Alert: Long post, but really worthwhile. I promise. If you don't have time now, read it when you get the chance. Practical info at the bottom, and uplifting angle. If I do say so myself!? =)
Early Friday, Mr. A and I decided to go to Napa after his conference wrapped up in SF. He's been once before, almost a decade ago, and I've long harbored the hope of a getaway-for-two, some day...
So far, every time we had an open weekend and I checked availability and prices, everything was either booked or extremely expensive. This time, there was availability, but the prices were still out of reach. At first, I got a little depressed. Gorgeous places. Such charm, such delicious vistas. And we'd be stuck at a motel or overpriced, understyled chain hotel. Nice.
Then, I asked.
At first I thought I would write to the five or so inns I was most interested in, but I realized that the reservation was for that very night, so I had better cast a wide net. I did a Google search and ended up emailing 61 establishments. Their baseline rates were from $125 to $550 per night. Here is the message I wrote:
Hello,(I know it seems insincere of me to tell 61 places I'd *love* to stay with them. But it's not an exaggeration. All these places are gorgeous. While there were one or two I especially had my eye on, I knew I couldn't be choosy under the circumstances. I'd be grateful for anything.)
In a rare and last minute getaway, my beau and I have decided to explore Napa Valley this weekend (we live in San Diego). I thought I'd ask: are you flexible with your rates? Our budget is around $120 per night, and on the off chance that you have a special, or an empty room or cancellation you'd like to fill this Friday and/or Saturday, we would *love* to stay with you. We could come tonight and/or tomorrow, Feb. 26 and/or 27.
Your rooms are gorgeous, and worth every penny of what you charge. But since it's more than what we can afford (and I have a philosophy that it's better to ask and be refused than not try at all) I figured I would write. I hope you don't mind my request, and I hope to return the favor some day, or pay it forward.
I would also be happy to spread the word about your generosity on twitter, my blog, facebook and more -- or keep mum -- as you prefer. =)
Thank you, best wishes,
I hit send, went to sleep and hoped for a reply.
Boy did they reply.
When I woke up, I had more than 30 responses. And they kept coming in.
Of the 61 innkeepers I contacted, more than 40 ended up writing back, and the vast majority of those either met my $120 budget or offered a generous discount. Here is a selection of their answers. Because many asked for discretion, I have cut their names and rounded the baseline prices so that no one is recognizable:
I have one room that I would be willing to offer you at $120 per night. It is only during this slow season that we will do an occasional room for such a low rate. I live by the same philosophy -- the worst anyone can say is no! [normally $230]
Thank you for the nice inquiry. I applaud your sincere effort and candid request. Unfortunately, all our rooms are booked this weekend. Hope you find a nice place to stay and think of us in the future.
We do have a queen room available for tonight, Friday, only. We could offer it to you at $120 as a one time special. [normally $180]
We are happy to offer you a rate of $120. [normally $170]
Thank you for your interest in our establishment and your kind email. Because you took the time to write and ask about the rate in we are going extend the rate of $120 to you for either tonight or tomorrow night. [normally $200]
Your email was forwarded to me. I can offer as low as $130, let me know if you still want to book this for tonight and tomorrow. [normally $200]
I am so sorry that we did not respond to your message; we were out of town. In the future, please know that we are always willing to work with people regarding rates especially during our slow season. I hope you made it to the Valley and had a great time. Thanks for your interest.
I am the owner (just got into work!) and have far more flexibility than my staff in negotiating rates. [My staff] are wonderful but do not feel they have the right to negotiate, especially when the asking rate is "too low".... I could offer you a room for the rate you are requesting. [normally $140]Based just on the responses above, I ended up saving an average of $53 per night, from an average price of $192.
The best rate I have this weekend is $125 for a deluxe king. I would be happy to extend this special rate to you. [normally $200]
We do have one room available tonight and tomorrow night. We could let it go for $120 without breakfast or $140 with a full breakfast. [normally $150]
I can extend last min special $100/night. [normally $130]
The lowest rate we could come down to is $165. [normally $230]
If you would like to stay with us this weekend we will offer our [redacted] suite for $120 [normally $160]
Thank you for you interest. You are right, it never hurts to ask. Unfortunately our rates are not flexible. The best rate we can do for this weekend is $180 per night. Are you flexible for your travel dates? We do have midweek rates that are considerably lower.
