You don't have to be on staff at a Fortune 500 to enjoy the discounts typically afforded to large companies with corporate volume accounts. If you are a loyal customer, you can negotiate VIP treatment with small business owners and key hotel staff.
The best hotels anticipate your return. Top restaurants notoriously create and maintain profiles of guest preferences. The same goes for hotels. An excellent hotel should keep a dossier of your personal likes and dislikes: room type, newspaper preference, whether you drink red or white wine. Such business travel intimacy is rewarded to preferred customers who are saved into the system and privy to a world of expedited check-ins, checkouts and more!
If you travel a lot, you deserve some respite and reward. And not reward points – but old fashioned – non web-based interpersonal love.
I spoke with long-time hotel manager Mark Briskin (of Millennium Broadway, The Muse, L’Ermitage, Royalton and Georgetown fame) who is currently a partner at Tapestry Hospitality, an independent hotel and resort management firm, about how to glean the same discounts large companies receive.
Become a Big Fish in a Small Pond.
Choose smaller, independent hotels and become a big customer. Remember: giving huge corporate discounts to small businesses is the antithesis of branding for large chain hotels.
“[Big brands] uniform everything and mandate rules that prohibit creativity to the traveler by the hotel’s staff members,” says Briskin. “Major houses need anywhere from 50 to over 150-room nights for their sales department to offer 'corporate or volume' discounts. Independents or boutiques will work with 5 to 15 nights depending on the date ranges [and] based solely on an individual’s traffic.”
Don’t Use the Term “Corporate Rate.”
Corporate rates don't necessarily guarantee the most discounted prices.
“Many hotels recognize the need to offer a rate under that header,” says Briskin. “But in most cases it is at a higher rate for a non-discernible difference in room type.”
Go Face-to-Face to Your Chosen Hotel.
Hotels are still a face-to-face business. Put down the phone and email and do your business on site. A handshake speaks volumes.
“When you call on the phone you end up with reservations.” says Briskin. “Those call centers aren’t in the hotel, or, sometimes even in the country…Off-line you can cut a personal arrangement with a real person.”
Be Direct and Honest.
State that you’d like a certain rate, a specific room, and that you will come back frequently.
“Travelers have the leverage,” says Briskin. “No hotel wants to toss you out so you might as well be in the hotel you like if you do a lot of traveling in a certain area. We want you to make our hotel a home away from home.”
Talk to local managers. Go to the hotel where you stay and say, “I’m here, I love it, what can you do for a repeat customer?” suggests Briskin.
Request a Friendly Meeting With the Hotel's GM.
Clarify that this is a meeting about how happy you are and how great the hotel is. A general manager is rarely approached with positive feedback about the hotel’s quality or services. Managers love to hear you love their hotel.
“It is much easier for the GM to meet and greet a content guest, than deal with problems or demands from others,” says Briskin. “The fact that it’s something positive will get customers far. A GM isn’t going to take a happy guest and stiff him or her.”
If the GM isn’t available, access the decision makers with the flexibility to incentivize guests.
“You never have to but you can tip anyone you see face-to-face being there, everyday,” says Briskin. “Everyone wants to be recognized. You do as a guest, and the staff does too.”
The concierge and front desk people are valued and important assets to the hotel, but for discounts you want to speak with the sales manager or the director of sales, located on the property.
Don't Rely on Corporate Club Memberships for Deals.
Many smaller hotels incorporate in a concierge floor, food and beverage options without requiring an annual club membership.
“Not many [clubs] are really worth the up-charge,” says Briskin.
Take Notice of New Startups and Hotels on the Fringe.
The obsession with racking up points often leads to ignoring more immediate discounts.
“You want to be recognized by a hotel and save on each stay,” says Briskin. “People are hungry for points but a small businessperson just needs to save money. If you can negotiate an arrangement and you plan to have repeat travel, it makes sense to get savings in dollars vs. points – especially if you’re getting points already by using your credit card. If you can save $35 a night for 3 nights, it is better to have cash savings vs. whatever the points are. They’re not all dollar for dollar.”
Of course, it never hurts to tip staff after enjoying that extra welcome. A good bellman or bell captain is one who remembers names and faces and should top your tip list. It doesn’t hurt to become friendly with the concierge and reception desk too.