OAXACA, Mexico- A certain onerous kink in my standard publishing procedure has reared its head: I openly publish the prices I pay to stay in hotels on this travelogue, but what if the travelers who follow do not get the same price?
It occasionally happens that I stay in a hotel, barter myself a good price, write about it, then another traveler reads this and attempts to stay in the same hotel — but they are charged a different rate. These people seem too feel as if they have been ripped off. To these readers, I need to make a disclaimer about hotel pricing and how I tend to be able to receive lower rates.
I have been traveling for 11 years — my entire adult life — somehow, someway I have learned how to land good prices for good hotel rooms. I am not a salesman, I could not sell a shark fin to a Japanese dude frothing at the mouth for one, but I do have strategies that I follow when it comes to getting good prices on hotel rooms. I try to share these tactics with readers here on the travelogue. Though I fear that something often gets lost in publication, there is some attribute that seems to work in my favor that I cannot readily share with readers:
I look like a poor mutha’f###ker.
Every hotelier who knows that all white dudes are not super rich seem to know right off that I am not willing to pay as much as some of my brethren, and they seem to try to take less.
In point, if you go into a hotel decked out in Gore Tex, have salon styled hair, pricey looking jackets, clothes purchased from the USA, Canada, or Europe, arrive in a rental car, carry a nice looking suitcase, are 35+ years old and give off the impression that you have a stable career, home, and assets, are from the capital city of whatever country you are in (especially), look like you are on vacation, there is absolutely no way that you are going to be able to land the same prices for a hotel room that I publish here.
I just received a comment from a new reader who let me know that he is staying in a hotel that I set up camp in a little over a month ago. I stated the price I paid to stay at this hotel on the travelogue, this reader informed me that he is paying more than double this rate. Though it is not my impression that I got a fair price and he is being ripped off, it just means that we agreed to pay different prices.
In another hotel that I recently stayed at I observed a thirty something year old, blond haired, French couple with two kids walk in and talk to the manager about the price of accommodation. This family had expensive luggage, wore nice clothes, were scrubbed clean, and were obviously on vacation (albeit a long one as I saw them a couple of months ago in San Cristobal de las Casas). They reeked of having money, all the surface signs were clear that they could easily PAY their way around the world, and they were quoted a price way beyond what my family was paying. I listened as they tried to make a deal for a lower price, the manager said no way and shooed them off to another hotel.
There was a chance that this family were poor travelers on a $30 a day budget, but they did not show these signs, and they were processed in accordance to how they appeared. The way your present yourself is one of the only indications a hotel owner has to work off of when adjusting a price.
The price of a hotel room is an agreement between the hotel and the guest — the price you get is the price you agree to pay, you can never be ripped off: hotel rates are a two way street.
If you do find yourself receiving a different rate for a hotel room than someone else, do not take this as an indication that the hoteliers are bad, are scamming you, or are cheats — it is just that hotel prices are often tailored to meet the individual guest. There is nothing you or I can do about this. A good hotel manager seems to know what they are dealing with –– how much money they should charge — as soon as a guest walks through the door. If you look like you have money, you will be charged more. It is as simple as this.
This is not fair, this is business.
People consciously choose the clothing that they wear and the things they carry, and all too often these choices reflect their social class. As with most other elements of a person’s acculturation, it is my impression that this happens inherently, unconsciously — you dress your class as a simple reaction, often not to intentionally give away your status, but because this is just what you do. Do you shop at the mall or at department stores or at thrift stores? It is easy to tell which just by looking at you, and this is a sure fire indication of how much money you are willing to spend for various goods and services.
If you want to game this system, then dress down when traveling. The best way to do this is go to a local market in a country, find the place where the poor people shop, and buy the same clothes they wear. Though, I must admit, this may be as easy to see through as a peasant trying to dress up.
