How to Find a Cheap Hotel
Last Updated: 3/18/2016
The travel season is coming soon. Hotel pricing changes by the hour and often times the swings defy logic. How to find a cheap hotel? Here are some tried and true tips on finding a cheap hotel from when to shop to where to stay
Main Aspects of Hotel Bargain Hunting
- Hotel location
- Date of stay
- Comparison engines
- Promotions, discounts, and coupons
- Last minute hotels
The first rule in finding a cheap hotel is to have some flexibility in destination. If you have to stay in a particular hotel at a specific date, you will inevitably be forced to spend a ton of money. Being able to select from several hotels or even districts within a city, will allow us to save you money.
If you are staying in Hawaii, any hotel on the beach will cost you more than a hotel located inland.
Always factor in the cost of transportation to get you to where you want to go. If you can walk a couple blocks or take public transportation, you are definitely going to save money.
In San Francisco, you could stay in many different areas, all with varying price ranges:
- Financial District
- Fisherman’s Wharf
- Civic Center
[Image Source: Wikipedia]
Most tourists stay in the downtown or Fisherman’s Wharf area, causing rates at those hotels to balloon. Staying by the airport is much cheaper, but very inconvenient. If you are able to stay in a slightly less convenient area, you can save a significant amount of money.
Reservations that can be canceled are the most expensive. Obviously the hotels see a large amount of booking and canceling, so they reward you with a lower price for selecting a hotel room that cannot be canceled.
We usually book cancelable rooms, unless we are 100% sure that we have gotten a great price and are ready to commit to the trip. If your trip is happening tomorrow, you should probably book a non-cancelable room if the price is lower. So start with cancelable rooms, so you can cancel them and rebook unless you see a lower price.
Cheapest Days to Stay
The hotel industry understands when most folks like to go on vacation and intelligently raise rates during those days of the week and times of the year. Hotels can use software that automatically raises and lowers rates based on occupancy rates, competition, and historical trends. Obviously staying in a hotel during a major holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas will cost you a ton of money.
The cheapest day to stay in a hotel (lowest cost to most expensive)
Staying over a Saturday may help you reduce hotel costs.
Best Day to Reserve a Hotel
Most people have free time on the weekends to do their travel planning; hence the hotel industry has learned that this is the best time to charge you more.
The best time to book a hotel is in the middle of the week. Most people are at work then and cannot do their shopping!
We recommend you purchase your hotel tickets well in advance. One to two months is a good period. This will give you more time to watch for price drops (you can use tripBAM to help you watch for better prices while you wait)
Sales, Coupon Codes and Promo Codes
Plan your trip well in advance, so you understand what the major hotels that you would like to stay at are. You can watch the hotel’s Twitter feed, Facebook page, and email specials to find either a sale or special discount code.
Also subscribe to email from the major hotel search engines to get notified when coupon codes are available. We have found that some Hotels.com, Orbitz, and Travelocity coupon codes do not apply to more desired hotels, so your mileage may vary. Mail in rebates from Hotels.com are more apt to apply to most hotels.
If you are attending a convention, be sure to check for any applicable discounts codes.
Discount Hotels and Star Ratings
Most hotel search engines allow you to select the star rating. It is proven fact that choosing a less starred hotel will save you money. If you choose a one or two star hotel, you may put yourself at risk for disappointment. The cheapest hotels are often focused on truck drivers or short term residents. We suggest you keep this in mind and don’t ruin your vacation by skimping out.
Loyalty Points and Rewards Club Members
Obviously, if you are a patron of a particular hotel chain’s loyalty points and rewards program, you will try to use them as much as possible. This may not be conducive to finding the lowest hotel prices. Remember this and always try to calculate the exact value of your points, so you do not waste money staying in one hotel chain repeatedly just to get points.
Check to see if the hotel you are staying at offers free Wi-Fi to loyalty club members. Join the club if it is free, before you leave! Fairmont offers this as well as Langham.
Some credit cards are tied to specific hotels and reap you special benefits such as a certain number of points after you have spent a specific amount. Look for these offers, if you have good credit, and need a new credit card.
Hotel Price Comparison Engines
There are many websites that aggregate prices from a variety of hotels making it fast and convenient to find a hotel. We have found them useful in getting a quick read on hotel pricing. Occasionally you will find a good deal.
Here is a list of travel sites to try:
(Also owns CheapTickets.com
Pickup the phone and call the hotel directly. Ask for the director of sales, they can cut you a deal if there are surplus rooms available.
The different engines do come up with different prices sometimes. We have seen Orbitz charge a $100 more for the same room on Expedia or Hotels.com, then sometimes the other way around! Occasionally you’ll find hotels or types of rooms not listed on a particular site but on others. It pays to comparison shop.
Websites with price alerts
- Hotels.com has a watch price for a specific date email alert feature
Once we have settled on a particular hotel, we will also check the website of the specific hotel. You may find a cheaper deal or better availability. We have found different packages or room configurations on each hotel’s website, many of which are not listed on the major travel sites.
