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Negotiating rates at the Grande Dames hotels

By Drew Lawler

The extraordinary people-watching alone is worth the price of admission

When it comes to a hotel room, I still like to know I’m getting a good deal. That’s why I’ll budget no more than five minutes to check a few online sites like Priceline or Expedia to compare prices.

I have my limits when it comes to negotiating, one of which is that I like staying in venerable 4- or 5-star hotels—such cathedrals to travel as the Waldorf in NYC or the Peninsula on the Kowloon side. It’s not just their ballroom-like lobbies suffused with golden light and indoor landscapes that appear transported from a French king’s garden or a verdant rainforest, but also because of their serenity: many of these hotels were built in the 1920s and ’30s when craftsmanship mattered, so their public spaces and guest rooms tend to be very quiet. The interior walls are solid, constructed as they were with real plaster that tends to make the vault-like rooms almost completely soundproof. Add to their serenity, then—their quiet and beauty—the very fact of the hotels’ history, and staying at these grand hotels is like time travel.

So I seek them out. Knowing that the upkeep on these hotels is tremendous, I like to give the current owners my business as a way of saying thanks for preserving a significant part of their city’s history.

All that aside—my affection for quality workmanship, quiet, beauty and history—I certainly don’t want to overpay.

Hence, my use of the travel websites—sprawling, complex, detailed . . . time-consuming. A good travel website can suck you in and, before you know it, you’ve spent 20 or 30 minutes clicking through the paraphernalia. Enough, already. I have found that these two sites, Priceline and Expedia, are best, and I can get in and out in a few minutes. But just for drill—and to exercise my negotiating skills—if I’m staying for more than two nights I may call the hotel directly and ask to speak to the manager on duty. Note: I always ask for the front-desk managers; they usually have more leeway to cut a deal than the reservations person.

The conversation usually goes something like this:

“I’m coming to your city for two nights sometime during the week of such and such [never let them know you are locked into firm dates, even if you are], and I’m thinking of staying at your hotel. But I need a really good rate. What’s the best that you can offer me?”

Never take the first offer; they’ll almost always hedge. Once they tell me what they can do, I return to the techniques I sharpened on the streets of Tijuana: if they offer $375 per night (when the rack rate is $590 for example), I will usually say:

“Well, I’ll tell you what: If you can make it $275, I’ll increase my stay to three nights and give you my credit card number and book it now.”

To that they will either say okay, or that they can go as low as $325 or some such number to which I will usually capitulate in the interest of time. But if I can save $150 a night for three nights, that’s $450 for perhaps just 10 minutes of my time. That translates into a pretty good hourly rate. And, of course, if the online offer through one of the websites happens to be lower than what I am able to negotiate, I politely thank them all the same and say that I’ll just book it online.

What can I say? Along with great hotels in the world’s great cities, I still enjoy the sport of negotiating.

Quiet is King

But the show stopper is complimentary buffet for concierge-floor guests.

Venerable hotels notwithstanding, what trumps everything for me when choosing a hotel is how quiet it is. That’s why I like the Ritz-Carlton Battery Park. It’s at the foot of Manhattan and easy walking distance to Wall Street. I stayed there this past fall for three nights and never heard even one siren—imagine that in New York City. Plus, many rooms offer a completely unobstructed view of the majestic Statue of Liberty. I love doing business in Manhattan—thrive on its energy—but at the end of walking, cab rides, and always-interesting subways, I appreciate the tranquility I discover on my return to a harbor-view room overlooking a huge expanse of water and knowing I’m at the Ritz.

When you book yourself a room at the Ritz, be sure to opt for their concierge floor which offers all-inclusive complimentary breakfast, snacks and a light supper with fine wines and beverages. It’s not just a great deal: It’s a great convenience. I found the casual food buffet appealing to the eye and delicious, with such offerings as crab claws; fresh sushi; gourmet pastas and cheeses; individually cut helpings of rack of lamb and fresh berries. And the fare changes daily. Breakfast offered lox and bagels, cereals, egg dishes, more fresh berries and croissants plus really, really good coffee and cappuccinos made fresh by the cup from their high-tech yet incredibly simple-to-operate brewer. The breakfast is a great way to begin the day—or, depending on your appetite for the city’s justly famous entertainments—a great way to end it.

Contact the Ritz Carlton at Battery Park at 212.344.0800.

What’s your favorite hotel to stay at in NYC and why? Email me at and we’ll run a sampling of your suggestions in our next issue.