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March 31, 2010

APB: Seeking Examples of Successful Askings

I'm on a roll.

You didn't think I could write five posts and not get tired of yapping, did you?

There's more where this comes from, but my time is up: I have to get back to work.

But here's the thing. In the previous post, I included a real life sample email from a reader who asked for something and got it.

While I'm mostly offline, from now until April 14, I'd like to ask you, my fantastic readers, to do something for one another.

Think back to any time you've asked for something successfully. If you did it over email, that's wonderful. If if was in person and you can remember how the conversation went, that's great too.

Email me these stories. Be as detailed as possible. Not just "I asked for $2 off at the farmers market and got it." Tell me in a few sentences (or more) how you said it, what the reply was, etc. Even a transcript if you can remember. The more context-specific advice, the better.

My goal is to start a section on this site with successful examples in various categories. That way, readers can search for, say, "bank fee," "homework," or "hotel" and see how other readers have gotten bank fees forgiven, homework extensions, or hotel upgrades.

Nothing is off topic. Asking the principal not to expel your kid. Asking to get out of a ticket. Asking someone to spare your life. Asking someone to spare her own life. Asking for discounts, favors, access, permission, information. Asking someone to do something or not do it. Asking for yourself or someone else.


You can reply in a comment here, but better yet, send it to me and I'll collate, organize and comment once I'm back to full-time blogging in April.

My email is thedailyasker at gmail dot com.

I think the result will benefit everybody. I am very curious to see what you come up with.

And thank you!

[image via ffffound]

Almost asked, and the reader who did

God I've missed asking.

Today, Mr. A and I had a really bad dinner at an overpriced Italian restaurant, and as we left, I almost picked up the card with the owner's email. The waitress was really nice and the atmosphere was cool. As was the company. Tesoro. But the food. So bad it's not even worth the fifteen seconds it would take to type a description.

"Maybe I could ask?" I mused aloud to Mr. A on our way out the door. "Why they run things this way, and if they have any idea why their place is always empty. Maybe they don't realize how bad the food is? It wouldn't take a lot to tweak it. Less acid in the tomato sauce. Less breadcrumbs. More fresh herbs. It's such a pity."

I started composing an email in my head. "Caro Signore. Have you ever stopped to think why your restaurant is always empty? Would you be curious to hear the candid opinion of a visitor who dined there for the first time on a recent evening? While it is not my intention to offend you, I think perhaps getting the feedback of a diner could help fill some seats in your otherwise lovely establishment..." and then I realized:

1) That would be cruel. There's no point in asking something if it would just be insulting
2) That would be snooty. This whole "I'm a foodie. I have a Yelp account. Cower in fear" movement turns me off. My opinion is my opinion. Maybe someone else likes that food. Not many people, apparently, but still. Why am I more right than they?
3) Even if I wanted to ask, I couldn't. I don't have time!!!! Deadlines are crashing down and until April 14 this is my ONLY DAY OFF. Hence this blog-o-rama.

But let the record show that I am thinking about asking -- and doing it on the days I step away from my computer, which will be rare between now and April 14.

Instead of writing about myself, here's a thought: I tell you the success story a reader recently shared with me. He was charged for some photos and found out later the price was higher than what he had expected. Here is his email to the photo merchant.
Thank you for your speedy service. However, I was told (by the photographer, John Doe) when the photos were taken that the price would be $10 per digital copy and I ended up paying $20. Is there any way I could get you to send me "HAPPYASKER.JPG" as well? I really wanted that one too, but can't afford both at this new price. I hope we can work something out.

Thank you for your time,

An Asker
What I love: the tone is friendly and upbeat. He acknowledges something positive (speedy service), rather than putting them on the defensive from the start. He states his complaint/concern simply and objectively; no pointing fingers (yet he does provide the name of the employee in question). He also includes a personal and sincere appeal, saying he can't afford both. Finally, he ends the note with an affable yet businesslike formulation, putting the ball in their court.

Did they bite?

Do fish swim?

Do askers ask?!!

Here's the email they shot back that very afternoon:
The $10 special is if you come in to the office on the day. Because of the misunderstanding, I've included the other shot for you free of charge.
Considerate Merchant
With this adjustment, the merchant didn't sacrifice something he couldn't afford. Normally, he was willing to offer the photos at that price for same-day orders. By being flexible and extending the offer over email due to this misunderstanding, the merchant lost $10 but won a customer. (This reader, after all, was super excited to tell me about this.)

