1. LEAVE THE RATE ALONE. In a seller's market, hotels are reluctant to budge on the room rate. If you leave the rate alone, they may be more willing to give concessions in other areas: ancillary fees (resort fees, Internet fees, etc.), comp rooms, additional staff rooms, airport transfers, even food and beverage.
  2. AVOID ATTRITION. Knowing your history is paramount in avoiding attrition costs. If you know how many rooms you typically use, you'll be less prone to make room-block promises that you can't keep. Some planners are ultra-conservative with their blocks: That's a sure-fire way to avoid attrition, but you run the risk of not having enough rooms if attendance is high.
  3. KNOW THE TOTAL VALUE OF YOUR MEETING. Come armed with data on how much your group spends in total, not just on space, rooms, and F&B. Try to get data on how much the group spends in hotel restaurants, bars, spa, golf, Internet usage, gift shops — in other words, track every dollar spent. It will give the hotel a better picture of how much your business is really worth and lend you more bargaining power.
  4. GO SECOND-TIER. Moving down-market to second- and third-tier destinations will offer you more availability and better room rates, depending on the city. In general, the lower the demand, the lower the rates. It might also be easier to nego-tiate meeting space at convention centers in second tiers.
  5. USE UNIVERSITIES. If no sleeping rooms are involved, universities are an inexpensive alternative for meeting space. Many rent space for smaller meetings, but you do have to provide your own food and beverage.
  6. MULTIYEAR DEALS. Planners can negotiate better deals on hotel rooms if they book multiple meetings at a hotel over a period of years. Some hoteliers who will not budge on room rates for a single meeting commitment will change their tune if you book two or more meetings.
  7. BE FLEXIBLE ON DATES AND PATTERNS. In a seller's market, deals can be found in top-tier cities by simply being flexible on dates and patterns. Filling holes in a hotel's calendar will give you more negotiating leverage; even changing your day-of-week patterns can result in lower rates.
  8. CAP FUTURE COSTS. For meetings that are booked several years out, consider negotiating a rate cap, something like, “Room rate increases should be tied to inflation, but can go no higher per year than 5 percent.”
  9. RESEARCH YOUR HOTEL SUPPLIERS. Is there any competition? How busy is the market? Are you in high, low, or midseason? How many years has the supplier been in business?
  10. RESEARCH RACK RATES AS WELL AS GROUP RATES. Call the toll-free line or reservations desk of the property or chain and find out the rack rate. That way, you will know the “worst-case” pricing.
  11. ASK FOR A CASH DISCOUNT for on-site payment of your bill.
  12. LEARN THE TAX LAWS. Know these for both your business location and the location of your event. You could be eligible for tax breaks.
  13. NEGOTIATE NO DEPOSIT — or at least require that the deposit be placed in an interest-bearing account.

Sources: Sandy Biback, CMP CMM, Imagination+ Meeting Planners Inc.; Vicky Betzig, CMP, founder, Meetings Industry Consulting, Brookfield, Wis.; Barbara Dunlavey, CMP, CAE, executive director, Biomedical Engineering Society, Landover, Md.; Jason Eggleston, operations manager, meeting logistics, American Society of Microbiology, Washington, D.C.; Gary Rosenberg, CMP, partner, Rosenberg and Risinger, Culver City, Calif.; Christine Simpson, CMP, meeting planner, Gas Processors Association, Tulsa, Okla.