Vacations can get expensive, and in many cases, the bulk of our expense for a getaway — particularly if we score a cheap flight — will be our hotel stay. If you’re living on a budget, making your dream trip happen may hinge largely on your ability to score a good deal on your lodging. Here’s a look at how to save money on hotels when you travel.
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1. Book directly with your hotel
Sites that aggregate vacation deals may be an appealing place to start your search for the perfect trip, but don’t book your stay there. Booking directly with a hotel chain is one of the best ways to save money on your stay. “This ensures you aren’t paying commission to booking sites, and many hotels now guarantee that you will find the lowest price by booking directly,” says Suzanne Bucknam, CEO of Connecticut Explorer.
If you see a room advertised at a cheaper price on another site, consider contacting the hotel to see if they will honor that lower price. “This sometimes results in extra freebies such as a gift card towards a future stay,” says Bucknam.
One thing we hate about third-party sites is that if something goes wrong with your stay, it can be hard to know exactly who to contact for resolution. All too often, the third party site will say “contact the hotel” to resolve the issue and the hotel will say “contact the third-party site,” leaving consumers running in circles. It’s time to cut out the middle-man to save time and money.
2. Use Your Travel Rewards Points
Be honest. How many credit card points or credits or loyalty points do you have sitting in an account, being saved for “one day”? I’m here to tell you, that day is today. And you’ll actually get the most bang for your buck if you use your points for hotel bookings.
“Contrary to popular belief, in the long run accommodation is a larger travel expense than flights,” says Tim White, the CEO and Founder of MilePro. “It makes more sense to use your points to reduce your largest expense.”
It’s also easier to use your points to upgrade your hotel stay than to upgrade your flight. For example: “The Hilton Honors and World of Hyatt hotel loyalty programs waive the resort fees when you book a hotel on points. Marriott Bonvoy offers a fifth night free if you pay for the first four nights in points,” says White.
3. Be Flexible With Timing
Ever noticed the option on a travel booking site to search for “flexible travel”? You may see it written as “Search for +/- one day” or sometimes two days.
When you’re able to be flexible with the dates of your stay, you can capture the best possible bargain on flights and lodging, sometimes saving hundreds of dollars by flying on flights that are more empty, or staying the night in a hotel on less popular days of the week. For example, Friday and Saturday nights are almost always more expensive.
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4. Use Coupons and Maximize Cash-Back
If you’re a frequent traveler and hotel-stayer, you can automatically earn cash back every time you book a hotel online, using a cash-back plug-in like Sidekick from Coupon Cabin.
“Since many travelers are dropping hundreds and possibly thousands of dollars on their hotel stays, this cash back can add up fast and help you pay off your credit card after the trip or go towards future travel expenses,” says Andrea Woroch, a consumer savings and budgeting expert.
5. Take Advantage of Credit Card Rewards
Getting a new credit card comes with many benefits, including big rewards. Some travel perks like free hotel room upgrades or even free stays.
“The World of Hyatt Credit Card offers a free night at any Category 1 – 4 Hyatt hotel as long as you hit their required spending minimum,” says Worth. “The IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card gives cardmembers a free anniversary night certificate every year, and the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card provides 5 free nights when you first sign up and hit the spending minimum.”
Read the fine print on your card to find out what you might qualify for. Just keep in mind that you shouldn’t choose a card based on one-time perks, but instead, based on the benefits the card will offer you over time.
6. Get Free or Cheap Hotel Gift Cards
Gift cards aren’t just for gifting to others, they can also be a gift to yourself, in the form of future savings and rewards.
“Scan pictures of all your shopping receipts daily using the Fetch Rewards app to earn points towards free gift cards including Hotels.com gift cards and Global Hotel Gift Cards powered by Orbitz,” says Woroch. “You can even earn hotel gift cards by taking surveys at sites like Swagbucks to earn points that can be redeemed for gift cards to Hotels.com & Airbnb.”
Use these gift cards to save on future hotel bookings. Even the gift cards themselves can represent a savings. Woroch says you can search discounted gift card sites like Raise and CardCash.com to find deals on other people’s unwanted hotel gift cards.
7. Take Advantage of Someone’s Change in Plans
If you’ve never heard of RoomerTravel before, it’s time to put it on your radar. It’s a site where travelers can “sell” their non-refundable rooms to others. In other words, you can save a lot on a nice hotel by taking over someone else’s room that they’re no longer able to enjoy.
“Travelers who have to cancel their travel plans but can’t get a refund on their hotel may sell it at a discount via RoomerTravel.com,” says Woroch.
8. Flexible Travelers can Book Blindly
Are you open to a bit of spontaneity? That, too, can spell bargains. You can check out Priceline’s app to access their Tonight-Only Deals for 35% off hotels.
“You won’t know the brand and exact location but you will get details on the neighborhood the hotel is located, and their star rating, which will give you peace of mind you’re getting a quality hotel,” says Woroch.
9. Become a Loyalty Traveler
If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to pick a hotel chain and be loyal to it. Signing up for a loyalty point program is always free to do. You’ll be surprised how well this can pay off over time. In addition to cashing in on free rooms after you’ve racked up several stays, you might get other freebies, like free wifi, welcome gifts, room upgrades, and more.
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10. Pick Up the Phone
We often take it for granted that online prices will be the lowest. However, making a call to a hotel’s front desk can be worthwhile also.
“Do your research on discount websites and apps beforehand and know what their lowest rates are. Then call the hotel directly and ask them for their best rate which will be lower than the published online rate on their website,” says Isabelle Cheng, Creative Director for theallonsy.com. If the rate they quote is more than the lowest rate you found on the discount sites ask them to match — they almost always will. Plus, booking directly with the hotel is the only way to earn loyalty points with them which can lead to future savings and free perks.
One of the things that people tend to forget about hotels is that they are run by humans. “Sure, you can go online and maybe find a deal, but speaking to the front desk can sometimes get you that little bit more. I was once looking for a hotel in Italy, and managed to speak to someone at the front desk who offered a 10% bigger discount than the price I had quoted to them from online,” says Will Hatton, CEO of Broke Backpacker.
11. Look Beyond the Main Location
Another great way to save money is to stay somewhere just outside the city limits. “There are plenty of hotels and bed and breakfasts to choose from, and not all of them are in the city,” says Hatton. If you have the means to travel, you can save money by traveling a mile or two to get to your accommodation. In cities with excellent public transportation, this can be an even easier option. With less people using hotels set outside the city center, you may also find you’ll have a better experience during your stay, with more quiet and less crowds.
12. Check the Amenities
Look for hotels that offer free breakfast, which can make travel more affordable. Not only is it convenient to wake up in your hotel room and get a quick meal before you leave, but a free breakfast can easily save you at least $50 for a small family. If you’re part of a hotel loyalty program, check to see if they have free breakfast.
13. Seek a Best-Rate Guarantee
Find a hotel chain that offers a BRG: best-rate guarantee. You might see these at hotels like Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, and many more. Then, browse whatever discount booking site you like most, and compare rates. What’s listed directly on the hotel’s website vs. a third party?
“If you find a big price difference, book through the hotel’s official website at the higher rate and reach out to them to adjust the cost via phone or email,” says Brian Dechesare, Founder of Breaking Into Wall Street.
Best-rate guarantee hotels will match the best rate you find offered plus extra savings, typically 25% less than the cheapest option. Just be sure the room and date you’re comparing match on both sites to ensure you’re eligible for the discount.