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How do you like the idea of haggling over the price of a night’s stay at a hotel? Let me guess. On the one hand, you quite fancy the idea of bagging a bargain, but — really!— the thought of just phoning up and brazenly asking for a discount brings you out in a hot sweat.
It’s a shame, because there are dozens of hoteliers up and down the country who are happy to negotiate on price, and many who would be willing to accept a cheeky offer of up to 50% off their published rates.
How to get hold of them? This is the easy bit: just visit www.roomauction.com, a website that allows you to post discreet offers to hoteliers without the embarrassment of picking up the phone or the risk of a frosty reception. The site already has more than 80 members, including hotels in London, the Lake District, the Cotswolds and Cornwall — and all are open to offers.
Once on the site, you can see photographs and descriptions of the hotels, link to their websites and study their published rates. There is no need to register — you simply type in your name, e-mail address and phone number, the dates you would liketo stay and the maximum price you are prepared to pay. You should hear back from the hotel within three or four hours.
As a guide, the site suggests bids of 30%-40% off the normal rates, although on quiet nights such as Sundays, hoteliers may be prepared to go lower. Does it work? To find out, I made a few offers.
First, I picked the Watersmeet Hotel, which is perched above a beach in Woolacombe, north Devon. Standard double rooms normally cost £180, including Vat and breakfast.
Last Monday, the weather forecast was good, so I made an offer for the following Wednesday and Thursday nights. My bid: £90 per night. An e-mail whizzed back to confirm the offer, and about an hour later I got a phone call from the owner of the hotel, Michael James. I thought for a moment that he might want to berate me in person for being such a cheapskate. Not a bit of it.
“I’m afraid we’re rather busy on those nights, but would you be interested in coming the following week?” he asked. “We could have you on that Wednesday and the Thursday, June 1 and 2.
Our rates go up a little that week, but we could do it for £100 per night. How does that sound?” Not bad.
Next I tried the Rose and Crown, in the Chiltern village of Saunderton. It normally charges £99 for a double room, including breakfast. More in hope than expectation, I offered £50 a night for the following Friday and Saturday.
I received an automated response from the website, but from the hotel, nothing. Presumably it was full.
I then had a stab at the Grand Hotel on the seafront in Torquay, where a double room with a sea view sells for £90. For the nights of June 1 and 2, I bid £45. Again, I heard nothing, so after two days I phoned the hotel. A few hours later, I received an e-mail offering the room for £65.
Finally, I tried the Winnock Hotel, “nestled” in the village of Drymen, on the east side of Loch Lomond. It normally charges £99 for a double room, including full Scottish breakfast. How would management react to a bid of £50 for the following Wednesday and Thursday? Within the hour, I had a reply. Unfortunately, the hotel was fully booked on the Wednesday, but if I would stay for just one night, a room was mine for £50.
HOW TO BAG THE BEST DEALS
Book late. The closer you get to arrival date, the more seriously your bid will be taken. Avoid Saturdays and peak holiday periods.
Don’t bid too low. Offers of less than 40% of published rate are likely to be ignored.
When you make your offer, RoomAuction.com asks if you will dine at the hotel. If you say yes, your bid is more likely to succeed.
written for the Sunday Times by Mark Hodson