Whether you’re looking for a place to overnight near an airport or a place to spend a vacation, hotel options — and prices for their rooms — can be overwhelming. Unlike the handful of airline or car rental company choices travelers have, many destinations have a huge number of hotels available, let alone the number and type of rooms. Here are a few tips to find the best deal on your room — and perhaps some additional perks!
Start out by getting an idea of the types of hotels available in a location, along with a feel for room rates. To do this, we use a clearinghouse website like Hotels, Kayak, or Orbitz. Each of these sites allows users to narrow down their choices by location, price range, amenities, and the like — a great starting point before selecting a room.
Next, consider the purpose of your travel. Arriving late or checking out early? A clean room with a comfortable bed will suffice. Staying downtown? Free parking might be important. Multiple night stay? Amenities like breakfast or a pool, along with the hotel’s proximity to other locations, might be important. There’s no need to plunk down $200 for a lavish property with free racquetball and water aerobics if you’ll be there for a six-hour layover. On the other hand, if the hotel is your vacation destination, nearby beaches or other sights along with a bar, restaurant, and pool might well be worth a few extra dollars.
Once you’ve selected a few properties, check them out on TripAdvisor. The glowing description on the hotel website might not match previous travelers’ experiences. (If you’re new to TripAdvisor, look up a few properties you’ve stayed at in the past to see how your perception matches that of the masses.) No matter how your standards compare, don’t let a few negative reviews stop you from booking — no place is perfect, and some travelers are rarely satisfied. We never book without checking TripAdvisor first, and have also found that it’s a great way to learn about boutique properties and B&Bs that might not show up on the big travel websites!
After getting a feel for prices and options, decide which hotels make the cut and head directly to their websites. Some offer promotions, discounts (such as AAA or AARP), or simply better rates on their own websites than through the third-party websites. Besides, it can be easier to deal with itinerary changes, room requests, frequent traveler programs, and the like if your reservation was made directly with the hotel.
Speaking of frequent traveler programs, be sure to sign up for each hotel chain’s reward program. The points you accumulate toward free stays may or may not be important to you, but we’ve received room upgrades, bypassed long check-in lines, and gotten freebies such as to-order breakfasts simply because we’re members of the hotel’s reward program. Independent hotels often belong to reward program consortiums as well.
If you collect frequent flyer miles like we do, check out Rocketmiles. It doesn’t offer discounts on rooms, but it does offer significant frequent flyer mile bonuses for bookings … a nice bonus if they’re offering the same room rate.
Last-minute bookings can often be made at a significant discount through websites like HotelCoupons (formerly RoomSaver), Hotwire, and Priceline. HotelCoupons specializes in last-minute, walk-in rates, which can work well for interstate highway road-trip overnighters with flexibility. Hotwire offers “blind” bookings at discounted rates — you only learn the name of the hotel after non-refundable payment is made. Priceline offers three booking styles: clearinghouse, fixed-price blind booking (like Hotwire), and a “Name Your Own Price” blind bidding system. We find these options to be hit-or-miss, but the significant discounts we’ve gotten through all three make them worth some planning time.
Coupon websites like TravelZoo and Groupon often offer tremendous discounts on resort properties. Although the likelihood of your vacation week or weekend aligning with their coupon offer might be slim, they’re worth a look … or even worth planning a getaway simply to take advantage of a great deal!
If the hotel is at your destination but isn’t your destination itself, budget options abound. We have stayed in hostels around the world. Most hostels offer private rooms in addition to traditional bunk-style dorm rooms, and their common areas usually offer kitchen facilities (cooking a few of your own meals can really stretch your travel budget), Internet access, local tourism information, and the opportunity to mingle with — and glean travel tips from — likeminded travelers from around the world.
Don’t want to share your space with others at the hostel or hotel? Vacation rental websites like VRBO and AirBnB offer properties of all sizes from studio apartments to six-bedroom houses, and home exchange websites like HomeForExchange and HomeExchange enable you to swap houses with travelers from around the world for a nominal annual fee. Erin used AirBnB to get a great deal on a one-bedroom Manhattan apartment for the NYC Marathon weekend, and we’re doing a home exchange in March for free spring break lodgings!
Finally, be sure to consult a good travel guidebook or two while doing your travel planning. Many independent lodging options won’t appear on many of the websites mentioned above, especially in off-the-beaten-path destinations. Guidebook entries have led us to some amazing hotels, hostels, B&Bs, and guest rooms around the world, and they’ve been run by some fantastic people we feel lucky to have met.
How do you make the most of your lodging budget? However you do it, enjoy your week or your weekend!