By Jennifer Derrick
I recently returned from two weeks of traveling for both business and pleasure. As I was setting up the components of the trip (hotels, rental cars, etc.) I was disappointed to discover that there were virtually no deals to be had. This surprised me because there’s usually some sort of deal available and I’m very good at sniffing them out. (See my earlier article on how I take frequent trips on a limited budget) Normally I will balk and simply refuse to travel or pick a different destination if I have to pay full price but, since the trip was partly business, I had to go. I thought it was good that at least part of the trip would be tax deductible since I wasn’t saving much anywhere else.
As I was getting ready to leave, I decided to try a little experiment. Since there were no deals to be found I decided that, whenever I had the opportunity, I would ask for a discount. I know this idea will offend some people, but let me be clear: I wasn’t demanding a discount or asking for anything for free. I wasn’t rude or threatening. I simply inquired politely if a better price could be had for the purchase I was making. If not, I smiled, thanked the person for their time and went ahead with the transaction at the going price. It helps that I enjoy talking to strangers and I’m very comfortable negotiating and asking for what I want. Shyer folk may not be as comfortable as I was.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my efforts paid off more that I expected, although looking back I see that I had more success with smaller, local operations than big, national chains. I learned that sometimes to save money, all you have to do is ask. Here’s a summary of my attempts, and my failures and successes:
1. Car Rental: I arrived at my destination and needed to rent a car. I was holding a reservation at one of the big rental chains for $200. When I got to the counter, I presented my information and then asked the customer service representative if that was the best price I could get for the size car I needed. The lady tapped some keys on the keyboard, opened and closed some drawers under the counter and came up with a coupon code that saved me $50. I was surprised and grateful. I thanked her profusely and promised to write to her manager to thank her for her helpfulness (which I did). I think the key to my success here was that, although this was a national chain, it was an off-airport, neighborhood location where the rep. had more time to work with me. Had it been a busy airport location with a line three miles long behind me, I doubt she would have been as accommodating.
2. Hotels: My results in this area were definitely mixed. I stayed in four hotels over the course of two weeks. At the first, a local bed and breakfast, I arrived to check in and asked if the price I was holding was the best available. As it turned out, when I made my reservation the only room available was one of the larger rooms that sold for a higher price per night. When I arrived and asked, it turned out that someone had cancelled, freeing up a smaller, less expensive room. Since I didn’t need the extra space, I took the smaller room for a savings of $30/night, or $120 for the four nights I was there. This wasn’t a discount per se, but if I hadn’t asked they would have put me in the room I had reserved.
Two big national chain hotels followed where I was unable to get a better price than that on my reservation, although one did give me an upgraded view. It didn’t save me money, but it was nice to look at trees rather than the parking lot. The last three nights I stayed in a national chain hotel that was pretty much the only hotel in the whole town. I didn’t expect anything, knowing the monopoly they had on the market, but when I asked if my reserved price was the best available, the clerk knocked an extra $10/night of my price for a savings of $30. I think they were almost empty as I didn’t see many people around, so I guess the clerk figured I might leave if he didn’t give me a discount and any money was better than none.
3. Tickets: In some of the places I went, I wanted to visit some attractions and museums. I would arrive at the gate of the attraction and ask if there were any discounts on tickets. Most of the time I was told no, although there were some successes. At two museums I was offered $5 off a ticket. Neither clerk said why, just, “We can offer you $5 off.” Savings $10. I took a colleague to a small aquarium, gave my usual spiel at the gate and we were offered 2-for-1 admission. Savings: $7.50. I think in all of these cases it helped that it was the off season for these areas and business was slow.
4. Food: I was unsuccessful at saving much money in this area, although in one restaurant they did grant me the same discount as the senior citizen discount (10%) for a savings of about $2.00. I didn’t ask for the senior discount, but when I inquired about any discounts the waiter said I could have the senior rate. I don’t look like a senior, so I think he was being nice. Either that or I look far older than I think I do.
5. Fuel: Forget it. In a few places I asked about discounts for paying with cash, but quickly stopped asking. Never ask for a discount on fuel unless you are prepared to be treated very rudely.
So for just engaging in some small talk and making some polite inquiries, I saved about $219.50. Not a huge amount of money, but enough to render my experiment a success. Ask politely, don’t whine, nag or demand and your chances of success are greater. If you do get offered a discount, thank the person and be grateful. Also, you’ll probably succeed more often if it’s the off season at your destination and you’re dealing with smaller businesses. I learned that it never hurts to ask. The worst they can say is no and in the best scenario you’ll save some money.