How to book a hotel (for less)
Summer is almost upon us, and you know what that means – it’s time to lock down that dream vacation. Prices on flights, hotels, and rental cars are highest from June through August, so it’s important to get the very best value on your trip.
But finding the best deal takes a lot of legwork. Take some hassle out of the search by letting coupons and tips work for you.
Get the most out of filters
Start with a simple dateless search of your destination on TripAdvisor, Kayak or Trivago. Use filters to easily narrow your list of hotels by the things that matter most, including price, star rating, amenities, location, and brand. Then, put in your dates. This gives you a set of baseline prices that you might pay at each hotel. Finally, read the user reviews. Cull the list down. Ideally you’ll end up with two or three great hotels for your ultimate summer vacation that have the perfect price, amenities, and guest experience.
Getting the best discounts
You have your short list of hotels. Now it’s time to save some cash. The first – and most important – thing to know is that you can almost always get a better price than what’s available on your favorite online travel site.
These days, almost every online travel agency (such as Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, etc.) offers coupons 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Expect to save 10-20 percent off your favorite hotel if it is not a major national brand, like Marriott or Starwood.
Do you have an AAA membership? Big brands and independent hotels alike provide discounts for AAA members. Check the hotel’s website or do a search on the AAA website to see if there is a special rate available for members. I’d advise you to check even if you aren’t an AAA member. The discount you can get on your hotel often pays for a new membership fee and then some.
Over 55? Go on the hunt for senior rates – which are sometimes associated with the AARP and sometimes not. Check the hotel’s website for the best rates, and be sure to check the minimum age before booking. It varies.
Did you know that many online travel agencies offer exclusive rates when you browse via smartphone? Mobile rates are most often available at the last minute and discounts can be substantial. I’ve seen prices up to 40 percent off what you’d find on a desktop computer.
Are you a member of a warehouse club like Sam’s Club or Costco? Then you can get lower prices on hotels. Check the website of your club. They will require you to log in with your membership number before booking. Like with AAA, I encourage you to search these sites even if you aren’t a club member, as the savings will often pay for your membership.
Frequently hotels will offer lower rates via their own websites. Why? When you book through a middleman like Expedia or Priceline, the hotel pays them a commission – typically around 20 percent. If you book with the hotel directly they don’t pay that commission, and thus they’re able to pass some of the savings on to you.
Checking all of these sources takes a ton of time. Personally, I think it’s time well spent if it results in the hotel you want at significant savings. But there’s also an easier way. A new website called goSeek.com shows you the lowest possible price for your stay, accounting for all the discounts listed above. Full disclosure: I’m the CEO of goSeek.com.
You’ve booked your dream hotel at the lowest possible price. You’re all done, right? Wrong. There are three things you should be doing before you check in.
First, check to see if your booking is refundable. If it is, watch the prices of the hotels on your short list as you approach the date of your trip. Sites like Expedia offer tools that make it easy for you to monitor the price of particular hotels on particular dates. If prices drop, you can cancel and rebook.
Second, check to see if the site you booked with has a best price guarantee. Then, if you find a lower price on the same hotel for the same dates booked at another online travel site, you can get a refund for the difference in price.
And last but not least, I’ll share my favorite trick. When you arrive, make sure to be extra kind, friendly, and considerate of the front desk staff. As you’re checking in, ask if they might have an upgrade available. The worst they can say is “no.” But what they might say is … “yes,” and that might mean an even dreamier vacation for you!