Can haggling reduce the cost of your vacation? I put the old-fashioned technique to the test

Reasoning that discounts would have the most impact on pricey festive trips (like big birthday vacations or honeymoons), I got in touch with La Mamounia, the renowned Marrakesh hotel loved by the likes of Winston Churchill, the Reagans, and Joan Collins.

On its website, a two-night stay on January 15 and 16 was shown as 9,000 Moroccan dirhams (£708) per night in a superior Hivernage room. But it only took the reservations team a quick email to offer me a discounted rate of 8100 dirhams (or £636), a saving of just under 10 per cent.

It was the easiest haggle of all I’ve tried – but you don’t even have to try to barter if you book through some hotel chains. For example, Accor offers a price guarantee and gives a 25 percent discount on the room rates of selected hotels if you find them cheaper elsewhere within 24 hours. Other chains will significantly reduce prices if you participate in free loyalty programs. It’s also worth signing up for newsletters to keep an eye out for future discounts.

The verdict?

It is always worth asking directly with the hotel for a discount. But if even that feels too embarrassing, a thorough web search should turn up some bargains as well.


The cruise

Cruises often have a three-tier booking system, similar to airlines, with a base price, a deluxe price, and an intermediate option with mid-range benefits. For example, if you pay an extra €300 pp on top of the cheapest fare on a 14-night P&O Cruises voyage through Spain and Portugal, you will receive numerous benefits, including a choice of cabin, free parking and €320 spending money on board. I thought it would be a good idea to ask if I could get these perks for free with the base price.

It was a resounding “no” from the operator at P&O Cruises, despite my chosen cruise departing in less than a week. A spokesperson for the brand told me “a huge amount is included in a P&O Cruises vacation, from accommodation, full board meals, swimming pools, entertainment (theater shows, live bands, comedy, movies, free kids clubs) and gratuities”.

When I called Princess Cruises to try a similar blag, the answer was the same. “We only offer free upgrades to different packages during limited-time promotional offers,” a spokesperson told me.

There are bargains to be had. Ditch the phone and instead look for consolidator and agent sites like Cruise Direct, which sometimes have discounted fares: I found a 14-night Princess Cruise to Spain, France and Portugal, departing Southampton on April 1, 2023, for £1,207 pp at Cruise Direct (a saving of £42pp off the official price).

The verdict?

Don’t waste time haggling with cruise operators on the phone. Better to shop around through consolidators and agents.

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