In the next post, I will make an appeal to you, oh reader.

And then, back to this deadline. So. Close.

[image via]

How to save $40 at Bestbuy

Step One. Discover that the Ooma, an internet based telephone system that lets you make unlimited free calls forever, is cheaper at Bestbuy than online.

Step Two. Drive to Bestbuy in McAllen, Texas, with father and stepmother.

Step Three. Pick up an Ooma ($200).

Step Four. Wander by the netbooks. Mmm. Pretty. Listen stepmother ponders getting one. Pro: She and dad have been sharing a single computer for 10 years. By sharing, I mean not sharing. ;) Con: It's not free.

Step Five: Pick up a netbook ($300).

Step Six: Time to go wireless. Pick up a router ($50).

Step Seven: On the way to cash register, quickly scan prices for netbook on phone's internet and note that it's selling for $30 less.

Step Eight: Ask to speak to a manager. Cashier is a bit miffed, but explain nothing is wrong. You're just wanna make a deal. She acquiesces.

Step Nine: State case. The Netbook is cheaper on the Bestbuy website. Oh, and since you're buying $$$ in stuff, can he knock off anything from the other prices?

Step Ten: Smile as he reduces the netbook price by $30 and the Ooma by 5%, or $10. Congrats. In 40 seconds, you've just saved $40.

Consider that $30 of those bucks are money Bestbuy was perfectly willing to give up. They were selling the exact same product for less, online. So at the very least, check prices before you head to a store (or on a phone, while you're shopping, if you can) and see if they can match those. You never know what you're missing or what could be cheaper with a newton of effort.

As for the $10. Indeed, that's not a lot, especially given the starting price. In retrospect I should have asked back, for a bigger discount: perhaps a certain dollar amount, or a counteroffer of 10% or even 20% off. But hindsight is 20/20. And even that minimal effort resulted in, essentially, an almost-free router.

Yay asking.

How to save $1440 a year on your phone bill

While I was in Texas (yeah yeah, I've been back in California for more than a week, but blog wise I'm still in the Lone Star state. I have one more thing to report from there before we move on).


While I was in Texas, I convinced my dad and stepmom to ditch their landlines. They had two landlines and two cell phones, and those bills were adding up.

Each was paying $60 per month. (This included the $30 monthly fee plus all sorts of taxes, local long distance charges, an international calling plan, call waiting and a few other services.)

I told them that landlines are totally 2004.

I told them landlines are superfluous and annoying.

We went over the bill and I didn't need to tell them how expensive it was.

They were about to agree. And then, they asked:

"What if a hurricane hits and we need to call 911?"

"Cell phone."

"What if someone is outside and our doorbell is broken and they need to call us to tell us they're outside?"

"Cell phone."

"What if someone wants to reach us but we're sleeping? We just turn the ringers off at night."

"Cell phone. With the ringer off."

"What if both of our cell phones are out of batteries and there's an emergency and the cell phone towers are jammed and someone outside is trying to reach us and we just want to call to say we love you?"

"You have a point."

I hooked up Dad with a Magic Jack, which is an internet phone. For around $40, you get a year of unlimited local and long distance calls. The downside: he had to give up his phone number. But he was fine with that, so in about 30 minutes he was good to go.

My stepmom wanted to keep her number, so I suggested she try an Ooma. This machine is expensive -- $200 -- but then, get this. For the rest of your life, you get free calls. Local and long distance. It costs extra to port your number. Even at $240, she's saving $480 in a year. And who knows how much, from then on.

Takeaway points:

1) Magic Jack is an internet based telephone that runs through your computer. Your computer has to be on for it to work. It costs $40 for the machine and a year of service. Then, $20 per year. Unlimited calls, local and long distance.

2) Ooma is a machine that's also internet based, but it doesn't need a computer to work. You must attach it to your cable modem and your phone, and that's it. The machine costs $250 online, but around $200 at Bestbuy. Then, no more phone bill. Ever.

3) Both work with regular telephone you already have.

I never endorse products on this blog. That's not what this site is about. But since we're all looking to save a buck these days, I thought I'd spread the word. I have no stake in either company.

