Here’s an unconventional way to cut your room rate

Hotel room rates are about to resume their climb. The latest forecast calls for average daily room rates to get a modest 3.5 percent bump in 2011, which means we’ll all pay a little more for our accommodations next year.

Unless you’re Kevin McGonagle and you’re staying at the Hilton Sydney. McGonagle thought the AU$359 was out of his price range for a six-night stay in November, so he did something unconventional: He asked the hotel to lower its price. He asked politely.

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And what did the hotel say? I’ll get to that in just a moment.

Normally, hotel guests don’t directly negotiate rates with hotels. That’s the domain of meeting planners and corporate travel managers who represent the interests of big corporations or convention groups.

But who says you can’t? Well, no one.

Here’s how McGonagle did it. He sent the following email to Hilton:

My wife and I have stayed and enjoyed both Hiltons and Conrads around the world; Europe, Africa, and North America. We are willing to pay that little extra to a take the pleasure in what we consider to be the finest hotels in the world.

I do not travel for business as much as I used to, so our Hilton Honors level has fallen just to Gold status. (How we enjoyed being Diamonds.) But still we stay exclusively in Hilton properties. Our Hilton Honors AMEX card is a testament to how much we appreciate the Hilton brand.

I am hoping to extend our streak and stay at the Hilton Sydney on our holiday this November. We want to stay six nights from 21 November to 27 November to celebrate my wife’s birthday.

Unfortunately, the lack of “affordable” rooms has left me at a loss. We are looking for a King Hilton Guest Room – but the web site tells me that there are none of these available. I simply am not able to justify the expense of the Executive King Guest Room.

Is there any chance that you would be able to provide a King Hilton Guest Room for us on this special trip? I do so appreciate your help in this matter.

Thank you for your time and trouble. Forever thankful.

Interesting request. McGonagle is polite and mentions his importance and loyalty to Hilton without being arrogant. He also doesn’t articulate a desired room rate, at least directly. Instead, he asks if a lower room category can be made available.

These are strategies used by some of the best travel professionals in negotiating with hotels. Basically, he’s saying “work with me” without being an obnoxious haggler.

Here’s how Hilton responded:

We really appreciated your loyalty to Hilton and Conrad brands over the world and we believe you had a good time while your travelling.

After discussing with my manager, please understand the hotel is experiencing high demand and therefore, we are unable to offer our standard or deluxe room types at this stage. However, we are happy to drop down the price for you to AU$309.00/per night per room in our Executive room for you only. The website is selling AU$359.00.

Kevin, please advise if you would like to go ahead and book. If yes, please advise credit card number with expiry date to confirm the room. Thank you!

Not bad.

McGonagle took the room. And I think we can take something from his experience, too: Everything is negotiable. The trick is, how do you do it?

I wouldn’t try squeezing a budget hotel when you’ve booked a Priceline room, for example. They’ve already lowered their price enough. But if you’re splurging on a longer hotel stay and have some history with a particular hotel chain, then why not mention it?

(Photo: Lin h Rom/Flickr Creative Commons)