing hardships (stranded motorists, victims of storm damage or fires).

12. Tell the front desk you're willing to accept a "suite connector." Many times the staff cannot sell the entire extent of a multiroom suite at maximum price, and that leaves the sitting room portion, which is connected by a lockable door, available. Usually, the sofa can be converted into a bed, and this provides a nice accommodation at a considerable discount. Or you can request that a roll-away be placed into the sitting room (for which you'll be sure to receive a good discount).

13. Finally, mention that you're willing to accept an "out-of-order" room. Rarely are all the rooms in a hotel ready for occupancy. Housekeeping and engineering departments designate some rooms out of order because of some defect in the room (ranging from a small stain on the carpet to a faulty TV). Depending on the standards of the hotel, managers may allow these out-of-order rooms to be sold on a discounted, "last-sell" basis. Hotels rarely sell 100 percent of their rooms. They have to deal with no-shows, out-of-order rooms, early departures, duplicate reservations, last-minute cancellations, family emergencies, and a host of other empty-room-making contingencies. That's why hotels are more than willing to deal-under the proper circumstances-and you, the savvy hotel guest, can benefit from that policy.

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