Occasionally you will see hotel packages and discounts for AAA, government, military or seniors that do not exist on the comparison engines.
Students should check Sta travel for discount hotel rooms.
After you have found a good price and booked a room. We suggest you come back every once in a while to see if the price has dropped. Some sites allow you to ask for the price difference, while other travel websites can rebook you at the lower rate.
Actual Lowest Price Hotel Booking Hunt
We recently helped a friend book a hotel for a trip and think you will find the process interesting. Multiple strategies described above were used.
- Find a neighboorhood via tourbook, friends, Trip Advisor
- Identify 3 specific hotels via Expedia and Trip Advisor Research
- Look for coupon for the major travel websites and hotel chains
- Do a Google search on the Hotel, we have found a special offer on their Google Ad recently for an Aston Hotel
- See booking the days individually, are cheaper. Yes, we've done this
- Book the most promising one right away, cancellable room
- Set price alert at Hotels.com
- Each week, we reran the search to see if the prices had fallen. Rebooked for #2 choice hotel when it because cheaper.
- Right before cancellation period was to end, cancelled and rebooked a non-cancellable room to save even more.
The major hotel chains do not like paying the major travel sites for bookings. In an effort to remove the middle man from the equation, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott, and Wyndham launched RoomKey.com.
This site is different in that it mainly lists all the different hotel options and links you directly to the hotel to book a room.
Priceline has successfully built a huge company out of letting shoppers Name Your Own Price for hotel rooms without knowing the actual property’s name. You need to enter your credit card number when you submit a bid. Recent bids that were won are shown on the site. Hotels like to use their service to blowout rooms that would otherwise remain vacant. You are just stuck with whatever you win, wherever it happens to be. No refunds, no cancellations, you are 100% committed.
Priceline’s inventory changes by the second, so you need to be ready to commit to a purchase while you are working with them. If nothing is available or prices are too high, try again another day.
You select an area, a star rating, then a maximum amount for each night. Here are some strategies to help you maximize your success on Priceline:
- Research your hotel, know its neighborhood, star rating, etc.
- Have a prepaid credit card with a small balance that you can use
- Look up your specific location for tips on betterbidding.com – they list specific hotel names
- Look up its price of similar winning bids and start a little lower
- Slowly raise your bid each day
- If you get an offer to increase your bid to a certain number, go half way up instead
- Because you used a prepaid credit card that would not cover the entire amount, you can say No!
- Enter your correct credit card once you are comfortable with the price
- You can only once every 24 hours on a specific location
You can set up multiple Priceline accounts with different email addresses, credit cards and IP addresses (use a computer at work) to unleash more than one bid every 24 hours.
HotWire.com has a similar service.
Stayful is a beautiful travel website with a focus on independent boutique hotels. They're service is similar to many other travel websites, relying on bidding to find the most affordable rooms, but also provides in depth information on the hotel's location, atmosphere, amenities, services, and accessibility and chooses from a select list of fantastic independent hotels.
Hotelied is a travel website startup that aims to connect your social presence online with your hotel booking experience. You can connect your account on Hotelied to Facebook, Twitter, or Linkedin and receive discounts, rewards, and deals for your hotel booking. The service combines your online identity with the destination and purpose of your trip to connect you with a variety of discounts and the best hotel for your trip.
Last Minute Hotels
If you have to travel on short notice, there are several options to reduce your hotel room costs.
- Bereavement – some hotels offer discounts to those faced with this situation
- Frequent flyer miles or hotel loyalty points – using miles or points instead of money
- Last minute deals – hotels, hotel comparison engines, and others have special deals. Hotel Tonight App
- Air and hotel packages – you may save money by purchasing a package instead of each separately
Taxes, Parking, Internet, and Resort Fees
Unfortunately the price listed is not the final price you’re going to pay. Taxes and resort fees will be added to your total. There is nothing you can do to dodge these fees. Additionally some hotels charge for parking or Internet access.
Research the hotels you are interested in and understand their fees before you book. We have encountered situations where a more expensive hotel was actually cheaper when you factored in all the fees we would be hit with.
New Addon Fees or surcharges some Hotels levy:
- Baggage holding
- Early Check in
- Late Checkout
- Refrigerator used as personal storage
- Skip Check in Line
- Bed type reservation
- Room Location (Floor, away from Elevator)
- Printing boarding pass
People rent out their apartments, rooms, etc on Airbnb. Why not try this instead of a run of the mill hotel? You might save money and live in a more interesting environment.
How to Find a Cheap Hotel is a lot of work, but the rewards are substantial. The hotels have one of the most opaque pricing schemes of any industry. With the travel tips listed above, you have new weapons in your bargain hunting repertoire.
Do you have any additional ways to save money on hotels that we should know about?