Lodging is one of the biggest expenses when you go on vacation, so it pays to learn a few tips for getting the best rate at hotels. Having worked in the sales office of a local hotel, I know this: Room rates are not set in stone.
However, it is very much a matter of supply and demand. When you’re traveling to a popular vacation spot and vying to stay in the trendiest hotel at a time when the whole city is booked solid, you aren’t likely to get a rock-bottom deal. (That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.) But if your dates – and/or your expectations – are flexible, you should be able to save money on a hotel stay.
Tip #1: Make sure the place isn’t a dive.
It’s no bargain to stay at a place like that on your vacation. But what’s acceptable and what isn’t can vary from person to person, and can even vary from trip to trip.
Once, when I had a nine-month old and a hotel reservation that supposedly included a crib, that dirty, broken down crib-like item they wheeled into the room (several hours after we arrived) was definitely not acceptable. The pool, however, was great and the older kids enjoyed it. The hotel would have been fine if we were only traveling with older kids, but since we had a baby we were pretty unhappy.
So before you even try to play “Let’s Make a Deal” with a hotel, check out the reviews at TripAdvisor and try to be very specific about what you’re looking for.
Older carpet and outdated decor probably won’t make a difference on overnight stay as long as the room is clean, but proximity to a restaurant and a good working shower are going to be high on the priority list.
Likewise, for an extended stay the amenities will make a difference since the hotel itself is part of your vacation experience, as will friendly, helpful management (and a working ice machine). Those are the things to look for in reviews.
Tip #2: Dogged determination and a high-speed Internet connection really help.
Getting a good deal on a hotel can be a trial, because the best rates do not always come from the same sources. I’ve seen great deals on hotels using comparison shopping engines at TripAdvisor, Orbitz, Travelocity, and similar sites, but sometimes I’ve found better deals through the hotel’s own website.
Other places to check for lower rates are the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau or at the website of the attraction or theme park you plan to visit (there may be a package deal).
Once you’ve found a price you like online, call the hotel directly if you can; they might offer an even better rate. Ask for discounts if you’re over 55 years of age, a member of a travel club, shopping club (like Sam’s Club), an association, or if you are employed by a large corporation.
Note: The hotel’s negotiated rate with a company or association may not be cheaper than the standard rate.
Tip #3: Be a VIP, for free.
Before you book, sign up for the hotel’s VIP club (as long as it’s free), even if you think you’ll only be staying there once. You might get free upgrades, free Internet access, free parking, free breakfast, or other perks.
Tip #4: Choose a vacation rental instead of a hotel.
TripAdvisor has a section for vacation rentals, which are often less expensive than hotels for extended trips. Even if the rate is the same, cottages and vacation rentals give you more room to spread out and you can stock the fridge with groceries instead of more expensive convenience foods.
I’m a huge fan of vacation rentals. I once found a perfect small cabin on the exact same lake where my grandfather taught me to fish! This lake is tiny and almost completely unknown to everyone but locals, but I knew there were cabins on that lake, and we found one that was perfect… and cheap! (We’ve been back and it was just as great on our second stay!) This is my daughter fishing on what we used to call “Grandpa’s lake.”
However, when you’re looking for privately owned rentals, be sure to ask the owners for references, contract terms, payment and cancellation policies, etc. before you decide.
Tip #5: Rack up rewards before you go.
This tip was suggested by Crista on Facebook. She uses the Marriott Rewards program to earn free nights. (Other hotels have similar programs.) She says she earns points by shopping online to buy things she would purchase anyway, and uses the free ship-to-store option to avoid paying extra for shipping. She’s scored several free hotel stays this way.
Credit cards may offer similar point systems for hotel stays, but of course you need to consider all the potential “gotchas” in credit card offers. (And to really be frugal, make sure you never pay a dime of interest or fees on a credit card, because how is that saving money?)
Do you have any other good tips for saving money on hotels?