Updated April 20, 2016

How to Save Money on Hotels

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Between renting a room, booking a flight, and finding a rental car, your vacation budget could be completely wiped out before you even get to your destination and pay your hotel bill. Luckily, there are ways to save money on the room you book.

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Timing Matters

The cost of your hotel room isn’t just dependent on location – time of year makes a big difference too. Prices can vary widely from month to month. Below are some ideas to help you take advantage of these pricing differences.

  • Off-season: Hotels operate like airlines in the sense that booking your vacation at different times of year can result in vastly different prices. Many locations, especially beaches, have off seasons when renting a room will cost you significantly less per night. Discounts can be 50% or more off the peak season price.

  • Vacation in January: Since it’s not a popular vacation month, January is usually a good time to look for some good deals on hotel rooms. The side benefit of vacationing at this time of year is a lack of crowds, so you may actually get to do more than you would during the height of the tourist season.

  • Hotels near business parks: If you’re looking for a quick weekend vacation, consider staying at a hotel next to a business park. These places primarily cater to business travelers visiting the companies that have headquarters in the surrounding office buildings, and they usually empty out when the weekend comes. This means they’re likely to offer better rates.

Shop Around

Reserving a hotel room is no different from making any other purchase – if you want to save money, do your research. Here are some shortcuts for getting the best price:

  • Online discounts: Go beyond a hotel's website, which is unlikely to offer the best price, to Priceline, Travelocity, or Kayak for the best deal. Also consider sites, like Hotwire.com, that focus on last-minute deals. Groupon and LivingSocial are also worth browsing, to see if they have any upcoming coupons on your vacation spot.

  • Bundles: You may be able to bundle you flight with your hotel, and maybe even your rental car. Purchasing multiple services at the same time usually saves money. Be wary of entertainment bundles though, like the ones that combine admission to several attractions with your hotel cost. It’s very possible that you can get a better deal by purchasing these individually. Also be sure you really will go to each attraction you purchase – or you’ll be leaving money behind.

  • Look for new hotels: Hotels, like other businesses, offer special deals for grand openings or after renovations. Try to find new hotels or hotels that have recently changed brands, and see if they’re offering any specials.

Think Outside the Room

Get creative when deciding where to stay. Just booking a room at a hotel chain in the city you’ll be visiting is the easy option, and that convenience factor can cost you. Here are some better ideas:

  • Stay off site: This applies especially well to major metropolitan areas. Staying within the borders of the city you’re actually visiting is likely to cost much more than staying just a few miles outside of it. You can still visit all the attractions you went there for, and it could save you hundreds of dollars a night.

  • Let the hotel determine where you stay: If you can’t swallow the idea of paying for a $300-per-night stay, then look into less expensive places (less likely to be tourist traps) to plan your vacation around.

  • Alternative lodging: Ask yourself if your heart is set on staying in a hotel or motel, because if it isn’t, you could save quite a bit of money by camping or renting an RV. Some vacation destinations may have houses or condos available for rent as well. They won’t come with the perks that a hotel will offer like room service and other amenities, but it might be worth living without them to save some cash.

Take Advantage of What’s Free – Watch Out for What Isn’t

There’s no better price than free. Whether it’s free food, free amenities, or even a free room, take advantage of any free perks you can. Be careful, though – sometimes you end up paying for these free perks in hidden fees.

  • Rewards programs: There are a number of rewards programs that can help you earn free nights at hotels. Some credit cards allow you to accumulate points that you can then trade in for travel rewards, including free hotel stays. There are even some hotel chains that offer their own rewards programs, and the points you accumulate from staying at any of their locations can be put toward free nights.

  • Perks: Some hotels offer free meals among other amenities. This can save you quite a bit of money, especially if you’re traveling with your family. A hotel that costs an additional $10 or $20 per night but that saves you $50 or $60 on food each day of your stay is probably worth its extra cost.

    Keep in mind, be wary of hotel packages that include overpriced amenities. If the "free" breakfast or bottle of wine adds $200 a night to the package, is it really a good value? Ask the hotel about package specifics to determine if it's worth it.

  • Watch out for fees: Don’t needlessly spend money – know the hotel fees. Parking fees and charges to use the phone or internet can be avoided if you know to look for them.

To save money on a trip, you need to be willing to do your research, examine your options, and be flexible. The reward will be significant – any one of the above tips can potentially save you hundreds of dollars on your stay, leaving more money to spend on actually enjoying your stay.

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