Updated July 28, 2019

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.

    Tip: Here are roughly peak seasons in popular destinations, so you can avoid them:
    • Europe: June to September
    • Hawaii: mid-December to mid-April, and June to August
    • The Caribbean: mid-December to mid-April
    • Southeast Asia: November to February

  • 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: A hotel's website is unlikely to offer the best price. For better deals, shop around at different online travel agencies, because they often get a negotiated rate with the hotel. Also consider sites, like Hotwire, 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.

    Here are some sites we recommend comparison shopping at:

    Tip: Some booking sites show you their top picks first -- not necessarily the lowest price. Be sure to filter and sort the results (perhaps by stars and lowest price first), so you can get a more accurate idea of your options.

  • 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. If you stay just a few miles outside of the main town area, hotels will cost a lot less. You can still visit all the attractions you went there for, and it could save you hundreds of dollars a night. Even needing to take taxis to town will cost a lot less overall.

  • Let the hotel determine your next trip: 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. For example, Hotwire Deals shows you a list of the best current deals on hotels around the country.

  • Use Priceline's "Name Your Own Price" feature: This feature can save you tons. You enter in the city and dates you're visiting, and then name the price you want to pay. Priceline will give you the first hotel that accepts your bid. You won't know what it is until after you've completed the purchase.

    If a mystery hotel makes you nervous, don't worry. You still have some control, like you can narrow it down to a certain neighborhood in the city and specify how many stars. So you don't have to fear that you'll end up with a dodgy hotel way out in the boondocks.

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 lots of rewards programs that can help you earn free nights at hotels. Most major hotel chains offer their own rewards programs, and the points you accumulate from staying at any of their locations can be put toward free nights.

    To fast-track your way to free nights, you can sign up for hotel credit cards co-branded with your favorite chains. Most of these cards offer free nights in their sign-up bonus. And you'll also earn points with everyday spending, that you can use towards a free night.

    Tip: If you don't have a favorite hotel chain, then look into a general travel rewards card. Some cards offer bonuses worth hundreds of dollars.

  • 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.

Alternative Lodging:

These days, there are so many other accommodation options that you don't even have to use a hotel. And they can range from cheap to even complete free. Another cool thing about these alternative lodging options is that they allow you to explore a new place in a different way.

  • Stay with locals in Airbnb: This is perhaps the fastest growing travel trends. Airbnb is rentals by regular locals renting out an extra house or room. The prices are almost always much cheaper than hotels in the same area. And you'd get to stay in a local house and interact with locals. Oftentimes, the host will be happy to share insider tips on places to visit and how to get deals.

  • Go camping: Don't mind roughing it for a couple of nights? You could save quite a bit of money by camping or renting an RV. You'd only have to pay for the campsite fee. This is a great way to explore America's great National Parks. You can be right in the heart of nature.

    Planning a National Park road trip out west? Check out this blog from 2TravelDads for an itinerary of the must-see National Parks along the West Coast.

  • Couchsurfing: If you have a shoestring budget and a great sense of adventure, check out Couchsurfing.com. This is when locals let travelers crash on their couch (and sometimes even a private room) for completely free. This may sound unbelievable, but this travel-loving community genuinely love meeting people from all over the world and happily open their homes. It's a good idea to buy your host a meal or small gift for the generosity.

  • Housesitting/House swapping: Sometimes, people go on vacation and need someone to care for their house and/or pets. Guess what - you can be that person! There are many housesitting websites (like TrustedHouseSitters.com) where you can search for housesits that can become your next vacation. However, some houses may be in less popular places. And you would need some positives references to build a trustworthy profile.

    On a similar note, if you don't mind letting strangers into your own home, you can look into house exchanges. You can look for people in places you want to go and see if any are willing to do a swap. Of course, this works better if you live in a more tourism-popular city.

  • University housing: Planning a summer vacation? That's the perfect time when students are out of school and university housing is available for rent at an affordable rate. Universityrooms.com is especially good for European vacations. And most college campuses are centrally located.

Bottom Line

Hopefully, you now see that there are lots of ways to save money on accommodation. 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 food and activities during your trip.

Leah Norris is a research analyst at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and reviews website. Write to Leah Norris at leah@creditdonkey.com

Note: This website is made possible through financial relationships with some of the products and services mentioned on this site. We may receive compensation if you shop through links in our content. You do not have to use our links, but you help support CreditDonkey if you do.

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