You may be a whiz at comparing travel rates online, but it turns out that good old conversation could save you a lot more. In a Consumer Reports poll of 1,000 people, 83 percent said they'd nabbed a better hotel rate simply by-shocker-asking. It's even more of a possibility now, given lower occupancy rates in hotels, reduced demand for rental cars, and the scramble to fill every last room for the holidays. So start talking and get what you want for less.
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1. Keep Asking for Breaks: Before you leave for your trip, search online for current hotel and car rates. If they're lower than what you got, says Peter Frank, creator of the travel blog Let's Be Frank, "call and ask for that rate." At the hotel or car place, tell the clerk if you're on a trip for a special occasion, like a birthday or anniversary. Then ask, "Any chance of an upgrade?" For hotels, it helps to arrive later in the day. "Last year, our family got to a Vermont ski resort on Christmas Eve," says Ellen Smokler, 42, of Maplewood, NJ. "We'd booked a condo, but I asked the clerk if we could switch to a suite. There'd been cancellations, and we got the suite-at half the price of the condo. It probably helped that I looked bedraggled and pathetic after driving for seven hours!"
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2. Talk Up the Hotel: "I always book the cheapest rooms," says Teri Gault, author of Shop Smart, Save More, "and when our family is visiting a hotel for the first time, I'll tell the clerk we'd love to experience the hotel at its best, and do they have a room with a view? About half the time, we get it for free." Even if hotel clerks won't dole out upgrades, they're often willing to offer up amenities like breakfast or valet parking. Again, just ask.
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3. Be Nice! "It's amazing what kindness can get you," says Erik Torkells, an editor at travelpost.com. "One time the computers were down at a car-rental place, and the clerk was frazzled. I said I was sorry she was having a rough day-and she upgraded me to a Mercedes convertible."
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4. Complain Nicely, Too: Staffers have to deal with angry guests all day; they'll bend over backward for calm complainers. "My husband and I stayed at a Philadelphia hotel for a romantic night away last February, and the heater was on the fritz," says Lauren Soldevere, 31, of New York City. "We told the concierge the room was lovely but chilly, and a half hour later I got a call: Our stay was comped, and they offered us a special rate if we were ever back in town."
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Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.