Negotiation is the key to room deals

Buy an air ticket and then book your hotel separately, and you will probably pay more than if you had booked both together. This is because if you book through your airline or travel agent, they will always have rooms at a lower price than the published rate, sold to them in bulk by hotels desperate to achieve minimum occupancy each night in order to maintain a profitable existence.

Hugh Taylor, the Marketing Head at Jarvis Hotels says: "Bulk-booking, either directly from a corporation or travel agent, remains a source of crucial revenue for hotels. To attract such volume, hotels are definitely willing to negotiate favourable rates."

It also means that there are certain times when those airlines and travel companies will need to shift rooms fast. Equally, there will be times when the hotel will be running out of companies wanting to bulk-buy rooms and will need guests to fill the echoing corridors.

That is why a little hard work can pay dividends. Say you want a room for three nights in Hong Kong, and you don't want to pay too much because it's a stopover and your company will not be paying. First, check what deals your airline can offer you - and book nothing.

Second, ask the travel companies associated with your credit cards what they can do. Book nothing.

Third, call three or four big travel companies - you can get names and numbers from the specialist magazines like Business Traveller and Executive Travel - and see what they can do. Book nothing.

Now call two or three hotels direct, ask for the front desk manager and haggle. Once you've exhausted these routes, you will know where the best deal is to be had. Finally, the time has come to book your hotel room.

But this does not always work. For a start, you could be hitting a city where there is a room shortage. Hong Kong, for example, tends to be very full from September to March, during its conference season. Paris is impossible in spring and autumn, while London is choc-a-block from March and April to October and again around Christmas time. No one discounts in a sellers' market.

But the habits formed in the recession live on, and even in a time of increases in the volume of business travel, it is still possible to negotiate hotel rates.

The tendency among travellers to feel that they are being ripped-off is resented by the travel trade. Business hotels, in prime locations, are expensive to run and the rates reflect the levels of investment in service and property that have to be made to attract visitors, says the industry.

The business customer should not expect the hotelier to offer the best deal initially, but should negotiate in order to achieve this end result.