On The Cheap

The litany is familiar. Cheap prices mean cheap customers. Sell on value, not on price. Win on price, lose on price. Oh how we hate those cheap, price shopping customers! But if you stop and think about it, there is a reason there are so many of them around. We are a nation of price shoppers.

Fast food joints are surviving on their dollar menus. Big Lots thrives on selling close-out merchandise at cheap prices. Priceline spokesman William Shatner browbeats hotel clerks and ridicules travelers for not negotiating down to the rock bottom price. Cheap tickets, cheap hotels, cheap merchandise, cheap food—they all contribute to the cheapening of America.

There is nothing wrong with looking for the best deal, and there is no sense paying more than necessary for something if all things are equal. Often, however, all things are not equal.

I’ve heard guests argue with hotel managers about why their dirt cheap discount rates don’t qualify for HHonors or Marriot Rewards points so they can earn free nights. Airline passengers scour the Internet for the cheapest flight on the cheapest airline and then raise hell about having to pay for luggage. They resent those folks who get to board first and stow their carry-on luggage. “There never is any space for mine,” they lament. In other words, they want both cheap prices and perks. That ain’t gonna happen.

As much as I hate to admit it, airlines have figured it out. Price as low as you reasonably can and then charge for everything else. Is that irritating? Sure. Is it fair? Who knows? Does it inspire loyalty? It can for some.

I do look for the best fares and best room rates—that’s only good business—but I also factor in other things. I have tried to stick with one brand where possible in order to get “status.” I’m not talking about Up In the Air, George Cloony status, but the bottom rung, which is where I live. I won’t pay outlandishly more for a ticket, but I do consider the fact that I get two free bags and the convenience of priority boarding. The free bags alone add as much as a $100 value to a ticket. It’s not such a big deal with hotels, but sometimes a free night, a nicer room, or a free bottle of $5 water makes a slightly higher room rate worth it. I get this stuff because I shop on value as well as price.

In many ways we have helped foster the rise of the cheap customer by being cheap customers ourselves. So the next time you complain about price shoppers and cheap customers, remember the words of that immortal philosopher Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”