Your hotel might look cheap at first, but it rarely works out that way. Over an extended stay, your hotel stay can be the largest single expense of any trip. Most travelers end up paying much more than for an individual flight. Saving a few dollars each night will add up, so here are five tips that often lead to lower rates.
Book Flexible or Package Rates
It is tempting to book the cheapest, advance purchase rate. Don’t do this unless the difference is huge. Hotel rates change daily, sometimes even shortly before arrival. Flexible rates allow you to book a new room at the lower rate and then cancel the original reservation. Many of the other tricks listed below include similar discounts to advance purchase rates as well as flexible cancellation rules, so you won’t always have to pay more.
Packages can also be a good deal. A breakfast-inclusive rate might be $10 or $20 more per night. Whether that’s worth it depends on how much you value breakfast. Some hotels include more tangible benefits like free parking or a local gift card during the holiday shopping season. Again, look at the value of that gift card or the normal cost of parking to determine if the package saves money overall.
Take Advantage of Corporate or Group Discounts
There are also a variety of discounts anyone can take advantage of by enrolling with the right group. Alumni associations, AAA, Costco, and AARP are all examples of organizations that offer special discounts to their members at select hotels. Remember that you don’t need to have a car to join AAA, nor do you need to be retired to join AARP. The cost of such memberships can sometimes be recouped after your first stay.
Corporate discount codes are trickier. They can be very generous and reflect an agreement between the hotel chain and the corporate travel department, most often at bigger companies such as IBM or Accenture. Your company can tell you if there are any rates available and if you’re able to use them for leisure travel. As a general rule, however, few hotels actually request identification at check-in.
Sometimes It’s Cheaper to Buy Points
Hotel loyalty programs, like airlines, will sell points to their members. Buying points—especially during a promotion—can be cheaper because the cost of an award night is usually the same throughout the year even as the cost of a paid night goes up and down. In addition, most hotel loyalty programs have a rule that you can book an award night without blackout dates as long as a standard room is for sale.
You’ll need to compare the cost of a paid night is and the cost of purchasing those points to know if this is worthwhile. However, one additional benefit is that award stays usually have flexible cancellation rules. If your plans change, you can get the points back and use them for a different stay.
Jump on the Mobile Trend
Competition between hotels is brutal, and mobile technology is changing how this battle plays out. Companies like Expedia and HotelTonight know that they need to be on their game when marketing to younger, price-conscious individuals and sometimes offer cheaper rates through their mobile platforms. HotelTonight doesn’t even have a desktop search tool.
The more a hotel knows about you and your behavior, the more likely it is to lower rates to close the deal. For example, geolocation sometimes allows a company to offer a lower rate to nearby customers. This is still an evolving field, and tactics are changing. Just know that sometimes you need to compare rates between different companies and also for the same company on different platforms.
Best Rate Guarantees Still Work
Although they’ve become less popular and successful, a “best rate guarantee” can still be used to save on your next stay. The travel agency or hotel operator usually promises to match the lower rate found on a competitor’s site and might even acknowledge the effort with an additional discount. This has fallen out of favor as price comparison websites multiply and hotels get better at negotiating with their distribution channels. Hoteliers have also started offering additional benefits, such as free WiFi, if you book directly with them.
However, a good comparison shopper can still snag a win. Often the room description must match exactly. (Does it include free breakfast? Does it have a king bed or a queen?) Special mobile discounts can be used as evidence in most cases. If you’re doing your own price comparison anyway, you may as well take advantage of this opportunity.
In conclusion, saving money on a hotel room isn’t as easy as visiting your favorite comparison website. You need to know where to find discounts and be willing to do some extra legwork. That could mean using new technologies to book a room, re-checking the rate after you book, or using a sleight of hand to pay with points instead of dollars.