Setting: Hue Backpackers Hostel, Hue, Vietnam
Dude 1: “Hey man I bought this Ray Bans and got it for 100,000 dong from 300,000 dong!”
Dude 2: “Cool! Good price you got there huh? I’m gonna get some too! They’ll be great gifts because it’s so cheap.”
This is a scene that made me want to cry because I really don’t like seeing my fellow Asians ripping off Caucasians. So, I stepped up, asked the guys what other colors they want and went to the same man that Dude 1 bought the shades from. I told the man to give me 3 Ray Bons and I’ll give him 100,000 dong. The man pulled me on the side and gave me 3 sunglasses for 100,000 dong ($5). How I do it easily is something that puzzles most people I travel with and I’m revealing my bargaining secrets here.
In my year of travel in Asia, I almost never pay sticker price. Even lonely planet will tell you to bargain in Asia. However, it doesn’t teach you how to do it. Almost 90% of the time, you will want to bargain. Negotiating is a skill that I have learned long ago even before I went to business school. It was a skill from my experience growing up in the Philippines. When I was a kid, I would spend my summers at my aunt’s and I always accompanied her during her shopping sprees at bazaars and markets. I have always wondered why she always make me younger than my actual age (to get more freebies and half price for kids) and how she always gets half the price of every item she was purchasing . That’s when I started learning from the master haggler.
You’d say bargaining for $2- $5 is not really worth the time. Take note that in South East Asia $1 goes a long way. I have bargained not only for me but also for the people I am traveling with and have taught a lot of travelers to bargain well. They sure saved some money on their trips and had fun doing it. But there are also some who laughed at me when I bargain. When you can afford to spend months traveling around Europe after a spontaneous decision, that’s when they start taking you seriously.
It doesn’t matter whether you negotiate for an item, a guesthouse, a meal or even your salary with your boss, these same techniques will apply. I have tried and tested them in all the countries I visited and had success not only highly discounted items and tours but also getting free nights stay, free drinks and a free foot spa. Who wouldn’t want a free foot spa?
When I used to work at American Express, one of my favorite parts of my job was whenever I get assigned to inspect luxury hotels for our Platinum Fine Hotels and Resorts program. A few of the sites I checked are Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental and Aman Resorts. After years of working in the travel industry, I get to know what discerning travelers really really want.
Amanusa’s Private Beach in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia
But since I quit my job and I’m doing all my travels independently, I rely on my negotiating skills to get me incredible places to stay at (there are tons). When I tell people that I stay at places that are $5- $10 a night, I don’t mean I’m staying at basic guesthouses with other tenants i.e. rats and the like. For the purpose of this post I’m using guesthouses as examples in negotiating.
Miss Annzventures’ Simple Negotiation Tips:
1. Research your market (aka do your homework)
The first and most important step in the negotiating process is researching your market and this is not to be skipped. Say for this example we are looking at guesthouses to stay for a night or more. The first place where you can find average costs will be guidebooks. However, guidebooks tend to be outdated so I would normally ask around before settling in for a place to stay. I would walk around and ask about two to three guesthouses to get a perspective of the price and how the place looks like. I would also ask around other travelers where they are staying and how much they’re paying for their rooms. This will give you an idea how much on average a room costs.
The Walk to Beach Villa in Amed, Bali Indonesia that I got from $30 to $15 for 3 guests
2. Evaluate other factors
Are you traveling on peak season? Summer? Is there an important festivity or event on the time that you’re there? Did you arrive in the afternoon or at night and the guesthouse is not yet full? How many nights are you staying?
If you’re not traveling during peak season and you arrived late in the afternoon or night, you have better chances of bargaining to your price. Use it to your advantage.
Is breakfast included? Is the room beachfront? Walk to beach? Do you get unobstructed views? Are you using aircon or just fan?
Extras add up to the price. If you ask the owner to remove the extras or stay at a basic room you can get a cheaper price. But if you want all those extras, negotiate and you’ll get more value for money.
Traveling Alone? Or met new friends on the road?
When you’re traveling alone, this puts you to an advantage to ask for half price. Chances are 50/50. Sometimes you’ll get half, sometimes you won’t but surely you won’t get sticker price.
If you met other people on the road that you want to split the room with, both of you can stretch your travel money by negotiating. If you’re negotiating as a pair or as a group, this means more business for the owner, most likely you’ll get a better deal.
3. Don’t be the first to give the price
In any sales conversation, every time you ask “how much?” whether you’re asking it in English or their own language, the sales person won’t give you the answer right away. Instead, they will pull you and ask for your size, or how many items you’re buying or in this case, the owner will ask how many nights you’re staying, or they will ask, how much are you willing to pay. Get them into the conversation but let them give the price first.
The view from the guesthouse rooftop in Lovina, Bali Indonesia; Got it for $10 for 2 including breakfast
4. Be Firm with your price
Whenever I negotiate and have a reasonable price in mind, I’m in business. When saying $5, mean $5 and not $6. This is why Step #1 is crucial. Once you did your research, this will come as the easiest part. When the seller sees you’re firm with your price, they know you know what you’re doing and you’ll most likely get the price you want.
A brand new guesthouse in Ubud, Bali Indonesia; Got it for $10 for 2 including breakfast
5. Walk away
There is more to walking away if used correctly. Walking away is not only a technique that attract sellers to pull you back but they also know it when you are just playing and sometimes they won’t run after you and you lose a good deal.You walk away simply because another seller is giving you a much better option- more value for money. Always remember that negotiating is an art and the person who is able to walk away in any kind of negotiation wins.
And a few more recommendations:
Remove Limiting Beliefs
Say you are more for apartment rentals and found a place you like on Airbnb but it’s too much for your budget. Knowing that Airbnb is a site with fixed costs, don’t be afraid to ask and tell them about your situation. I asked the owners of the apartments if I could get a discount since I was traveling alone, I was on a tight budget and would be out for most of the time and would only use the apartment for sleeping. The lovely owners gave me 50% off, which means for the 2 nights I stayed at their beautiful apartment, I got 1 night free. I have done this twice when I rented apartments in Macau and Sri Lanka and both got free nights to stay.
Make Negotiation Fun
When I was in Lombok, Indonesia I stumbled upon a tiny warung that cooks ahh-mazing dishes for $1 a plate. I became friends immediately with the owner and cook, Wawan and even invited the people that I was traveling with to try out “Wawan’s Warung”. The seven of us ended up eating every lunch and dinner there for a week. So I joked and asked Wawan if I will get free meals for referring all my friends. He laughed at my offer but then he gave me a free Mango shake with my name printed with chocolate syrup.
Don’t forget to joke and smile, it makes bargaining a lot more fun. Sometimes all you have to do is ask.
Wawan’s Warung of Kuta Lombok should be on the Lonely Planet Guidebook
I find bargaining a lot of fun and it has always been easy for me. However, there are times that I don’t bargain much. I am a big supporter of homestays or guesthouses that are family owned and their income is coming from that alone. Always remember that when you’re on the other side of the bargaining table you are the luckier person. I’ve seen some travelers who have overdone bargaining. I am all for stretching your travel money but I recommend not overdoing it. If you already got a good price that is within your budget and you get to help another person with his/her business, it’s the best case scenario. Think win-win.
How I got to stay on a 4-star luxury hotel in the Spanish countryside of Avila for 6 days for free will be the next blog post.
Your bargaining trainer,