There are many sports to participate in while on vacation. Cycling. Kayaking. Mountain climbing. Shopping? Oh yes. In certain countries, shopping (or haggling, rather) is every bit sport, requiring stamina, strategy and skill.
When traveling, especially outside of first world countries, haggling is a way of life.
Though it may seem like a foreign (and better-left-to-car-buying) concept to Americans, put those uncomfortable feelings aside. If you aren’t haggling, you are overspending. Period.
While everyone has a different style of haggling, to master the sport you first need to consider a few rules of the game.
You Can Haggle Almost Anything
Well, almost everything.
This certainly applies to any street vendor – anywhere, anytime.
You can haggle hotel rooms, though do that on the spot, not in advance. See the room before talking money and then request the asking price. Tell the owner it’s more than you can spend and offer to pay in cash.
Airline and train tickets can also be negotiated if booked through a travel agent.
Taxi rates should be negotiated before you ever get in the car. (Also, check Rease’s post on Taxi Smarts to learn how not to get scammed.)
Resist booking day trips online. Instead, book in person and negotiate down as much as 20 or 30 percent.
Scope Out the Situation
If at all possible, don’t get in a rush to do anything whether it be book a hotel room, get in a taxi or buy an item.
Merchants are to desperation what dogs are to fear – they will easily sense it and take advantage of it. Instead, talk to the locals and if possible, find out what they would pay.
You will often find a discrepancy between the “locals’ rate” and the “tourists‘ rate.”
Know Your Final Price
If an item isn’t priced, never make the first offer.
Ask the seller what she wants for the item. Ask for her best price and then begin negotiating down from there.
There are various schools of thought on what to make for the first counter offer, but a good starting point is half of the asking price.
Keep in mind that your status as a first world traveler may keep the price higher than normal.
Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems
Be sure and have cash on hand.
Show the cash you are willing to pay – the seller may be tempted enough to close the deal – but don’t flash any more cash around than that amount. The more cash the seller thinks you have, the less she will be willing to come down in price.
It’s possible that having small bills in U.S. dollars will be desirable to the seller, though, so carry, for example, $50 in crisp $1 bills.
Work On Your Poker Face
When haggling, put your game face on. Stay casually detached and disinterested with no enthusiasm.
Point out imperfections in the item (but tactfully – don’t insult the merchant!) to show that you aren’t entirely interested.
During the negotiations, the seller will likely give you a sob story, but (for the most part) don’t buy into it. That is part of the game. Say your price with an air of confidence and a smile but keep emotion out of the transaction.
Know When to Hold ‘Em (and When to Fold ‘Em)
If the merchant isn’t budging on the price, politely walk away.
Tell him the price is more than you want to pay and that you are going to look elsewhere. If the seller thinks you are walking away, he may bid against himself and lower the price.
On the flipside, only haggle for items you genuinely want to buy. If you walk away once a price has been agreed upon, this is considered highly disrespectful.
- Keep your voice low and stand apart from others when negotiating the sale. The merchant doesn’t want someone nearby to overhear and request the same price.
- If the seller refuses to accept your price but you still want the item, ask him to throw in something else for free.
- Take along a friend who can work the bad cop angle to your good cop, yet indifferent-potentially-purchaser self. If the vendor thinks she is losing the sale, the price may plummet.
- Learn some key haggling phrases in the local language – “How much does this cost?” “It’s too expensive” and “Can you give me a discount?”
- Shop at the end of the day. Prices can drop when street vendors are packing up and don’t want to take items with them.