DEPENDING ON HOW SOON YOU START and who owns a spa, you might be surprised at how much you can negotiate.

“Everything is negotiable — it's all in how you approach it,” says Patty Sabo, senior buyer, strategic travel and event procurement for Carlson Marketing Group, Plymouth, Minn.

If the hotel owns the spa, it's easiest to negotiate prices because they're part of the total conference package. “Know the value of the package you are taking to the property and what it will mean to them,” Sabo says. “That way you can leverage your spend.”

If a spa is independently owned, it may be harder to negotiate — but it's certainly not impossible. For example, if an outside contractor runs the spa and you've done enough business with that contractor at other properties, you might be able to use that to your benefit.

Added Value

Lori Holland, spokeswoman for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, which created its own Willow Stream brand spa, suggests adding amenities rather than trying to cut prices. “We work with planners to add value, such as upgrading to deluxe treatment rooms that might have an outside patio, upgrading treatments, or even theming treatments to reflect the group's program.”

John Kossenynas, spa director at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Naples, Fla., offers planners a 5 percent discount if they are booking 100 spa visits or more — but that's it.

On the other hand, the spa at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas creates custom packages of discounted treatments for groups. The Pamper Plan, for example, includes a 25-minute body scrub, a 25-minute Swedish massage, and a 25-minute cleansing facial. “We could customize this package by adding aromatherapy or a scalp treatment to the massage,” says Rachel Knapp, spa director. MGM Grand also offers a free service known as Executive Spa, which includes an expedited spa check-in process. When participants arrive, they receive a small gift, such as an aromatherapy candle.

Get Creative

Nikki Cloutier, senior planner with Allianz Life Insurance Co., Minneapolis, says it helps to know if a spa is popular with local residents, or if it relies mostly on hotel guests. If it has a big local customer base, it may not be willing to dicker on prices. In the past, she has negotiated complimentary spa treatments for VIPs based on the amount of group business committed to the spa.

Sometimes you can reduce the length of services to cut costs. That's what they're doing at The Cliff House in Ogunquit, Maine. “We actually have a separate spa menu for conferences with shortened services because we found that many of the conferences didn't have time to take advantage of the full services,” says Geraldine Hoffman, spa director. These services are usually 20-minute sessions done wherever business meetings are held within the hotel, sometimes between breakout sessions.

One absolute rule, whether you can negotiate fees or not, is to book spa services as early as possible. By booking early with one spa in Canada and planning in advance, Cloutier secured the most-requested times for spa services — mid- to late afternoon — which would most likely be booked to capacity one to two months out.

At least if you can't get a deal, you can get the best time slot.

Eileen Kennedy is the business editor at The Telegraph in Nashua, N.H.

What Spas Cost

Popular men's treatments
sports massages and hot stone massages $90 to $110
scalp treatments $50
pedicures $50
Popular women's treatments
Swedish or deep-tissue massages $90 to $110
facials $90 to $100
body scrubs $70 and up