Not an actual customer.

Image: Trey Strange

Having spent a summer in Yellowstone National Park as a front desk clerk, I’ve met quite an array of characters. The was the large-bellied Greek man who left the five-foot pool only a few times over his five-night stay. The Chinese man who didn't speak English and, in exchange for me lending him my phone charger, gave me a lit cigarette. The family from Fort Worth who, it turned out, lived only a few houses down from my childhood home.

I had people scream at me for their malfunctioning air-conditioning units. I crawled into closets to fix hot water heaters, even as guests shot me why-did-you-break-my-hotel-room looks from across floral-print duvets. And, most of all, I fielded complaints from customers about prices. They weren't unwarranted—some of the cabins were $450 a night for, as one colleague put it, an “evening in a glorified trailer park.” But one of the biggest life lessons I learned that summer is this: prices are negotiable. 

Every day, my manager plastered a sticky note behind the counter with two figures. The first was the rate at which a room was supposed to be sold. The second, though, was a much lower rate that I was officially authorized to sell a room for—in some cases, less than half the sticker price. Here are my tips for getting a desk clerk to cut you a deal: 

Be Late

It’s not what your mother would advise, I know. Mine either. But I had plenty of guests arrive after midnight and then check out at six. Remind the clerk that you’re only going to be there for a few hours, that you won’t be a hassle, that you won’t make a mess or call for room service. Then, of course, don’t.

Be Genuine

I recall one woman who came into my lobby and just asked, on a whim of spontaneity, “Can I have a cheaper rate?” Impressed by her display of candor, I knocked $50 from her bill (I hope my old manager isn’t reading this).

Another time, I had one larger man lean over the counter, his giant Rolex watch in my face as he asked if there was anything I could do to reduce his rate. His shifty demeanor gave me pause, and I didn’t give him a discount. The lesson: don’t make asking more than it is. You don’t want to put the clerk in an uncomfortable position.

Be Kind

Hotel workers get plenty of screamers. We get the waterworks. We get the I-just-woke-up-from-a-five-hour-flight grumps. We get the stressed-out socialites whose only concern is catching a cab to dinner on time. So we notice when someone is actually considerate of us as people. Be a human being—it makes a difference. And it could make a difference to your bill.

 

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