I have been traveling for a long time, most of my clothes have been bought in cheap-o markets and thrift stores around the world, I dress like a peasant because I am a peasant. These are just the clothes that I naturally choose to wear, there is no act. Throughout this year in Latin America, I have found myself wearing farm worker button up plaid shirts, ranchero jeans, cowboy boots, and I have a nice big, cheap, and shiny belt buckle. Various reasons have lead me to choosing these clothes: from necessity to quality to price to a simple notion of askance style.
But the clothing that I choose can be readily be identified as being worn by someone without much money in any country. Everyone in almost any country knows the price of various types of clothing. Think back to grade school: it was easy to tell who got their sneakers at Wal-Mart and who got theirs at Footlocker, everyone knew who wore shirts from the Salvation Army and who shopped at Old Navy. People are pack animals, we are programed to identify the various tribes — now often referred to social classes — around us. This is just one way we learn to navigate our world, and this is no different in the USA than it is in China, India, Patagonia, or the Middle East.
I don’t mean to say that wearing the clothes that I do confuse people to take me for a local — no way, the very notion of this is ludicrous — but I do mean that clothing is one of the biggest status and class signals in any society. In most cultures, identifying such class indicators is an automatic action that does not require thought — it just happens. So when I walk into a hotel it is my impression that an experienced manager knows that they are dealing with someone from a much different social class than my crispy clean Gore Tex wielding brethren.
The clothing that my wife wears was also purchased from various markets and thrift stores around the world — so she does not give me away hehe.
It is also my observation that the upper classes of a given country are often charged more money in hotels than even the average foreigner — perhaps because their class symbols are easier for the managers to interpret.
Our luggage cart, well worn bags, and amount of gear perhaps also attest to the fact that we are long term traveling hobos, that we are not vacationers with a cargo of money to unload as soon as possible, so it is ultimately easier for us to negotiate a price.
Another attribute that seems to work in my favor is that very few people in this world would mistake me for having a well paying job or a stable career. Just look at me: who would hire this guy? This is the first thing that many people say upon looking at me, and the implication of my physical appearance extend directly to how much income they assume I bring in. Simply put, I look 100% unemployable in the Fortune 500 capacity. Perhaps I am. I have tattoos that extend over the back of my neck, hands, arms, and fingers; I have a bull ring shoved through my nose; a long shaggy beard; shaved bald head; big friggin’ holes torn into my ear lobes. Readers of this travelogue know that I do not often have trouble finding work, but I stick to work representing the social class I give off affiliation with — it is clear that I am working class.
In point, few people are going to mistake me for someone who makes a lot of money.
This is just a theory, a suggestion, an idea. I honestly do not know why I can often easily get things cheaper than some other travelers. I would actually like to say that I have mad skills, though I acknowledge that this may only be one side of the coin. It is true that when I go into a hotel I go in with the strategy that I am probably not going to take the first price offered, that I am going to jive and barter my way into a better price. Everything that I do leading up to this negotiation is calculated. I am also not afraid to be upfront about offering to pay a lower than stated price, and I know how and when to do this.
Though it is also clear to me — and should be to you — that if a person with a three hundred dollar jacket, designer sun glasses, stylish jeans, crisp hair cut, and high priced luggage shows up to a hotel in a rental car they are often not going to get the same rate as a couple of vagabonds in local rags pulling a peasant cart full of grotty gear who obviously arrived on foot.
Hotel prices are often tailored in regards to how much money a manager thinks they can get from certain clients. The rates they ask for often fluctuate in the attempt to bring in maximum profit. Never take those little signs which publicly state a hotel’s rates positioned by law visibly near reception desks as being the actual prices — they are not. Hotel room rates are tailored to the guest. An empty hotel room brings in no money, and the overhead cost of running a hotel is often the same if it is full or empty. To quote a couple of vagabonds the same rate as a group of richies from the capital is going to send them out the door, to give the richies the same price as the vagabonds is to lose money.
This is not fair, this is good business.
So I ask readers, given this, should I publish hotel prices? Is doing so being honest, upfront, and telling the whole story or is it, perhaps, misleading?