Savings: $120 per month for a family with 2 landlines.

(This isn't an asking, but it's preparation for the next post. And I thought you might find it useful...)

March 30, 2010


Dear Readers,

Thanks for your patience while I've been out.

I'm halfway through revisions. Between the dissertation and running this new business things have gotten crazy.

April 14 is when I see the light.

Expect one big mother of a post on April 15. And then, back to daily posts. I miss them so.

In the meantime, here's this -->



March 19, 2010

3 questions

When I was a little girl I used to play a game with my dad. It was called 3 questions.

He would tuck me in and then I'd get to ask him 3 questions about anything. Over time I learned that the better questions were open ended, since they turned into conversations. Meaning more and more questions and answers, 5, then 13, pushing bedtime back by an hour or more. Score!! This must have started when I was around 3 and ended when I was 13, when my parents separated and he moved to Texas.

Last week, while I was visiting him, we played again.

It was close to midnight and I was in my bedroom, working on the diss. He came in to say good night and he said the two irresistible words.

"Three questions?"


"You're not too busy?"

"I always have time for that."

He took a seat on my bed and I took a moment to find the first question. I let the surroundings guide me.

"See that shirt? What was the cost to produce it?"

He inspected it, asked if it had a Made in China tag (no), and said around $6. Then he added I must have paid around $45 retail.

"You're right! I got it in France and it cost 30 euros."

For the next question, I thought harder. What did I want to know, or what did I want him to answer? Back in the olden days, my questions were usually about the natural world, since like any little kid I was figuring out how things work -- why do stars shine, do animals sleep too, how much time would it take to drink the world's oceans -- but I was in a different mood.

I asked him a question about survival.

"Say you're on a sinking ship. There are two rafts in front of you, at the same distance from the boat. One has one person and one is empty. Which do you swim for?"

"The one with the person. Because the chances are smaller that he'd be a maniac than that we could help each other."

"What if that boat had 20 people, and the other was still empty?"

"The empty one. Things in the full boat can could get ugly. What if people start starving and eating each other? I wouldn't want to be a part of it."

This is sort of a diagnostic question for me -- it's a way to get to now someone, how they think, how integral or dispensable they consider human society to be to their survival. I figure that one type of person would say he'd go for the lone raft and another would claim to go for the populated raft.

But I already know my dad. It wasn't hard to guess he would say that.

"Can that count as two for one?" I asked. "They were on the same subject."

"Sure. That leaves one more question."

None of these had really gotten him talking. He wasn't biting. What would interest him? What would set him off?

"In what year, or century, do you think the last book will be published?"

"Never. Even if reading transitions into digital formats, books will be a commodity if not a necessity. Maybe they'll become luxury items, specially commissioned, like earliest manuscripts, thousands of years go. They might become rarer, but they'll never die out."

(Comforting to think books will never become extinct, though a world where only kings and magnates get to turn pages is a depressing one. Quoth the blogger.)

That was that. Our 3 questions were up. But that answer made me think of one more question, a somber one.

"Time for one more?" I asked.

"Of course."

"What's the likelihood that the world will end in either of our lifetimes?"

He winced, like it was a thought he didn't want to consider, and started touching upon a mix of related topics. Nuclear war, the three I's (Iraq, Iran, Israel), Russia, the Cold War, Kennedy, Cuba, Che Guevarra, Mexican drug cartels killing just across the border days earlier. Accident, cataclysm, man-made disaster, war, evil, hunger, disease. Still, he concluded the chances were very slim.

As we talked, for some reason a very different question popped into my head.

"What do you think is the single most important ingredient in a happy marriage?"

Earlier that evening we'd gone to see Family Wedding, a silly, simple movie with a Hollywood ending. Maybe that's why it was on my mind... or maybe for other reasons...

"Love. It's all about love, kiddo. Not just being in love, but that feeling that encompasses all of those others things people consider important in a relationship: trust, respect, generosity, understanding, tolerance, friendship, communication, patience. It's a feeling that changes over the decades and it's impossible to define it, it goes way beyond passion but passion is a huge part of it..." And that's where the conversation took flight. I couldn't even reproduce it here, because it's the kind of talk that swells in the present and then sinks in somewhere deeper and more fundamental than your immediate memory.

