There are all sorts of myths and legends about how to get the best deals on hotel bookings. Possibly the most prevalent belief is that timing — the day or hour in the week when we book our trip — is the most important factor of all. But does timing really matter? And what are the best rules of thumb when it comes to securing the cheapest possible hotel reservation, every time?
Timing Is Everything
Booking a hotel is NOT the same thing as booking flights. While a good rule of thumb for snagging a cheap plane ticket is to book on a Monday or Tuesday, the exact opposite is true of hotels.
“A general rule is to avoid booking hotels at the beginning of the week, say Monday-Wednesday, as this is a peak time people are planning their trips so there’s a lot of demand,” says Samantha Brown, travel expert and two-time Emmy-winning host of PBS’ “Places to Love.” There’s a pretty steadfast reason for this: “That demand falls off towards the end of the week when hotels see that they’re not going to fill their rooms, so they start decreasing the prices by Friday and Saturday, making those days the best time to book a hotel.”
Another way that booking hotels differs from booking flights is flexibility. With many hotel chains, you don’t have to pay upfront like you do with an airline ticket, and you can cancel with no penalty, says Brown. (Especially if you’re a rewards member.) Just make sure you know what the cancellation policy is before you book.
Can You Book Too Far In Advance?
Just how far in advance is too far in advance for making a reservation? “There’s a saying in travel advisor circles which is ‘reserve early, book late,’ meaning there’s no harm reserving a room in advance as soon as you know you’ll be going somewhere, especially one that meets your budget and has all the bells and whistles you want in a hotel” says Brown.
But, you should continue to be on the lookout for better deals. Those deals will generally start to happen within two weeks of your trip. One of Brown’s favorite apps is Hotel Tonight. “I’ve had to use the app many times to secure a nice hotel due to flights being canceled or travel plans changing at the last minute. The rates are phenomenal, and for very nice hotels. I always think I’m going to use it for my husband and I to have a spontaneous romantic weekend in NYC — it never happens, but a girl can dream,” says Brown.
Nothing is Certain
Guidance doesn’t mean guarantees. It’s a myth that you’ll automatically save more money by booking your hotel stay early. “Most of the time, you’ll actually save much more by booking at the last minute. It all comes down to supply and demand,” says Colleen Carswell, former hotel director of sales turned hotel solutions strategist.
Supply + Demand
Ultimately, the deal you get comes down to supply and demand. Hotels need rooms filled in order to make money — on the room itself, on auxiliary purchases, and through word of mouth reviews and recommendations. “In industry terms, their goal is simple: Get heads in beds. If hotels still have rooms left to sell for your dates of stay, they will likely slash the prices at the last minute in hopes of selling off more of their “inventory”,” says Carswell.
However, supply and demand works both ways. Meaning: “If the demand for hotel rooms is high and supply of empty rooms is low, you’ll pay more,” says Carswell. This most often happens during holidays and when there are large events either at the hotel or in the area. Think of things like festivals, marathons, political rallies, sporting events, etc. “I always recommend checking the city event calendar when considering dates, both from a price and crowd perspective,” says Carswell.
To make all this work best for your stress levels and budget, Carswell recommends BE-CALM: Book Early, Check Again Last Minute. “When you book early, make sure to triple check the cancellation policy so the date doesn’t come and go. Cancellation policies vary widely by hotel, brand, location, etc. Then, prior to the cancellation date, check again to see if you can find lower rates online,” says Carswell.
If you do find a lower rate, great! “You can cancel your original reservation and save money with the new one. If you don’t find a lower rate, also great! You scored the best deal possible thanks to your savvy decision to BE CALM,” says Carswell.
Many hotels have policies that allow you to get the best price as well as additional perks like upgrades and late check-outs, if you book directly through the hotel rather than a third party. “Either look online or call the hotel you are considering and find out if they have any incentives for booking directly through them, such as reStays’ best price guarantee. If you find a better price, you just have to let us know the details when booking directly, and we handle the rest,” says Claudine Hart, Marketing Director of reStays Ottawa.
Be Flexible When You Can
The day of week/time of day will not affect pricing, but the dates of your travel will. “If your travel dates can be flexible, most hotel booking engines have calendars that show rates by date,” says Amaury Piedra, Managing Director, Caribe Royale Orlando Resort. (Just don’t forget to book direct to snag the best deals, and best cancellation policies!)
If you have flexibility, you can often find great deals on rooms over periods of time when the hotel has lower occupancy. “Keep in mind price vs. value and check the hotel’s special offers. Sometimes the best deals are found in value-laden packages,” says Piedra.
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