Can haggling cut the cost of your holiday? I put the old-fashioned technique to the test

Reasoning that discounts would have the most impact on pricey celebratory trips (such as big birthday breaks or honeymoons), I got in contact with La Mamounia, the renowned Marrakech hotel loved by Winston Churchill, the Reagans and Joan Collins among others. 

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

It was the easiest haggle of all the ones I tried – but you don’t even have to attempt to barter if you book through some hotel chains. Accor, for example, offers a price-match guarantee and will discount room prices on selected hotels by 25 per cent if you find them cheaper elsewhere within 24 hours. Other chains significantly lower prices if you join free loyalty schemes. It’s also worth signing up to newsletters to keep an eye on future discounts.

The verdict?

It’s always worth asking for a discount directly from the hotel. But, if even that feels too embarrassing, a thorough web search should reveal some bargains too.

The cruise

Cruises often have a three-tier booking system similar to airlines, with a basic price, a deluxe price and an in-between option offering mid-range benefits. On a 14-night P&O Cruises trip around Spain and Portugal for example, paying an extra £300pp on top of the cheapest fare gets you a range of benefits including a choice of cabin, free parking and £320 onboard spending money. I thought it would be a good idea to ask if I could get these perks thrown in for free with the basic price. 

It was a resounding “no” from the phone operative at P&O Cruises, despite my chosen cruise leaving in less than a week. A spokesperson for the brand told me “a huge amount is included on a P&O Cruises holiday, from accommodation, full-board meals, pools, entertainment (theatre shows, live bands, comedy, films, complimentary children’s clubs) and tips”. 

When I rang Princess Cruises to try out 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 though. Ditch the phone and instead trawl consolidator and agent sites such as Cruise Direct, which sometimes have discounted fares: I found a 14-night Princess Cruise to Spain, France and Portugal, setting off from Southampton on April 1 2023, for £1,207pp at Cruise Direct (a saving of £42pp on the official price). 

The verdict? 

Don’t waste your time haggling with cruise operators on the phone. It’s better to shop around via consolidators and agents.

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