Three questions had turned into five as quickly three years had turned to almost 30.

Or as fast as you can say, "Good night, daddy."

March 16, 2010

per aspera

In the past week and a half, I've asked for

-- a discount on a discounted skirt in San Antonio, bringing the price from $43 to an even $40.

-- a discount on a handcrafted copper dish and mirror on behalf of my dad, bringing the total from $32 to $30.

-- a substitution between a smaller and equally priced sandwich in a sandwich/soup combo, since I like the ingredients on the smaller one. The answer was no.

-- a ride from the airport.

-- clarification of a dental bill, since the dentist was charging me for what the insurance company had paid. She said she'll look into it.

-- Mr. A to look inside our trash bin, since when I moved it to the curb for pickup day I thought it felt really, really heavy. Like, sinister heavy. Could someone have thrown a body there? Or something else strange, like a box of questionable documents about Osama bin Laden's whereabouts? I looked inside and saw nothing strange, but I wanted a second opinion. Turns out we just have a lot of trash.

-- my pen pal to write. Not an email or a letter, but a book. His second, to be precise. Because his first, which I've read, was great, and he's been too busy to write the next. Sometimes getting asked is the perfect excuse to start doing something.

--my web hosting company to not be such dipshits. They are forcing me to buy a year of service before giving me a code that would let me transfer my domain. Is this even legal?? (Clearly the problem hasn't been resolved and by now it's on the back burner. Avoid and its sister companies.)

-- if my dad and stepmom would be willing to give up two telephone lines with local and long distance ($100/month) and switch to Magicjack ($30/year). I even outfitted them with Google voice numbers, and now as long as all the numbers don't get confusing they will be in business -- and save $1170 per year.

I give you this rushed report because the "asked" file in my cell phone, where I jot these notes so I don't forget them, keeps getting longer and I haven't had time to produce the actual posts.

My final dissertation deadline is looming, and as much as I love writing here, I simply can't. I have to cut back, on this and everything else I enjoy. For a few more weeks. I'll still aiming to ask daily, but I'll only come here to report on it when I need a break. I will post occasional links to useful articles about asking and negotiation as they come up, though, since that's quick and I want to give you some quality resources to read and think about. And if you write me with a story of what you've asked for, I'll happily post it here. This is your blog, too, and if you've been asking, or thinking about it, I want to hear about it and share with others.

Even with these efforts there's no guarantee I'll finish in May, since three professors still need to read and approve it. But I can't think that way. It's time for the final push.

Oh, and one more thing, yesterday: I asked my registrar to email me the "Application for Degree" form, where I'm about to check off the PhD box for May 2010 and mail it in.

And when it's all over, you're all invited to San Diego to paaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarty!

[image via flickr]

March 11, 2010

Snoozer loser

I've always been a snoozer.

I don't dislike being awake. It's just the transitions that get me.

I also need around eight hours of sleep to be a bouncy, happy asker.

After Friday's redeye to JFK, Mr. A and I managed to get 9 hours of sleep between the two of us and then we took off to explore.

First stop: The Armory, where his brother, a dentist and painter, told us there was an annual exhibit that was not to be missed.

He was right, since to this day I can't tell you which works I most enjoyed.

The new painters from Russia, or the 1921 Surrealist drawings I'd studied and even taught undergrads about but never seen live? Or the decked out art students, or the razor-thin-nosed galleristas? I was still taking it all in when I spotted a large white couch in an area labelled "lounge."

I took a seat.

I fell asleep.

I started dreaming.

I felt a hand on me.

Mr. A.

"Hey, you're looking pretty comfy here. Can I join you?"

I skooched over and he told me he was going to explore a different section. Was I ready to get going?

"Five more minutes?"

He waited, asked again, and I had a new request: "One more hour?"

I'm not sure what happened next, because I plunged back into my dream and when I woke up it was dark, and I was still on the couch.

I'd slept for two more hours, as thousands of people walked by admiring and inquiring about some of the world's modern masterpieces.

The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was a security guard-- standing about 10 feet away and minding his business. Apparently, no one was bothered by my lack of decorum. Perhaps no one even noticed.

