Should I bargain for a better deal when I’m traveling?

Why pay full price when you don’t have to? If you travel a lot, it’s a question you’re almost always asking. I am.

After all, don’t all street vendors, or those in open-air stalls, mark up their prices for the tourists? Don’t hotels inflate their room price to a “rack” rate? Isn’t there some haggle room in their rates?

The correct answer: It depends.

Here’s a case in point. We were in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and my wife was looking at silver earrings. “Good price today,” the man in the stall told her.

“How much?” my wife asked.

Now we’re engaged in conversation with him, and you know where that leads.

“Twenty dollars,” he replied.

“Pay him,” she ordered.

Now what could I do? She had already committed us to a verbal agreement on the price even though I hadn’t said anything. I knew that I could talk him down to ten, twelve, or at most, fifteen dollars. But she told me to pay him, and so there was nothing else to do. From my experiences on previous excursions, I felt I could have saved some beer money, but instead the vendor got it.

Is bargaining expected? USA Today says I shouldn’t be afraid to bargain. It’s expected in Mexico.

Well, it’s obvious that the author of that article has never met my wife.

Are you offended?

Her logic is that a few dollars to us means a whole lot more to them. While I don’t disagree with that statement, my point has always been that there’s no reason for us to pay more than we have to. I see nothing wrong with that logic.

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This online Spanish lesson comes right out and says that you should bargain:

In markets, however, bargaining is not only expected, it’s half the fun of making a purchase.

Bargaining reinforces the human relationship between buyer and seller, and in some countries is an important social exchange.

Not bargaining, in fact, can be an insult to the vendor, implying that the merchandise isn’t worth your time or effort or that you don’t value the social interaction.

Negotiating in good faith

As with all social interactions, however, you must enter into the bargaining, negotiating, or whatever you want to call it, in good faith.

I was in Asia recently where we were reminded that it was a major insult to ask for a better price, get that price, and then walk away. So if you are going to ask for a specific rock-bottom price, you’d better be ready to honor it when the vendor agrees to it.

If you honestly feel that the asking price is too much, then by all means you should feel comfortable in asking for a better price. How you go about it can have a direct impact on your results. You’re most likely to be successful if you smile and engage in conversation. Your chances are greatly hurt if you insult the vendor by what you say or the tone of your voice.

But don’t look too eager! It’s OK to point out quality issues: Amber? I like the piece, but you know it’s plastic (if you’re sure). Silver? It’s pretty, but it’s not stamped and I don’t think it’s silver (if you’re pretty sure it isn’t). I like the pottery, but it’s made in a mold, not by hand, so I can’t pay as much as if it were hand-coiled (if this is true). As long as you say this without insulting the seller, it shows that you’re familiar with the product and that you like it, but you also recognize it for what it is.

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I’ve also found that it really helps to discuss the price in the local currency because it means he won’t have to exchange your dollars for his pesos, euros, bahts, or whatever it is. Also, he knows the costs in the local currency and is most likely rounding up to a price in dollars. But if your guidebook says to use American dollars, then bargain that way. You might have to try several approaches and see which one works best for you.

How you spend your vacation is up to you. If you want to negotiate your way around, saving a few dollars, go right ahead. But don’t let that bargain hunting ruin it for you.

Yes, you should always try to save money.

No, it’s your vacation.

Should you bargain for a better price when you're on vacation?

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Stuart Gustafson

Stuart Gustafson is a writer, world traveler and professional speaker. He's channeled his love of travel into writing travel-based mystery novels.

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