Out of season, just about everything is negotiable - even the price of a hotel room. Isabel Wolff on bargaining power
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The Independent Culture
WHAT DO you do when you come to pay a hotel bill? Most people meekly hand over whatever is stipulated on the rate card, but there is an alternative - you can bargain.

The price of a hotel room is as open to negotiation as a kilim in a Turkish bazaar. If you don't want to pay the full whack, then haggle. There are various ways of bringing the price down, say experts in the travel industry. "Obviously it's much easier to do in low season," says Jill Upton, editor of Business Traveller magazine. If you're booking a break now for April or May, hotels will be desperate for your custom. But Upton points out that June can also be a good time for bargains. The arrival of the holiday season means that business travellers are that much thinner on the ground, so it's then that hotels around the world find themselves with large numbers of empty rooms. "At this time some hotels will offer discounts of up to 60 per cent quite voluntarily," she says. "But if the rate isn't already reduced then it's certainly worth asking the manager for a cheaper deal."

If the price doesn't come down sufficiently, she then advises travellers to negotiate for what's known as added value, in the form of amenities thrown in free of charge. These can range from a bottle of champagne, free laundry service or free parking to an upgrade from a simple room to a suite. "If they'll knock only 20 per cent off the rack rate, instead of the 50 per cent you've asked for," says Chris Scott, a travel writer, "then accept it on condition that, say, breakfast is included in the price." According to Scott, who wrote the Rough Guide to Australia, hotels will nearly always agree a discount for a long stay, which means a stay of more than four or five days. "Most hotels make their money out of the two- or three-night business trips," he says, "so they're often prepared to reduce their prices for the individual traveller who is staying a little bit longer. But of course they won't do it unless they're asked."

Bargains can be struck even in the high season, but this requires a cannier approach. Lynn Hughes, editor of Wanderlust magazine suggests turning up late at night. "Arrive at reception at say, 11.30pm," she says, "and then ask for a substantial discount. Now they know that at that same time of day they're pretty unlikely to get anyone else turning up, so rather than let the room remain unoccupied they'll probably let you have it for the cheaper rate." Hughes admits that this is a high-risk strategy, as one might well end up sleeping on a park bench if it doesn't come off. "The trick is to check whether the hotel is full. If you can't see how many keys are hanging up in reception, then check the number of cars in the car park."

Sometimes an airline will help negotiate reduced hotel rates. Last year Ray Watkins, a freelance designer, arranged flights to Australia with Qantas, with a stop-over in Bali on the way. But all the hotels he contacted in Bali were fully booked. "We were so desperate that in the end I asked Qantas if they could help," she says. "They booked us a four-star hotel in Bali for five nights, for only pounds 179 for two, which was an incredible deal, because the going rate for that would normally be about pounds 50 per night." It transpired that this was a hotel which was regularly used by Qantas for their staff, and so the airline had negotiated the same reduced rate for Watkins and her companion.

Another reliable route to a good deal, according to Lynn Hughes of Wanderlust, is to offer cash. She recommends waving a credit card around in the first instance, to look as though you're a serious customer; then, she advises, whip out a stash of notes and ask if they do a discount for cash. "This nearly always works a treat in independent motels, especially in the states," she adds. I spent several months travelling round America recently, and I don't think I paid the full whack once."

Chris Scott sums up the businesslike attitude needed: "Very few people realise that you don't have to pay the full rate in hotels. It's always worth asking, even in the most upmarket ones. Basically you've got to take a deep breath and be a bit pushy, but it's worth it if you get a good deal in the end." !