I'm a bit sad, in retrospect. I was enjoying what I was seeing. Now all I remember is the softness of the throw pillows beneath my head, the feeling of sinking into those cushions, tuning out the white noise of a thousand murmurs... but only a fraction of the show.

What are the chances that any of you readers were at The Armory that day and saw a woman sleeping on the white couches? Was it some kind of performance piece? Or was she drunk, you wondered, drugged? Who goes to a legendary art show and naps for three hours? Now you know: The Daily Asker.

PS: Mr. A photographed me, but I dare not put it up. ;)

Please let us board without our boarding passes?

I stopped planning for trips long ago.

I'm still excited as ever to travel, but my prep time has gone way ever since since I boarded my first airplane in 1987 and couldn't stop thinking, for weeks before the trip, what we would do, where we would go.


I loved every detail -- the plane's liftable armrest, the cool hotel sheets, the ice cream. And for every trip after that for the next decade and a half, I over-packed and planned everything to the hilt.

Then the Great Departure hit. In 2004 I studied abroad in Paris, and I totally miscalculated how long it would take me to pack. That's because it wasn't merely about two suitcases. I needed to disassemble my bedroom and 1/3 of an apartment, stuff everything I owned into my Nissan Maxima (the very same!), drive my life's possessions across country, to my mom's house in California, before repacking and taking off from San Diego for the Latin Quarter.

Most people might start planning, giving stuff away, selling things on Craigslist, a week or two in advance.

I threw a party.

The mother of all parties. Hundreds of people, two kegs, started vaguely around 6 p.m. and ended the next morning with more couples than I can count making out in various corners of the house. La Sorella came from San Diego and our dad flew in from Texas for the occasion. She toyed with the boys and dad manned the grill while taking on my liberal grad school posse about the Iraq war. (He's a card holding Republican. I still love him very much.)

The next morning our apartment, which I shared with a Belgian anthropology postdoc and an Italophile nanny, looked like a hurricane hit.

I had arrived.

Anyway. After the party I had 48 hours to clean up and get everything ready for my departure. We scrambled. A friend and her dad offered to help. And I made it to San Diego, and eventually Paris, in one piece.

That's when I realized something: So many times I'd prepared and gotten stressed, and I still ended up missing a flight or getting stranded -- strikes, weather, faulty engines always conspired. When I left things to the last minute, I still made my flights.

Arrival at destination was not correlated with the effort I put into getting there.

Ding ding ding! Relevlation!!

What I'm saying is that it's a big fat crapshoot.

And that is where I am now. Throw stuff into a suitcase the morning of any trip shorter than 2 weeks, get to the airport as late as possible (but not recklessly so... I'm not that cocky), and be resigned that shit happens. And if you really need to be somewhere, plan to get there a day or two early. Period.

So before taking off for New York Friday, I decided to have a few people over. I packed the night before, picked up a few munchies and some wine, and opened the door to our incredulous friends. "Don't you need to be at the airport in 2 hours??" "Um, hey, it's almost 7:15. Don't you want to take off?" "It's all good. No worries. More wine?"

At 7:30 some friends kindly gave us a ride (thanks again!!), there were no security lines, we didn't get extra-screened, and at 8:30 we were at the gate for a 9 p.m. flight.

Pulled it off!!


I. Had. Lost. The. Boarding. Passes.




I dug around my tiny purse, looked in every pocket. Nothing. Between check in and the gate, POOF.

"Is there anything you can do?" I whimpered to Jet Blue's agent. "I can't find them!"

"One I could handle, but two? What's your name?" I told her and she cast a disapproving scowl as she typed madly into her terminal.

"I'm sorry! Maybe I left them at security? Do I have time to get them?"

"Probably not."

"Ah! Can you print out a new pair? Do you need to see my ID?"

Finally, her machine spit out two fresh passes and we were in.

What can I say... No matter how much you prepare, something can go wrong. And no matter how much you don't prepare... something can still go wrong. Or right. At the drop of the hat.

[image via apartment therapy]

March 05, 2010

Your turn

Reading about these attempts, successes and gutsy failures leaves me curious about the rest of you. Any new askers coming out of the woodwork? Any old hands want to share their latest victory? Anyone had trouble with a negotiation or want advice from the community?

