Written on January 14, 2014 at 10:31 am, by Jess Skelton
Don’t hotels always seem to account for the largest portion of your travel funds? They certainly do for me. Even if you’re not booking a 4- or 5-star property, a few days stay in a hotel can easily set you back $500, if not more. I like a nice hotel as much as the next person, but when I’m on a budget, I want to make sure I have enough after airfare and lodging to actually enjoy my trip: have good meals, go sightseeing, and buy some souvenirs for my loved ones.
After years of working in the travel industry and having lots of personal travel experience, I’ve learned a few tricks and tips on how to book cheaper hotel rates that I wanted to share. Be sure to share any tips you might have in the comments below.
Use a metasearch engine
The popularity of hotel metasearch engines is on the rise and for good reason: it’s one of the most efficient ways to find affordable accommodations. If you’re unfamiliar with this concept, a hotel metasearch engine is a website that searches multiple hotel booking sites at once. For example, instead of running a search on Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline, and the hotel’s website, you can use a metasearch engine to search multiple sites at once to see which provider offers the lowest rates and best value. Kayak, Hipmunk, Room 77, TripAdvisor, and Trivago are just a few of the options available.
Call the hotel directly
If you have a particular hotel in mind, calling the hotel directly can often result in better rates. Since you’re able to speak with someone in real time, the staff will often be privy to rates that aren’t advertised online or, at the very least, they’ll be able to give you insight as to what’s affecting hotel room pricing. Events like conferences, concerts, and conventions can cause hotel room prices to skyrocket, and of course, certain times of year, such as the holidays, will see more expensive rates. If I’m traveling and I’ve found out there’s an event causing hotel rooms in the city center to be more expensive, then I’ll research hotels away from the city center to find lower rates.
Note: Be sure to call the hotel directly and not the 800 number, where you’ll just be routed through central reservations and end up speaking to someone who isn’t onsite at the property.
Book cancelable rates
Room rates can fluctuate as quickly as minute to minute because a hotel’s inventory is always changing. It’s simple supply and demand: the more people booking rooms at a hotel, the more the hotel can charge. One thing I like to do if I’m flexible with my hotel choice is to book a cancelable rate. It should be fairly obvious which rates are actually cancelable; there’s usually a call-out that states something like “FREE cancellation – PAY LATER,” as seen on Booking.com. I’ll book this rate (I plead though – double and triple check that it’s actually cancelable) and then monitor the price, as well as prices of nearby, comparable hotels. It may take a little bit of extra legwork, but this tactic has saved me as much as $100 per night.
Note: Not all hotels or providers offer cancelable rates. Look at a few different sites and properties to find a suitable hotel that provides a cancelable rate.
Book last minute
This is a trick best reserved for shorter trips, like romantic weekend getaways or impromptu get-togethers with friends in the city. I certainly wouldn’t advocate waiting till the last minute to book a hotel room for that expensive international trip you’ve been saving up for or leaving your lodging needs up to fate when there could be a major conference happening that results in a hotel room shortage. That being said, if you do a bit of research and are flexible, booking last minute can result in much cheaper rates. Last-minute booking apps like HotelTonight, which works with hotels to negotiate deep discounts on unsold rooms, are a great starting point, and many of the online booking sites, like Expedia and Priceline, have their own “Tonight” or “Deals Tonight” section.
Tip: Many sites offer last-minute deals sections, but are really just pulling the available inventory for the specified locale (not that this is a bad thing), as opposed to working with hotels to provide negotiated last-minute deals. Just be aware of this and shop around before committing to any last-minute deals.
Remember to use TripIt to organize all of your hotel confirmations (and any other trip confirmations) in one spot. You can also sign up for a free 30-day trial of TripIt Pro to try out premium features like alerts, alternate flights, seat tracker, point tracker, fare monitoring, and more.
(Photo by 401(K) 2013 / CC 2014)