How to Negotiate for More Vacation Days

Maximize that PTO.

people lounging on deck
Take that vacation you deserve. | Song_about_summer/Shutterstock
Take that vacation you deserve. | Song_about_summer/Shutterstock
It's time to stow your tray tables and secure your luggage in the overhead bins—travel is back in full swing. Introducing Return Ticket, a collection of first-person stories, thoughtful guides, and clever hacks designed to help aspiring globetrotters navigate our new normal as safely and smoothly as possible. Buckle up and prepare for liftoff.

When the pandemic blurred the line between personal and professional boundaries, and our homes doubled as offices, we not only craved vacation, we desperately needed it. In the time since, many of us have quit, changed, or even created jobs or companies, and the number of people who work remotely has tripled since 2019, according to the US Census Bureau. Something that hasn’t changed? Our lack of vacation days.

Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American has 10 to 14 paid vacation days after they’ve been working at their company for one year. (If we were in Europe, we’d have triple that.) There are, however, ways to make the most of what you have. If you’re fortunate enough to have a full-time job with benefits, you might think salary is the only thing you can negotiate. We’ll let you in on something that shouldn’t be so much of a secret: You can negotiate for more PTO. Here’s a play-by-play guide to getting the most out of your next—or current—job.

Negotiate when you get the job offer

This is the ideal time to angle for more PTO. When you’re offered a job (congrats!), the first thing you should do is almost always ask for more money. But if they say no, you should definitely counter by asking about more vacation days. If they say yes (congrats!), you should still ask about more vacation days.

“An employee should think about vacation time no differently than any other aspect of their compensation,” says Tony Lee, vice president of content for the Society for Human Resource Management. “They get a compensation package that includes salary, medical benefits, vision, dental, all that. So when they’re thinking about negotiating for time off, sometimes they can move things from one place to another.”

And then again during a performance review and/or salary negotiation

“You’re having your annual performance review and you say, ‘Hey, I’d like to talk about a pay increase. I’ve had a great year, you agree that I’ve had a great year, I’d like to look at a potential pay increase,'” Lee says. “If the response is that it’s not in the budget or the company isn’t looking at pay increases this year, the employee needs to be prepared with what else is important to them that they can negotiate for. So it may be that the most important thing to me is an additional week or time that I can use however I like.”

Especially if you’re in relatively good standing with your employer, you should consider doing this every time you’re inquiring about a raise, promotion, or anything else benefit-related. And whenever it’s possible, prepare for the negotiation by asking friends in similar jobs what their PTO package looks like. If it’s better than yours, let your employer know. PTO transparency can be just as useful as wage transparency.

Know how much you’re asking for and why

There’s no hard rules about how many more days is the right number to ask for, but an extra week is probably a safe bet. And if you had more vacation time at your previous job—which is often the case, since you might have been there for years—you can absolutely make the case that your new employer should, at the very least, match that number. Frame it as a matter of experience—you might be new to this job, but the level of experience you’re bringing is equivalent to that of someone who’s been at the company a while longer, and accordingly receives more PTO. If they say they can’t start you off with the amount you asked for, ask if they can stagger the increase.

Be prepared in case they call your bluff

As with all negotiations, the real upper hand is determined by who’s more willing to walk away. Not everyone can be expected to double down on their request for more PTO and take their talents elsewhere if the boss says no. But if you’re fortunate enough to have other prospects, then you should leverage that.

Always get it in writing

You don’t need a formal contract drawn up or anything, but you should never leave the details of a successful negotiation up to memory. If your boss doesn’t offer to get the increased PTO in writing themselves, politely follow up over email so you have receipts.

Unionize your workplace

The best way to ensure that you have equitable benefits and protected PTO and comp time is to be a member of a union. (Disclosure: Thrillist's editorial employees are unionized with the Writers Guild of America, East.)

Don’t think about PTO just in terms of number of days

“What we hear about even more [than number of days] is flexibility of schedule,” Lee says. “What comes up a lot is, ‘I have a long commute and I want a flexible schedule to minimize that,’ or, ‘I have care responsibilities and I want a flexible schedule so I can get home by 4 pm every day to meet my kids.’”

You might want to ask about specific schedule modifications that make things easier for you to manage your other responsibilities. Or, depending on your personal preferences and the nature of your job, ask about modifications that come out to the same amount of PTO as before—like working four 10-hour days four days per week instead of five eight-hour days.

“Remember, for a lot of people it’s not taking extra time off because they’re going to the beach,” Lee says. “It’s because they've got to care for a parent or a child or have an obligation of some sort.”

That said, there’s nothing wrong with using extra PTO to go to the beach. Spend the time how you like—it’s yours now.

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Kastalia Medrano is a New York-based journalist and avid traveler. Follow her on Twitter.