Nothing brings me more pleasure in this project than knowing other people out there -- anonymous readers who have lives, backgrounds, preferences, pets, favorite pairs of boots, good and bad hair days, ambitions and concerns -- are identifying opportunities, zooming in on what they need and desire, considering asking, and actually doing it.

You inspire me!!!


La Roxy

Reader asks for a raise and ends up on a cool project instead

A reader recently asked for a raise. We strategized about whether it was right to ask and how he should phrase his request and points of persuasion. While the results on the money side weren't what we'd hoped for, the experience was useful. Behold:

"Just thought I should give you an update on my salary conversation...essentially she said "tough shit, buddy." That this was how it worked in big companies, and I should leave if I didn't like it. Said in a much more artful way, of course, this is my version. :) Disappointing, but at least she knows it's a concern, said she'd try to do what she could through bonuses. Oh well...she did give me some plum new projects, at least..."

My take:

1) Good thing he asked, since now the boss knows money is a concern and has said no once. Might be more willing once the economy picks up, knowing issues has been on the table for a while
2) Good thing, too, because it was practice for the next round. This was the first such negotiation he's tried.
3) Good thing, because the boss offered him cool projects instead. Maybe that wouldn't have happened if he'd seemed satisfied and complacent.

Readers snag $50 and save $20 by bending rules!

These came in the comments, but I'd like to highlight them here.

From Rachel:

"I just received a refund on some overdraft fees just by asking! I even negotiated for more of a refund than they offered (they offered a 50 dollar refund but I wanted 70 dollars). Even though they refused, it's the first time I tried negotiating and so I'm pretty proud of myself nonetheless!"

From Marsha:

"I was inspired by your experiences the other day when I was dropping one person from my auto road service policy and adding another, and was told that since I was adding someone I had to pay a $20. I pointed out that I was also dropping someone, and asked if the fee could be waived. The woman with whom I was talking said no, sorry, but she had to charge it. Rather than accepting that, I asked if there was someone else we could appeal to, and at first she started to say no, but interrupted herself and asked if I could hold while she spoke with her supervisor. A few moments later she came back and said she could waive the fee."

Music to my ears. Let me repeat two key statements:'s the first time I tried negotiating and so I'm pretty proud of myself...


Rather than accepting that, I asked...

i.e. don't sit back. Don't be passive. You will feel awesome about yourself. And make your life that much easier!

Reader asks for whopping Hawaii rental discount!

I got this reader's update through Twitter a few days ago. True to form, every message is under 140 characters. But the results are epic.
Guess what! Inspired by you, I asked owners of amazing Kauai beach rental to come down on price. They knocked off several hundred for week!
I replied:
That is AMAZING!! So happy to hear that! Deets please? Can I post your play by play on the daily asker?
Her answer:
Sure! Not much of a play by play tho. I channeled you, asked, they came through. Ta da!
Blush. That's giving me too much credit. She is a rockstar in her own right. Check out her blog here: Little Bird Baby Bird. And twitter here: @ewfitzsimons.

Reader gets travel expenses paid through asking

Professor X loves traveling almost as much as she loves being a brilliant academic. Here's how she smooshed the two together, AND got her trip partially comped, all via asking:

Direct from Professor X:

"In academia, it's common to give talks about your research at other universities. But with the current economic crisis, budgets for travel have been one of the first things to go. As a result, departments often invite fewer or more local speakers for their talk series. This prompted me to do a bit of asking. It's common to contact someone you know in a department to say you'll be in town and ask if you can give a talk. This saves them from paying your travel costs, so often places are happy to accommodate. It's always struck me as rather aggressive and strategic, though, so I'd never done it...until now. Your blog has made me realize that many of my assumptions about what kinds of asking are reasonable or unreasonable is, well, unreasonable, and it's paid off! I'm already scheduled to give a talk in a few weeks, and may have more coming soon."


Send us a postcard.

I haven't written here in a few days because I kept hoping I'd have something better to report than this:

I've been busy. Askings have been lame. I think I'm just going to have to "write off" this week.

Don't get me wrong. Stuff is good: business is getting moving, about to go to NY to see some friends (it's finally time to use those super cheap tix I bought back in November -- time flies!!), and finally got enough sleep last night, for the first time in ages.

