Photograph by Jamie MacFadyen/Gallery Stock

Seven Secret Shopping Deals: You Need Only Ask

  1. Psst, the Best Stuff Isn't on the Menu
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    Psst, the Best Stuff Isn't on the Menu

    With the Internet and social media, it’s nearly impossible to keep anything a secret. But for some companies, off-menu offerings and discounts for those in the know can be a potent way to build a devoted following. The most recent example of supposedly secret deals came earlier this month when Computerworld wrote that Verizon Wireless was offering mega-data plans only by request. (The company has since said that customers can find the plans on its website, although they're not readily visible.) Read on for some of the "secret" deals available to those who know to ask.

    Photograph by Jamie MacFadyen/Gallery Stock
  2. Bloomingdale’s Invite-Only Sale
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    Bloomingdale’s Invite-Only Sale

    Department stores and luxury retailers may not seem the types to haggle with customers. But rather than advertise blowout sales, high-end stores that don’t want to soil their reputations now use more discreet tactics such as word of mouth. Salespeople will simply tell shoppers about ongoing sales without actually marking down price tags; some may even be willing to negotiate. Retailers also invite customers on their e-mail lists to peruse exclusive online sales, as in a recent 12-hour e-mail invite-only “b quick-online secret sale” at Bloomingdale’s (M), which offered 50 percent to 60 percent off.

    Photograph by Chris Hondros/Getty Images
  3. J Crew Student Perks
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    J Crew Student Perks

    By flashing identification, students have access to a bevy of discounts at movie theaters, restaurants, and computer manufacturers. It’s less-well known, however, that clothing retailers are also sympathetic to starving scholars. Stores including Ann Taylor (ANN), J Crew, Banana Republic (GPS), and the Limited (LTD) offer 15 percent to 20 percent off. The lesson here: Even if a company doesn’t advertise a student discount, it pays to ask.

    Photograph by Jin Lee/Bloomberg
  4. Hidden Phone Discounts
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    Hidden Phone Discounts

    Have a job? Go to school? Then you may be paying too much for phone service. All the major phone carriers give discounts from 10 percent to 25 percent to people associated with an extensive list of employers and universities. Ask a rep to find out if you’re eligible.

    Photograph by Jason Alden/Bloomberg
  5. Starbucks's Secret Menu
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    Starbucks's Secret Menu

    In the mood for a Starbucks (SBUX) item but don’t have quite enough change for a Tall Latte? The ubiquitous coffee maker offers a less-expensive 8-ounce short drink. There’s a button on the register for it, but the smaller size isn’t listed on the menu, so you have to know to order it. Also not on the menu but worth a try: the Cake Batter Frappuccino, a vanilla blend with almond flavoring.

    Photograph by Emile Wamstek/Bloomberg
  6. Visa Vacation Benefits
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    Visa Vacation Benefits

    Instead of buying the extended one-year warranty on your next purchase, just pay with a credit card. The major cards offer various forms of protection and discounts that are not widely publicized— such as protecting user purchases for up to a year and automatically providing car rental insurance. If you carry a Visa (V) Signature card, you also get an array of travel benefits and hotel discounts, while some hospitality-sponsored Mastercard (MA) lines include luggage reimbursement and trip-cancellation insurance.

    Photograph by Medioimages/Photodisc/Getty Images
  7. Doctors' Private-Payer Discounts
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    Doctors' Private-Payer Discounts

    Sometimes submitting a claim to your health insurance provider isn’t the cheapest option. Hospitals and physicians often offer substantial discounts to individual payers and provide even more if the full amount is paid at the time of the visit. Before your next appointment, call and ask what the treatment would cost for a cash-paying patient. It may be less than the deductible—and you’ll keep monthly rates low.

    Photograph by Reza Estakhrian/Getty Images
  8. In-n-Out's "Not-So-Secret Menu"
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    In-n-Out's "Not-So-Secret Menu"

    This one is pretty widely known; it has its own page on the In-n-Out website, though the off-menu possibilities go way beyond that. The California chain's animal-style burger—mustard-fried cheeseburger patties topped with grilled onions, pickle, and special sauce—and other twists inspired a host of fast-food rivals to start spreading the word about their own secret menus. Jamba Juice (JMBA) has an entire selection of unhealthy smoothies such as the White Gummy Bear, Sour Patch Kid, and Strawberry Shortcake, while Dairy Queen (BRK/A) makes a Chocolate Chip Blizzard, Arby's a French Dip, and Subway a Pizza Sub. Pretty much anything fast food joints have the ingredients for, they'll make. (I suggest trying nachos at Chipotle.)

    Photograph by Todd Williamson/Wire Images/ Getty Images