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January was just about the worst month for hotel occupancy ever. Business travelers find themselves in the uncommon situation of holding a strong hand. With occupancy levels as low as they are, road warriors are learning all over again how to leverage their hotel loyalty programs. The pendulum of a buyer's market is swinging in their favor.

Rack rates are not what they seem. If they appear a bit lower than in the past, believe that they can go lower still. You'll often find that by calling a favorite property direct, you can negotiate a lower rate than you thought possible. Befriend the front desk manager. Learn what else is out there - that is, compare the prices of nearby properties. You can even call hotel aggregators and ask for the best rates.

But first make sure you know what your negotiated corporate rate is. You'll want to revisit that rate because pricing is changing, quickly and continuously. Knowing your rate is particularly important if your company is among the many that are self-service when it comes to booking accommodations. Check your loyalty number and compare with the available brands, locations, cost, and benefits. Ensure that you comply with corporate travel policy. Negotiated rates are indeed falling fast, although it's difficult to say if the pricing for top-tier hotels is coming down faster than the pricing for mid-tier and discount hotels.

If hotels are slashing costs, everyone is taking it down a notch. C-level managers are booking at less upscale accommodations, taking cabs instead of a car service, and not eating out as often. Another way to cut costs further is to use coupons and search for sales specials.

Traveling on business today requires a sea change in thinking. Perception is important with customers and employees. You ask yourself, Is it the right time for treating a client? Do we hold a full-blown meeting at a resort or try to do it on-premises? What sends the right signal to employees? How far will the pendulum swing in this age of value, value, value? Road warriors are still seeking that equilibrium.

Road Warrior • Miami •