I have the a room open February 26th which I would be willing to rent @$120.00 per night plus tax. However, it is not available on Saturday. [normally $130]
Well last minute is good - that's how you get the great prices. I happen to have a room available both tonight and tomorrow night and I'll go down to the $120 price you can afford. [normally $150]
Thank you for your inquiry...We do have availability this weekend and we also have some great specials (which are posted on our web site). However, our rates are still significantly higher than the $120 rate you are looking for. The best rate I could offer you is a last minute discounted rate of $195/night. Our rates also include a gourmet breakfast each morning as well as evening wine and cheese. [normally $230]
If you reserve Friday and Saturday I will offer the rate at $125 per night without breakfast. A great deal! [normally $220]
We are offering a rare special of $150 tonight and tomorrow. It's good to ask... [normally $240]
We have a private cottage available and we would be glad to accommodate your budget. [normally $240]
Thank you so much for your email and time. I would love to offer our queen suite for just $110.00 a night. [normally $170]
We can offer a last minute special of $210/night. [normally $250]
We would be happy to offer you our last minute rate. For a two night stay that would be $100 for tonight and $150 for tomorrow, any room you like. [normally $160]
Thanks for your inquiry - I happen to agree with your philosophy and don't mind you asking whatsoever. I'm afraid I can't accommodate this weekend, but if you have any flexibility with your schedule, I can do something next weekend. We're all in a bit of an economic crunch so it would be great if you could go up just a bit, say to $150. In return, I would see that you get a seriously upgraded room, along with comp tasting coupons and a lovely breakfast. [normally $160]
In the spirit of your email, and given the last minute nature of your request, we'd be pleased to offer you a tonight for $120 plus tax. We are full tomorrow, Saturday, 2/27, so that opportunity doesn't exist. [normally $160]
I could extend our Manager's Special for this weekend. $110 [normally $170]
Sure we can help you out. Give me a call and we will get you all set up. We would love to have you come spend the weekend. [normally $160]
I remain absolutely amazed. I had emailed so many people hoping I might get one or two answers -- if I was lucky, that is.
Driving around all these cute towns over the weekend, I eyed many of these places. Some homes were tucked behind tall trees and others stood proudly on street corners. And I though about who was inside. Innkeepers smarting from this economy, trying to fill empty rooms or maybe just happy to make a newcomer's Napa dream come true.
This experience reminded me something fundamental about what I've learned since I started this endeavor. When you ask, doors really do open. Literally. And a good asker opens the door for others. Just waiting for when and how...
1. Never trust the sticker price. My first instinct had been to reserve the motel and be done with it. And then I remembered I'm the asker. Every price is negotiable. No reason you shouldn't think the same way. (Same goes for availability: some websites said "no room" but the management replied with an opening.)
2. Don't be greedy. My aim here wasn't to lowball. Yes, I did include one hotel with rooms that start at $550 (because -- why not?) but my price point was very frank: it was the most I was willing and able to spend. I knew this because I'd looked at a Best Bestern and a motel and was about to reserve the Best Western, for $120, when I got this idea. That set my upper limit. I also felt that $120 is a rate a nice Bed and Breakfast might feel comfortable taking, where as $80 might not be.
3. Be personal and personable. It took me a while to write that email, and I'm glad I didn't rush. Several people wrote back that they appreciated my effort. Perhaps they liked that I didn't just say, "Can I just pay $120? Thanks! Lemme know! C-ya!" I wasn't cavalier. I showed them that I valued their establishment and any courtesy they could extend.
4. Look beyond currency as payment. I thought about offering to barter something or making them dinner, but the time was very limited (two days). So I decided to add the line about paying back and paying forward.
5. Apparently last minute is the way to go. Many wanted to fill the room, so they offered heavy discounts. One more excuse to be spontaneous!
6. If done right, asking empowers the other party as much as the asker. Why assume someone wouldn't want to be asked? (Or in this case, wouldn't want to rent a room at a discount when faced with low bookings?)
Asking isn't a demand -- it opens the dialogue. That's the key.
What's your take? Do you think this info might make you more confident to ask for a hotel discount, next time around, or do you think I just got lucky because of the economy? Do you have better luck getting deals in advance, or do you try your luck last minute?
[image via thewinetourist.com]