My Professional Opinion (Really)

I’ve seen a lot of special news reports lately about how to get the most for your money on summer vacations.  Inevitably, these reports include tips on how to haggle for a cheaper rate on your hotel room.  Also inevitably, the newscast ends with me shaking my fists and muttering curses under my breath at the innocent anchor.

I worked for four years at the front desk of three different hotels in my area, and I can tell you more outrageous stories than you might ever expect to hear about the hospitality industry.  I can also tell you about the numerous times I had to restrain myself from punching someone in the face whenever they tried to “haggle” with me over room rates.  So…in the spirit of fairness, I figured I’d write a little primer of my own.


  • Front desk agents are usually glorified grunts.  They don’t get paid on commission – they get nothing for quoting you a high room price, so don’t assume they are trying to swindle you out of money.  There’s no high-five action going on in the back office or any ladder-climbing rewards given to agents who sell rooms at higher prices.  If they tell you the rate, it’s usually because THAT IS THE SELLING RATE for that evening.  That’s what they’ve been told, that’s what they’re telling you.  On the other hand, there is typically a very high turnover for front desk agents, because the pay is low and the benefits are non-existent.  So, to be fair, maybe you drew a newbie and asking to clarify if they are quoting you the lowest rate may be justified, but if you’re going to get seriously stinky, ask for a supervisor or a manager.  The front desk agent does not get sufficient compensation for dealing with angry tightwads.
  • All three hotels I worked for ran what are called nightly Variance Reports.  This report shows how often the computer system was overriden to reflect a rate lower than the actual selling rate for that night.  The manager checks these reports to see how the front desk agents are selling the rooms.  If you don’t have a DARNED good reason for creating a variance in the rate, you can kiss your job goodbye.  So, again, if you’re gonna bully someone into giving you a cheaper rate, consider buying them some dinner, because they’ll be eating top ramen until they find some new employment.
  • Selling rates are often determined by complicated formulas used by a revenue office.  In some cases, the revenue office may even be an off-site third-party corporation contracted by that hotel.  The formulas depend on vacancies, both real and projected, and demand for rooms, both real and projected.  It’s very abstract stuff.  This means that brow-beating the front desk agent into telling you why the room costs so much isn’t going to do you much good.  It’s like trying to figure out why kids’ clothes cost so much, even though considerably less fabric is used.  That’s right:  it’s a mystery.


  • Did you clarify if you are a senior?  Did you ask for the AAA rate?  Are you a member of that hotel’s rewards program?  (in some cases rates may be less for frequent visitors) Be specific when you ask for a quote; ESP is not usually a job requirement for front desk agents.  And then be prepared to prove that you deserve the rate (ie:  ID!), because few agents have X-Ray vision to see into your wallet or truth syrum on hand to tell if you’re for real.
  • Are you visiting family or friends where you are going?  Do any of your family or friends work for a company that might have a special rate with the hotel?  At one hotel I worked for, we did 75% of our business with a local high-profile corporation.  As a benefit to them, we offered their very low corporate rate to friends or family coming to visit, as long as the employee of the company came to show us ID and we made note of it on the reservation.
  • Are you yourself affiliated with an organization that might get a better rate?  It might be worth asking.  Each of the hotels I worked in had a different definition for their “government” rate.  At one hotel, the rate was offered to federal government only.  At another hotel, they were more liberal and offered the rate to anyone employed by any form of government (ie:  anyone working at a state college or for a city office, etc).  We even offered better rates to family members visiting loved ones at the local hospital.  If a front desk agent can clearly justify offering a different rate than the default selling rate for the night, they are usually happy to do so.
  • Try to be flexible with your length of stay – sometimes extending by just one night will change the rates for all the nights.  Again, this is complicated stuff and has to do with what the revenue office details, but sometimes it’s worth trying.
  • It does sometimes happen that you will get a cheaper rate if you arrive without a reservation.  But I warn you:  this is not ALWAYS the case.  But if it is 10pm and I have a handful of rooms left, the computer system will sometimes offer the room at a cheaper rate, just in the interest of getting some kind of revenue off the room. 


  • Telling me that you can get a better rate at the Super 8 down the road.  My response:  I’ll give you directions.
  • Telling me that you didn’t pay that much for a room in this very hotel last year.  My response:  And I remember when I could buy gas for under $2/gallon.  Your point?
  • Asking me if I’m really willing to lose your business over a $20/night difference in rates.  My response:  Yes, I am.  And I’ll also be happy to lose your bad attitude and what will likely be your extended sense of entitlement to all the little details of your stay.

I guess my bottom line is this:  it may be worth it to clarify the cheapest rate at your hotel of choice, but PLEASE don’t be a jerk.  There are a lot of factors that go into hotel prices, and none of the people that make those decisions are answering the phones or checking you in.  Give them a break and work within the confines of being pleasant.  Attitude is key, and you’ll find that you get much farther if you are friendly and working with the front desk agent instead of against her.  Besides, even if you end up with the rate you want, if you’ve been a jerk about it, remember that the front desk agent communicates with all the other grunts at the hotel – namely, the housekeepers and breakfast attendants.  Are you really going to enjoy that nice cozy bed or your hot breakfast during your stay?  I’m just sayin’.