Even though my askings have been less than remarkable (and on some days, non existent -- GULP!), yours haven't. In the next few posts, I'll report on from readers who shared the great things they've asked for. If you have anything you want to add, email me or comment. I would love to hear from you!!

March 02, 2010

Did you mention a complimentary tasting?

Our first and final stop Sunday was Mumm. Or so we thought.

It was a sunny day and the innkeeper recommended we sit on the terrace and take in the sights.

After discovering that I prefer sparkling wine with 3% sugar content rather than the extra dry 1%, and taking a few photos, we prepared to return to San Francisco to catch our flight back home.

Except that on the way, I spotted the Folie a Deux winery.

Folie à Deux makes Menage à Trois, which is an immensely drinkable, super light and tasty three-grape blend.

"Let's stop!?" I asked Mr. A.

He was all for it.

We shared a flight of two reds and a white, and for once I found something I wasn't crazy about. It was the chardonnay, which tasted like bananas.

As we sipped, Mr. A noticed that two other wines were listed on the menu as complimentary. Since we were there to sample as much as possible and try to figure out our tastes, we decided to go for it.

"Does this apply now?" I asked the woman behind the counter.

"Sure. Would you like to try those, as well?"

"Yes. Since we're here to learn as much as we can about your wines," I answered.

Here, by the way, is what she told us about the company. The winery was founded by two psychiatrists in the early 1970s. The name Folie à Deux refers to a rare mental illness, and their logo is a stylized Rorschach image. The couple split up and sold about a decade ago, and the Menage a Trois is their best seller -- more than 1 million cases per year!

[image via]

Are you really out of chocolate eclairs?

The innkeeper of the establishment where Mr. A and I ended up staying gave us a welcome envelope with a bunch of freebies and two-for-one tastings, which we used for the rest of the weekend. We were also informed that although we got a discount, we wouldn't be treated any differently from other guests. Quality and kindness, through and through.

Which inn, you ask?

I promised I would not mention its name, because the discount is supposed to stay under wraps, but in the future I will find ways to get the word out about what a great place it is. As for how I chose: I ended up going with the first person who replied. This seemed liked one of several fair approaches. Another alternative I considered was to choose who seemed to most need the business, but that was hard to tell. This establishment appeared to have more than one open room, and was quick to reply. Plus it really was adorable. Those were reasons enough for me.

Saturday, we hit the vineyards with a couple of Mr. A's friends from Santa Rosa. We decided to start from north to south and try any place along the way that seemed interesting.

We lucked out majorly at Vincent Arroyo, near Calistoga, since they were holding their annual barrel party that very day. They had opened up about 10 huge barrels and were piping splashes into people's glasses using a cool glass contraption called a "thief." That was some yummy stuff.

Next we hit up Raymond, where I totally dug the merlot. It was really yummy, too.

We tried one more wine at a shop in St. Helena that was giving out free samples, which was less yummy but still pretty damn yummy.

The verdict: I thought they were all good.

(You can tell what a wine connaisseur I am. My vocabulary includes "yummy" and "mmm." I'm trying to get more articulate, and more discerning, but for now I'm an easy sell!)

After the wine sampling, we stopped at Bouchon, a bakery in Yountville, to pick up some sweets for the kids of a family we were going to have dinner with. I spotted a tray full of coffee eclairs, and next to it, an empty tray labeled "chocolate eclair."

After about 20 minutes in line (there was quite a crowd), it was our turn.

"Hi! Do you have any more chocolate eclairs?" I asked.

"All we have is what's out there, sorry."

"It's not like you have a secret stash in the back? Darn. Ok!"

"Actually, lemme check. There's a chance."

She disappeared and returned victorious. "Found one!!"

Did I mention I am moving to Napa? Seriously. Why doesn't the whole world just move to Napa?

So. Beautiful.

So... YUMMY.

[images via this blog and the world according to erin]

March 01, 2010

Ask the Asker

I've just added a new "Ask me anything" box on the right.

You can also reach the form by clicking on the link below.
So... need help with an upcoming negotiation? Want a book recommendation? Curious if I prefer dark or milk chocolate? Go ahead:

What happens when you ask 61 inns and hotels for a discount? The results were astounding!

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:

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,

La Roxy
(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.)

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]

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]
Based just on the responses above, I ended up saving an average of $53 per night, from an average price of $192.

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]