When looking for a hotel room, there are so many options that it can be mind boggling. Between the OTA’s (Booking.com, Expedia, Hotels.com, etc), Trip Advisor, Kayak, and the thousands of branded properties with their international websites, you can make a month-long career out of shopping prices for your two night stay.
Below is our list of the Top 5 ways to find a winning deal when it comes to finding a place to sleep. But before you embark on that journey, there are a few things you should decide before logging on.
For starters, what kind of stay are you looking for? This is important, because the kind of stay will determine which kind of hotel you need. If you’re heading out for an overnight business trip, or a one night sleepover on your way to somewhere else, you probably don’t need a resort with a golf course and spa. On the flip side, if it’s a week-long vacation for you and your family, you will want to consider a place that has plenty to keep you occupied.
Another consideration is, what kind of traveler are you? That’s right, deep introspection time. It’s easy to say “I want the cheapest,” but is that really true? The “cheapest” may involve six-legged roommates and fresh crime scene tape. And when you’re a single guy with no cares and a thin wallet, that might be the right move. Conversely, if you are traveling with pre-teen kids…go ahead, book a room without a swimming pool. I dare you.
Okay, you’ve determined the kind of place you’re seeking, you’ve compared all the prices and reviews, and you’ve narrowed it down to the place you want to stay. Now how do you get the best rate? Here are some tips:
5. Date Selection – Time matters, as does time of year. In most places (other than Florida or other southern destinations), winter rates are cheaper than summer rates. Weekend rates will be higher than weekday rates. Rates on Fourth of July weekend will always be pricier than a shipping container full of British tea at a Boston harbor. If you have flexibility on dates, plan accordingly.
4. Packages – Small roadside motels probably won’t have many package deals available unless they’re within nuclear bomb range of Disney World or Branson. However, it will at least be worth a look (or call) to find if they have a special rate for the room plus tickets to the World’s Largest Ball of Detritus.
3. Memberships and Newsletters – Most hotels have some form of “preferred guest” program where you sign up, give them a few juicy tidbits of data-mining gold, and you’re instantly a member of their La Cosa Host-ra. Sure, you’re going to get an inbox full of emails every week (and double the week of your birthday), but you’re going to get a better rate than you can get anywhere else. Seriously, it’s worth it (and occasionally you’ll find more bargains in some of those newsletters). And we’re not just saying that because a blog is a lot like a newsletter.
2. Discounts – And more on memberships: belong to everything. Even when you don’t. The OTA’s usually don’t offer discounts for age or auto affiliation, but the hotels almost always do. Unfortunately, you often won’t find those discounts on a website. You have to call the hotel directly and ask about discounts. If you’re over 50, get that “senior discount.” If you are active military or former military, mention it. Own a car? Ask about the AAA (American Automobile Association) discount, even if you aren’t really a member (hotels usually won’t ask for your AAA card). Ditto for AARP. When you’re coming in for a convention or event or part of a group, ask if there is a special rate for that group or activity. If they have a one-time incentive for being Irish, tell them your middle name is McGillicuddy. You get the idea.
1. Book Early – Yeah, it’s almost a cliché, but clichés are often born of truth. That is particularly true here in the era of “dynamic pricing,” a little gift from the airline industry. If you can book your room a year ahead, do it. For starters, most smaller hotels don’t really look at increasing their prices for the following year until they do their end-of-year analysis. They also don’t get too serious about setting up the higher “special events” rates for the coming year until things slow down in the winter. Then you have the dynamic pricing. Just as Delta and United taught everyone, hotels usually start with a certain rate (usually a pretty cheap one), then when they get a certain number of reservations on the books, that rate goes up. It goes up again when they close in on the last few rooms, which means it’s pretty unlikely you’re going to get a sweet deal the night before Memorial Day weekend. The incentive is definitely there to book early. The down side is that you’re going to tie up your money/credit card for the interim. Hotels in popular destinations will want to charge the whole thing at time of reservation (Hawaiian hotels are notorious for this) while others will only charge the first night. Either way, when booking early, make sure you are intimately familiar with the Cancellation Policy for that property.
There are a few other tricks and schemes out there, but most of those will only result in annoyed front desk clerks and reservations for dilapidated rooms squeezed between the ice machine compressor and elevator equipment. Also, while it defeats the new normal of easy reservations made online, a phone call is usually a better bet for discounts, as front desk humans will be more inclined to find ways to save you money than a website.