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:
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.
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.
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.