You’d love to be a better negotiator but how can you practice your skills in a safe way? A simple real-life exercise costs lets you do just that. It can also help you learn to save hundreds of dollars on your next trip…^^

The Basic Idea. To practice your skills, try the Hotel Booking Exercise. In this exercise, you actually practice negotiating for a room in a moderately-priced hotel in Atlanta based on facts I give you below. Your goal is to negotiate until you are satisfied you have gotten the wisest deal you can from a suitable hotel. You won’t actually book the room, but you will talk to a real agent. “But Isn’t It Better To Just Use the Internet to Get a Good Hotel Deal?” Consider a June 2004 report by CNN: “ If you usually book your hotel room online in hopes of saving some cash, a….Consumer Reports study suggests you pick up the phone instead. After getting hotel prices on-line, Consumer Reports researchers were able to get better prices, three times out of four times, by calling on the telephone and haggling.” Also, the exercise develops skills you can use in your work and your personal life generally.

The Basic Facts. Imagine you are a new manager with a job in a medium-sized corporation. You need to book a room in a hotel in Atlanta for a trip you are planning to take. Imagine the trip will occur six weeks from the date you start the exercise. (“the Travel Week”). You need to stay over three nights. You must be in Atlanta all day Monday of that week, but you have some flexibility on your arrival and departure date. The meeting cannot be rescheduled. You can’t leave for Atlanta until the Friday before your Monday meeting and you must be back home by the Thursday after your meeting. You are visiting to have a one day meeting with clients and to handle some family business with your sister and brother-in-law in Athens, a town roughly one hour from Atlanta. You will need to visit them on two separate days. Because of privacy and space concerns, staying with them is not an option. Also, because they have a new baby, they cannot pick you up or meet you outside their house. However, they will be able to leave you a spare car at the airport, so you will not need ground transportation. For the purposes of this exercise, assume you can easily book an inexpensive flight to Atlanta for any trip you make.

Your Boss’s Instructions. Your boss has asked you to go and will pay for the room for all three nights. You’ve told your boss you would like to visit family during the trip and she has agreed to let you stay over for this purpose. However, your boss has given you strict instructions to keep your travel expenses down as low as possible and still meet the other requirements he has. First, of course, you must make the Monday meeting. The client meeting will be 9 a.m. sharp Monday in an office at the Peachtree Center on the corner of Ivy and International Streets in the center of Atlanta’s business district. Therefore, he wants you to be in a hotel that will make it easy for you to get to the meeting on time, since parking, traffic and air traffic can be terrible on a Monday morning in Atlanta Therefore, he asks that you book a room not more than a 30 minute drive from Peachtree Center. Since you may need to drive your clients to another meeting outside the city on short notice, you must drive or walk to your meeting. Thus, you can’t use mass transportation. (If you can get a hotel very close to the meeting at little extra cost, so much the better.) Your boss warns you that hotels often underestimate the drive time, so be sure you’re clear about it. Second, he asks that you not to stay in a budget one-star hotel, (such as Motel 6, and most Travelodges, Howard Johnson’s and Days Inns), especially on the day of the meeting. He request this because your clients may call you at the hotel or ask you where you stayed and may be put off if they learn you are staying in such a cheap place. For these reasons, he strongly recommends that you stay in at least a two-star hotel according to the Mobil Travel Guide. (If you can establish that it’s at least as good as a two star hotel using some other recognized rating guide, that’s fine too.) He adds that you are welcome to stay in a better hotel if you can find a way to do it at an affordable overall cost. You must stay in an established, commercial hotel; you may not stay in a bed & breakfast, hostel, or private home.

Add Other Facts for Realism. You may make up additional facts when necessary for the sake of realism. For example, if asked you may raise with the hotel something hypothetical that you could reasonably make a reality before the date of the trip (e.g. affiliation in a frequent flyer club). However, do not create other facts that would give you an advantage. (For example, don’t claim you have 100,000 frequent flyer miles.) Your Priorities. To summarize, these are your priorities: (1) travel plans that allow you to be within 30 minutes of your Monday morning meeting, (2) at as low an overall cost as possible during your three nights and that allow you to stay over three nights, visit your family, and return by the following Thursday, (3) at a presentable commercial hotel of two stars or better. (4) If you can get other amenities and benefits, so much the better, but these are least important.

Doing the Exercise. Now prepare as you wish and then negotiate for the best deal you can by, among other things, actually contacting one or more hotels and negotiating actual terms. What difference does research and creativity make? Out of respect to the hotels and other travelers (and to avoid inadvertently being charged for a room), please do not actually make a reservation, but do take the interaction as far as you can short of actually booking a room. See what it takes to negotiate the wisest deal. Notice that the exercise is asking you to negotiate and not just shop around. That is, don’t simply call a place and ask what they charge for a room and then hang up- see if you can get a better offer there. How many hotels should you contact? It’s up to you. (While it is not a requirement, I do encourage you, if at all possible, to communicate with two comparable hotels that are within a couple of blocks of each other.) While Internet research is fine, don’t simply book a room at a given hotel via Internet; you must try to negotiate with a real person with that hotel. Out of consideration for each hotel you contact, please try to limit the length of a call to four or five minutes. Also, if you like the service an agent gives you, consider thanking her by asking to praise her to her boss. Also, do keep that hotel in mind for future stays. You will need to refer to the Mobil Travel Guide’s ratings of Atlanta hotels. You can find the Mobil Guide on the web at or you can pick up a copy of any current version that includes Atlanta. A hard copy costs about $18. For specific ideas about deals you may want to suggest, check out these articles on the web: CNN, “Survey: Phone beats Web for hotel rates” and Consumer Reports, “Getting the best hotel rates”