The art of haggling

Published by Emma Lunn on 28 July 2008.
Last updated on 24 August 2011

Couple in shop

Some people seem to get a bargain on everything they buy, from a house or car to a sofa or mobile phone. Their gift of the gab seems to secure them a good price. But is haggling an art, or is it simply the case that if you don’t ask, you don’t get?

Experts say the British are too polite to haggle. While we’re happy to negotiate on prices on holiday, we’re reluctant to at home. However, bargaining could save you hundreds of pounds on purchases here in the UK. The best place to start is at a market or car boot sale, where traders expect you to negotiate on price. But you can also haggle with big companies or high street stores.

The trick is being brave enough to ask for a discount or a special deal and knowing when to walk away.

Phone and broadband

The spat between Sky and Virgin Media in 2007 - which led to Virgin customers losing out on Sky One, Sky News and Sky Sports News - highlighted how susceptible the telecoms market is to a bit of bartering.

The disappearance of these channels came about after the two companies failed to agree a price for the supply of Sky’s content to Virgin. Virgin’s customers - especially those hooked on the latest episodes of Lost and 24 - were up in arms.

Despite Virgin publicly stating that it wouldn’t lower prices to compensate for the loss of the channels, internet discussion boards were awash with tales from Virgin customers who negotiated either more TV channels for the same price or a half-price TV service.

Even in normal circumstances, if your contract for broadband, digital TV or a mobile phone is expiring, it’s worth asking if your provider will do a deal to keep your business. "If your provider doesn’t offer a reduced rate, you can threaten to leave and look elsewhere," says Rob Barnes, head of mobiles and broadband at

"Because the mobile market is so competitive, operators will usually offer better deals to those customers who have been with them for a while. Although this is common practice for people negotiating new mobile deals, it can also work well with your broadband provider. Loyalty is the haggler’s best weapon."

If your provider can’t or won’t negotiate on price, ask for some extras to be thrown in for free, such as a new handset or a wireless router.

"Another way to get a better deal is to sign up to a longer contract," says Barnes. "18-month contracts often provide the best deals, so if you’re happy with your provider, see what it will offer you for agreeing a longer contract. Ultimately, people need to bargain with their feet. If you’re not offered a good deal, walk away."

Travel and leisure

Sometimes it’s possible to haggle over the price of your summer holiday. Tour operators put together package holidays and travel agents sell them, so it’s often possible to find the same holiday at a variety prices in different travel agents.

Playing different travel agents off against one another can be a good negotiating tool. So once you have found a holiday you like, ring different agents and ask them if they can beat your best price so far.

If you’re travelling independently, haggling is a bit more tricky, and it’s virtually impossible to get a price reduction on flights.

"It is unlikely that you’ll be able to get a discount when booking a flight," says Bob Atkinson, a travel expert at "But if you arrive early, there is a chance you may be able to get an upgrade. If you’re travelling for a special reason - a honeymoon or anniversary trip, for example - it’s always worth mentioning this at check-in, just in case there are any extras they can offer.

"Your best chance of getting a discount on a hotel room is to walk in on the day and ask what is available for the best price. Again, there’s no harm in asking if your room can be upgraded. If you don’t ask, you don’t get."

It’s also possible to haggle over the cost of your gym membership. In some cases, the one-off ‘admin’ or ‘joining’ fee can be waived by the gym manager, and there may also be room for negotiation on the monthly fee - especially if you join as a couple or group.

Property deals

In a rising market, there tends to be limited room for negotiation when buying property, but a falling or flat-lining market - like we’re seeing at the moment - creates the perfect conditions for haggling.

The key to success is preparation. Before you start, log on to to check out what similar properties in the area have sold for and use this as a starting point. Another website,, lists how long properties have been on the market and whether the asking price has been reduced.

"If a house has just come on the market, a low offer is unlikely to be accepted, but if it has been hanging around for a while you can be cheekier," says property expert and Location, Location, Location presenter Phil Spencer in his book How to Buy a House. "Remember the asking price is exactly that: an asking price. It will have started life as a valuation and then been modified in line with the vendor’s and agent’s hopes and dreams."

Spencer advises against playing your strongest cards first, and suggests leaving room for manoeuvre. "And remember it’s not just the price that’s up for negotiation. What about exclusivity, timescales, fixtures and fittings?" he adds. "Work them all into the deal if you can. Be tough, be strong and don’t get carried away."

If you’re also selling a property, drive a hard bargain with your estate agent. Most charge fees of between 1% and 3% of the selling price. Try to get as close to 1% as possible, and don’t be afraid to play agents off against one another.

Bagging a bargain

If you’re buying things for your home, be prepared to haggle in furniture shops, electrical shops and markets. According to, the key is to keep your cool, point out imperfections, never imply you can’t afford something and offer to pay in cash. Build up a rapport with the salesperson - and never be rude.

If you drive, Sainsbury’s Bank says British motorists can save an average of £1,468 on the price of a new car if they are prepared to negotiate. The bank says you can often pick up a good deal on a new car just before the introduction of new registration plates, as cars with the current registration become less attractive. Also, when manufacturers introduce a new model, you can often pick up a great deal on the old model.

Before you visit a car dealer, do your homework and find out what discounts companies are offering. Brokers, internet companies and even car supermarkets have information online, and the What Car? target price will show you how much you can expect to pay for a car. When buying privately, find out what similar cars are going for.

A dealership will often be flexible on extras, finance and part-exchange. Where possible, it pays to offer to pay cash or by cheque on the spot. Don’t be lured in by the promise of an attractive-sounding finance deal. In most cases, there will be cheaper loans available elsewhere.

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