Accommodations are often one of the most expensive budget-busters of travel. Whether you’re happy with basic hotel amenities or desire five-star luxuries, everyone wants to save money on hotels. So the first step is to decide what is important to you (and what you can do without) in a hotel experience.
Consider a few questions: Do you prefer well-known chain hotels with familiar perks or unique boutique hotels? Do you require a simple, basic hotel that’s clean with no frills, a basic room poolside or a full-on luxury experience? Is location important? Do you want to be in the middle of a famous district or away from the hustle and bustle? Do you need to drive or can you use public transportation? Is free Wi-Fi and breakfast a deal breaker? Do you prefer hotels with a swimming pool, spa, restaurant/bar, gym, room service, laundry services, concierge, limo service or other amenities?
Now that you have a better idea what you want, read on for nine hotel booking tips that will help you save money without breaking the bank.
The key is to remain flexible. Booking off-peak includes booking on less popular days of the week, staying weekdays versus weekends, checking in a few days before a holiday (and/or leaving a few days after) and simply planning travel during seasons with less tourist traffic. It costs less and you can avoid frustrating long lines and crowds. When you check in, the best time to ask for an upgrade is around 6 p.m. or later. By this time of day, they’ll know which of the nicer rooms are still vacant and may offer an upgrade. If they don’t, ask!
Loyalty Programs & Discounts
Sign up as a member of your favorite hotel chain, join a booking loyalty program, get discounts through an affinity group like AAA or AARP or apply for a hotel chain credit card where you can earn points on purchases. Many online booking sites have free booking loyalty programs where you can earn free nights, discounts and upgrades. Others provide a discount if friends book with your booking code. Often, you can save a lot of money by bundling your hotel, flights and/or rental car together. Check online to see if you can save money if you need two or three of these services.
Request a free visitor’s guide from the region you will be visiting. Local guides typically include coupons or online promotions for lodging, eating out and local attractions. If you are an AARP member, in the military or even a government employee, you are often eligible to receive discounts. Look for these possible discounts on the hotel website.
Try Calling the Hotel Directly
Sometimes you may be able to negotiate a cheaper price by calling directly. With a few questions, you may find out they discount weekends because they normal cater to business travelers on weekdays or perhaps a huge special event or festival is in town (charging higher rates for certain dates). If you call around 48 hours prior, they may have lowered prices to ensure filling their rooms or offer you an upgrade so you’ll book with them. Call and ask for the “cheapest nonrefundable rate”- the lingo hotels use may just get you in the door cheaper than you thought.
Consider a Location Away from City Center
The closer you are to a major attraction, famous shopping district or the heart of the city center, the more you will pay. Consider expanding your search on the booking map to find lower prices if you can drive or use public transportation. Don’t forget about parking, which is not always free. In major cities, it’s often very expensive and tacked on to your bill. And then there’s tipping the valet and you may or may not have free “in and out” privileges. Consider if you can save money parking within walking distance or booking further from the city center.
Beware of Hidden Costs
Price alone doesn’t always tell the whole pricing story. Always dig to find out if there are costs that may not be obvious. That tall bottle of water may actually cost you $8, parking may cost you an additional $50, internet service may be an extra fee or charge per hour, unexpected tipping and those little drinks and snacks in the bar? Yeah, those aren’t free. Avoid being shocked at check-out by reading all the fine print before booking. Realize in some cases, the higher priced hotel might actually be the same (or better) after adding up all the hidden costs you thought were included in the cheaper hotel.
Give Your Travel Agent a Call
Travel agents often have negotiated preferred rates with hotel chains. Most likely it won’t cost you anything, and you may just get an extra perk like an upgrade or food credit.
Use Apps & Watch Social Media
If you have a favorite booking website, put the app on your phone and watch for flash sales. If you’re traveling locally, check local apps like Groupon for 11th-hour social deals. Keep an eye on social media sites where companies often announce last-minute sales or distribute discount codes to attract business.
Compare & Utilize Hotel Price Tracking
Let’s face it; you’ve got to shop around. Compare at least a couple booking sites- or use a comparison site like Trivago or Kayak– with the actual hotel website itself. If you have time in advance, sign up for price alerts for the hotels you’re interested in. You will be notified via email if prices drop for your chosen dates. For websites geared for international travel, compare prices on sites such as Momondo, Escapio, and Agoda. Consider bidding on a hotel on sites like Priceline or Hotwire, where you reserve a mystery room in the area you want, only revealed after you book. Some say these beat the prevalent rate by as much as 38%.
Resist the urge to book a hotel on name alone. Read past the first few online reviews to see what others say. Look for hotels with a larger number of reviews that tend to be similar, more recent and lean towards the positive side.
Today, there are so many options it can be overwhelming. Depending on your needs, guest houses, bed & breakfasts, Airbnb, hostels, VROB, and home exchanges are all viable options along with hotels (for further insight see How To Choose Between Airbnb And A Hotel). Remember, decide what’s important to you, and then use these hotel booking tips to help you save money on your next hotel. Travel on friends!
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