So you want to stay in a five-star hotel on a modest budget? A cheap stint at an upmarket establishment equipped with privacy and an infinity pool may sound like a pipedream but is doable just.
Luxury rooms are within reach of the regular traveller who knows the tricks of the trade. Drawing on the savvy of a crack team of travel industry insiders, David Wilson pinpoints the secrets of scoring "bargain boutique".
Target struggling markets
Look around and weigh the attraction of areas where the luxury market has taken a particularly hard knock. Consider gambling on Vegas
where the glut of new rooms has whipped up a price war. Another good place to score a hot deal is poor Iceland
, now called "Halfpriceland". The same applies to Bali
, which has yet to recover fully from the effects of the 2002 and 2005 bombings. As a result, the island has blossomed into a bargain hunter's heaven where the traveller can haggle with swank hotels for great reductions. Targeting anywhere that has fallen on hard times may sound ghoulish. Still, you will be welcome because the likes of Bali
need your dollars, however lousy the exchange rate.
Discount travel expert Peggy Goldman recommends checking out the tourist board website of the city you plan to visit. Often, the bureau will have a list of unsold rooms that hotels offer at cut-price rates. "The hotels, knowing they won't have to pay commissions to anyone for guests who come through this route, will often discount more deeply than usual," Goldman says. Another productive online route is to explore specialist luxury travel sites like Quikbook.com
. Also visit Hotwire.com
and subscribe to alerts so when prices match your budget parameters, you'll receive a prompt e-mail.
Dodge the masses
Avoid visiting a town when conventions are scheduled. To find out when that is, again try visiting the regional tourism authority website. Whether the attendees are Trekkies or suits, you want to avoid them because they fill rooms and bolster the market. If you book out of season, so much the better.
Arrive late in the day
Should you fail to secure a deal in advance, take your time. Understand that every night a room goes empty costs the hotel revenue. If you arrive when the sun is sinking at around cocktail hour or later, a hotel with vacancies will be under increased pressure to fill them. That means you have more bargaining power.
On arrival, tipping (basically "bribing") the desk clerk may strengthen your cause, suggests CEO of AccessVegas.com
, Ted Newkirk. The tactic can be hit-or-miss, Newkirk admits. The trick is to take a $20 bill, fold and insert it between your credit card and ID with the denomination visible. Set it on the counter as the desk clerk starts to run your information and ask whether any free upgrades might be available. Or, as a last-second tactic, try tipping the bellhop escorting you to your room.
Talk to the top
Alternatively, bypass the every-day staff. Speak to the owner or manager, suggests luxury fitness retreat operator Libby Pratt. In her view, going as high up the chain as possible is the best policy because underlings may lack the clout to offer a discount, or have little incentive (unless you tip). Whoever you talk to, if knocked back, still leave your contact information, just in case the person you spoke to has a change of heart, Pratt advises.
Name your price
Be exact and open about what price you can and will pay. Say: "I've read great things about your hotel and would really like to stay with you this weekend, but I'm on a very tight budget. Can you accommodate me at $X per night?" suggests Pratt. Stating your price upfront beats waiting for the hotel to come back to you and saves both sides time.
Whatever you say, be nice, advises marketing expert John DiPietro. First, DiPietro books via a discount site. On check-in, if he knows that the hotel still has vacancies, he simply says: "Would it be possible to upgrade to a suite?" The chance of then getting an upgrade is 50 percent, he reckons. Inquire politely after a quick chat that establishes how busy the hotel is. "Asking gets you an upgrade. Demanding means you won't. And not asking means you won't either," he says, adding that he has successfully practised what he preaches in several countries.
A show of loyalty can boost your prospects. Distinguish yourself from other tourists milling around the lobby by expressing commitment to the hotel. Tell your contact the hotel is special to you and that you plan to become a regular. The strategy may sound slimy, but the repeat-business slant will mark you out as an obvious contender for an upgrade.
Got any other hot tips on how to score five-star bargains?