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Why it pays to ask — nicely

We all know you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. I'm not really into flies, but I have found that honey can attract coupons, room upgrades, free drinks, cupcakes, cable bill credits and gift certificates. When a business messes up, I nicely ask them how they can make things right. It saves me hundreds of dollars every year.

When the person at the drive-through window apologizes because I must pull over and park because my order is taking longer than it should, I cheerfully tell her it's okay, it's not her fault. "But can you give me a coupon for a free meal on my next visit to make it up to me," I ask. And I always get.

Say a restaurant manager explains the reason diners who sat down after us have their food and we're still licking the crumbs out of the breadbasket is because the kitchen lost our order. I tell him a free round of drinks will ease our hunger pangs. Sometimes free dessert is offered. But if we're paying a sitter and free dessert means more time on her meter, I calmly explain a free entree would really serve us better. Sometimes they are happy to oblige or we get free gourmet cupcakes to go.

After losing two hours of my life on the phone with a customer service representative typing in one inane code after another to get our Internet working again, I usually do go ballistic with the technician. Then I pull myself together and calmly call the billing department to ask that my bill be pro-rated for the five days we've gone without service and that a technician be scheduled to come to my home at no charge.

If I'm told nobody can come for a week, I pause to bite a Lincoln Log between my teeth, then return to the conversation calmly. "Well I guess we'll just have to wait, but can you please take 15 days of service off our bill," I suggest. Our monthly bill is cut in half.

When my daughter's cell phone was stolen at school, we were lucky to get it back a week later. When I got the next bill, I learned that the middle school thief had downloaded $60 in ring tones. I called customer service and explained that I had no police report or other proof that it had been stolen.

"I completely understand if you can't credit us the money that was already deducted from my checking account, but is there is any way we can get any credit?" I asked. The woman got approval and deducted my next bill by $60. I asked to speak to her supervisor and told her how helpful the employee was and that this is why I'm not going to switch providers when my contract is up.

Are you getting my pattern here? No, I'm not a habitual complainer. I'm a habitual negotiator. Just ask what can be done to make this situation right, and any business person worth doing business with will usually want to keep the customer happy. If you're demanding a free steak or a full refund at the top of your lungs that same business person might be happy to say no and never deal with you again.

A few weeks ago I was putting away my groceries and couldn't find the watermelon I had bought. I decided it must not have made it from the checkout lane into my cart or from the cart into my car. It was either the store's fault or mine, but I moved on and accepted the loss.

The next morning when I went to marinate a flank steak, I couldn't find it either. Now I was out around $15. I drove straight to Publix and spoke to the woman at the customer service counter.

"I don't have a receipt to show I bought these things and that wouldn't even prove that I left them here. But do you keep records of food that's left behind by chance?" I asked. No, they don't. But she told me to go get another steak and another watermelon at no charge. Now If I try that every week, I'm assuming it won't work out as well.

My best coup occurred several years ago at the Gasparilla Inn at Boca Grande. We had gone with friends from Washington, D.C., to spend a night and tarpon fish. We had raved about the historic inn where meals are included and served in a beautiful dining room decorated in Old Florida style. I had to admit that even the billiards room that once was open only to men was charming. But when we arrived, about half of the inn was blocked off to guests because it was the site of the prom for an Englewood high school. We were offered vouchers to eat at a restaurant in town, but it just wasn't the same.

I asked a manager why we weren't warned when we made our reservation that much of the inn would be off limits. After all, this isn't a generic chain hotel where all you're paying for is a bed, I said. It's a slice of Old Florida unlike anything else in the country.

He genuinely apologized and sent me on my way. My husband joked that my streak was over — until the knock on our door an hour later. A bell man handed me an envelope with gift certificates for two nights at the inn to use any time in the next year.

Shoo fly, don't bother me. But bring on the freebies.

About the deals

In these tight times, we know everyone needs to save where they can. We're here to help with "Here's the deal," our new money-saving feature. Every Monday you'll find advice for frugal living — from couponing for groceries to negotiating down medical debt to learning how to do work yourself instead of paying someone else. Can't wait until next week? Check out all our great money-saving tips and share your own at tampabay.com/heresthedeal; on Facebook at Here's the Deal Tampa Bay; or follow us on Twitter at @HeresTheDealFL.

Why it pays to ask — nicely 06/28/12 [Last modified: Thursday, June 28, 2012 2:54pm]
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