How to Save Big on Hotels: The Ultimate Guide to Hotel Savings

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Hotel savings is one of those things that everyone talks about, but few actually experience. Somehow, when it all comes down to it, hotel prices always seem to be, well, pricey. But there are some ways to save money—sometimes serious money—if you know where to look. Here is our ultimate guide to hotel savings.

Join a Travel Site and Earn Rewards 

If you search online for hotel prices, you will likely find that no matter where you look, the price is the same (go ahead, try it). Pretty much every hotel booking site has a “Best Price Guarantee,” the result of which is that nearly all of them offer the “best price.”

Since room prices are fairly standard, the area where booking sites can really distinguish themselves is through rewards. Hotel Engine is a new hotel booking site that offers both the best prices and the best rewards program. Every time you book a room, you earn up to 10% back to apply to your next booking, which, when you think about it, amounts to getting a discount on every reservation you make.

Sign Up for Hotel Rewards Programs

Pick a hotel chain and stick with it. This is a particularly useful strategy when you travel during busy periods (like the holidays) because although hotel prices change based on busyness and availability, the number of points required for a free night stays the same. To maximize your savings, pay for the less expensive rooms (for example, in Dayton, Ohio) and use your points for pricier destinations (like San Francisco).

Loyalty programs offer different benefits, so do some research to pick the one that best fits your travel style. Condé Nast Traveler recently named the Hyatt Gold Passport, Starwood Preferred Guest (Westin hotels), Hilton HHonors, Marriott Rewards, and IHG Rewards (Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Intercontinental) as the top five hotel loyalty programs. If you travel a lot, apply for a credit card associated with the program—you could earn rewards at up to five times the normal rate. Those of you who prefer to stay at independent hotels no longer need to be left out in the cold. Stash Hotel Rewards is a loyalty program for independent hotels across the country.

Check Back Often

Hotel prices fluctuate constantly, and there is no magic formula for when you should book a hotel room. So start looking well in advance and check back often. If you see the price of your room start to go down, wait a day or two to see what happens. Alternatively, if you see the price of your room start to go up, book immediately. Sometimes last-minute prices are much better than advance prices, but it depends on where you’re going. If you are traveling to a popular destination for an event that is a huge tourist draw, you will definitely want to book in advance.

If you think the price might go down but you want to guarantee you have a room, book a refundable rate—they are often a bit more expensive than nonrefundable rates, but then if the price falls you can easily cancel and rebook for less. Don’t worry, you don’t have to spend all of your time double-checking prices: Yapta will do it for you and send you an alert if anything changes.

Take Advantage of Association Discounts

Are you a member of AAA, AARP, or another association? Even if they aren’t advertised, many hotels offer AAA discounts that can quickly compensate for the $58 annual membership fee. You might also be entitled to military or government discounts, or even corporate discounts through a spouse, parent, or child.

Bundle Your Trip

If you are flying to your destination and/or planning to rent a car when you get there, bundling the different elements through sites like Expedia or Orbitz can save you some significant dough. These sites also have loyalty programs so you can earn points on both airfare and hotel bookings. However, bundling does have some disadvantages, so always price it out. For example, if something goes wrong, it is more difficult to cancel just part of a trip. In addition, you won’t earn airline miles or hotel rewards points on a bundled package, so it might be a less expensive trip now, but if you are a frequent traveler you might be giving up the opportunity for future savings.

Check Daily Deals Websites

Daily deals websites like Groupon and Living Social often have deals on stays, especially in cities and getaway destinations. You won’t usually find name brand hotels, but you can get some great prices on bed and breakfasts, inns, and weekday packages. The one thing to watch out for is that the advertised deals are often for Sunday to Thursday arrivals, with weekend prices being higher. You don’t need to sign up for all of the services to find the best deals: just go to Yipit, which aggregates them all into one place. This is also a great way to find discounts on meals and attractions at your destination.

Stay Off the Beaten Path

Staying in cities can be expensive, but you can often find great rates outside the downtown area. If the city has a good public transportation system, the travel time is minimal. For example, Times Square and its surrounding area have some of the most expensive rooms in the country, but you can stay in Secaucus, New Jersey, for about one-third of the price (with free parking). The train from Secaucus to Times Square takes nine minutes, costs $4, and runs almost constantly. You might sacrifice some convenience (like making a quick trip back to the room mid-day), but the $100+ savings per night is worth it.

Looking for even more savings? Try these strategies:

  • Have flexible dates if possible—mid-week is often best
  • Book a rate that includes breakfast or other freebies
  • Stay at a hotel where you’ve stayed before
  • Book a standard room—you might get upgraded on arrival
  • Use a travel agent—they might not have the lowest rates, but they often have access to great perks
  • Call the hotel directly—there may be some special rates that aren’t advertised

The key to saving money on hotel bookings is to know where to look, when to look, and what to look for.  These tips can result in some pretty big savings, and the best part is that you can mix and match. For example, use HotelEngine to book a room off the beaten path, or apply your AAA discount to a rate that includes breakfast. Happy hunting!

Featured image by Chris Potter [CC-BY-2.0], via Flickr