In the past, my major resistance to using these techniques would be the time they require– for each hotel it could take 15 to 30 minutes. That said, your lodging will represent your #1 expense during your mini-retirement. A hundred dollars saved on housing could easily cover your food budget for one month. I believe you should at least be able to save at least 25% off the quoted price, which in a country like Vietnam could be 100 to 200 dollars a month.
I’m not sure these techniques would work as well at higher end established hotels– although it couldn’t hurt to try. I know there are lots of cool hacks that work with them. In this article, I’m going to focus specifically on hotels that cater to travelers, because they’re generally cheap, clean, accommodating, and I’m happy with the overall value the offer.
BEFORE YOU ENTER THE HOTEL
1) Know the season – Figure out what season it is for tourists. Obviously you’ll have more leverage during low seasons. Don’t always assume that summer means high season, for many areas of SE Asia it can be the opposite.
2) Take your time – This whole process will generally take some time. Consider it as a challenge, and approach it with a good attitude. Stash your bags at a friendly restaurant, or stay in a nice fancy hotel your first night in town. Better yet– bring all your stuff in one lightweight day bag!
3) Walk off the edge of the tourist area – There are always some intrepid entrepreneurs looking to start tourist hotels a few blocks out of the main tourist neighborhood. In my experience, these places are almost always struggling and are counting on the tourist area to increase in order to have regular success. The owners of these places are much more willing to negotiate.
4) Go in the evenings – I have a sense that owners of small hotels are much more willing to lower their rates from 6-9 in the evening. At that time they know for certain that any guest they bring in is revenue to the bottom line.
ONCE YOU ENTER
5) Establish rapport with staff – Walk in an start by having small talk with the hotel staff. One question I love, “Do you own this hotel?” (Can be delivered as a joke or as a subtle compliment.) It’ll also get you to the question you want to know, “where is the owner?”
6) Get the facts – The key here is to try and figure out if their rooms meet your requirements– AC, Wifi, etc. You also want to get an idea of the # of vacancies they have relative to the total # of rooms. Ask them if they have many long term residents. You want to plan, and continue to support the idea that you plan to stay for a while. A huge advantage if you want a lower price. I wouldn’t recommend taking an early bulk payment option because there as so many contingencies you just can’t account for when reviewing your room (neighbors, pests, employees, etc.)
7) Ask the price and tour the rooms – Walk through each room offering with the staff and remember the quoted price. Have a checklist in your mind of things you want to confirm one you are in the room. I always double check the wifi signal, the shower for hot water, take note of the street noise, security, AC, and double check the hotel policies on late night access.
8) Return to the room you like the best – Tell them you are on business and have plans to stay for many nights, so you are hoping to get a better rate than normal for a longer stay. Tell them you think the room works, but you think this room is worth about 60% to 70% of the quoted price. (If it’s low season and many rooms are available ask for 60% to 70% off the price, if hotel has only a few vacancies, still ask for 60% off but don’t expect to get it!). It also helps to cite a specific shortcoming in the room in regards to your needs– “this room doesn’t have a window so I’m not sure I want to pay the full price for it.”
9) Don’t stop smiling when things get awkward – Don’t budge. They are used to it. Just smile, joke, and continue to keep things going.
10) Don’t do anything that will stop the conversation – A rookie maneuver in negotiating in developing economies. Don’t ever state your reserve price and stand their like a proud statue. This causes the owner or negotiator to loose face. You have to take a little ground that you intend to give back.
11) Let them know that you understand their country – Say a few words in their language, tell them you intend to stay and do business. If you’ve been there before, let them know.
12) If they don’t come down to the price you want, re-state one of the reasons for your offer – For example, “I plan to stay for 1-2 weeks minimum.” Re-offering something can make it clear that you stand behind it’s value. Just make sure it’s valuable to them.
13) Offer to not use the AC – This can be the biggest cost for keeping a guest for many travelers hotels. If there is good airflow and a nice ceiling fan, offer to not use the AC. On more than one occasion, this concession has allowed for a 5$ or better price drop per day. (AC can sometimes make you feel a little sick in tropical climates, also, a lot of hotel owners won’t offer this option because they’ll assume you need it).
14) BRING OUT THE BIG GUNS – The #1 gamut in all negotiation: “somebody else is selling the same thing for less.” If they aren’t getting down to what you think you can command (for example, why would a small hotel not give you a 50% discount if over half of their rooms are vacant? Answers: 1) Pride, or 2) They thought you would pay the quoted price. Well, take away pride issues and make it clear that you won’t pay the quoted price, assuming you think business is light, say, “I’d like to stay here, but unfortunately I found a place somewhere near here with a comparable room for [your desired price].” If you think you can match their price, I’m certain I would prefer to stay here.” I really like the [receptionist, library, view, friendly atmosphere].
15) 25% is often the golden number – I’m not sure what the reason, but I’ve seen over and over that most hotel rooms seem to be listed for 25% of what the hotel is willing to take for it. You can use this as a guidepost especially during more busy seasons. Just ask for a 50% discount for your multiple night stay and you’ll likely find a way to get back to that figure.