Getting a Cheap Hotel: Hacks and Tips for Traveling on a Budget

Personal Finance
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Finding a great deal on a hotel doesn’t come easy, so be prepared to dig your feet in and get invested in the hunt. It’s simple enough to go to Expedia before next travel destination and book the first three-star spot that you see. But for the best deals you have to dedicate a little bit more time and do some investigative work to uncover killer hotel deals. Keep in mind the following strategies and you may land a great deal.

1. Plan far ahead, or go down to the wire

Planning in advance and being flexible with your travel plans can save you big bucks. Many hotel chains will reward you for booking upwards of a month in advance with great rates. If the rates later drop below what you agreed to, call up the hotel to bargain them down.

On the other hand, hotels can get desperate to offload vacant rooms the same night, so you can call the hotel for a room that night and negotiate a low rate. Apps like HotelTonight can also help find last-minute bargains. Beyond

2. Find promo codes

A quick search of [hotel name] + “promo” can reveal fantastic promo codes that can be used on either third party booking websites like Expedia or directly on the hotels’ websites. Be wary though, many Internet forums reveal corporate codes that cannot be used by the general public.

You can also use cashback websites and rewards malls to earn bonus points on Expedia, and the like. ShopDiscover offers 5% back at the Marriott, and gives 7.5% off on Expedia.

3. Keep an eye out for sales

Big travel booking websites like Travelocity, Orbitz, and Expedia have last-minute deal offers and discounts that can be a godsend for someone looking to get away, with no firm idea of where. YaptaPriceline and Kayak all offer rate tracking and alerts to keep an eye out for sudden discounts.

Pro tip: Expedia has a 24-hour sale day every Wednesday with cut-rate rooms.

4. Loyalty is leverage

Not only do many hotels offer discounts or perks to frequent guests, but some travel sites have loyalty deals as well., for example, gives you one night free for every ten nights booked. Hotel credit cards can also get you elite status perks with a minimum amount of effort – check out our in-depth comparison of hotel cards for more information. Finally, if you’re a frequent guest, don’t be afraid to ask for an upgrade, a free breakfast or other perks – you’ve been a good customer and you’d love to continue the relationship.

5. Check your affiliations

Are you a member of AAA, a senior, a student, or in the military? You may be eligible for a discount.

  • AAA: Check out their hotel discount tool for savings.
  • Military: offers a discount tool for hotels and more, and the National Resource Directory offers a comprehensive list of services and deals available to servicemembers and their families.
  • Seniors: The AARP’s travel center offers savings on hotels and resorts.
  • Students: Sites like StudentUniverse and STA have discounts for college kids.

6. Consider your geography

Staying in the heart of the city always comes with a big price tag. Consider saving a few bucks by staying a bit outside of city center but near public transportation for easy downtown access. It’s a great way to understand local culture and see how normal people live away from the glitz, glamour, and tourist traps.

7. Consider alternative options

Sometimes hotels, no matter how great a deal you uncover, can be a pricey option. Why not consider a rental through Airbnb or a few nights at a rustic backpacker-style hostel instead? Other great programs include:

  • Couchsurfing: Spend the night on a local’s couch and get a taste of the culture without spending a dime.
  • Global Freeloaders: Awesome name, and more of a give-and-take ethos than Couchsurfing. You’re expected to host as often as you visit, and keep the spirit alive.
  • Mind My House: A house-sitting service that matches up inbound travelers with outbound ones.
  • WWOOFing: Short for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, the WWOOF program pairs you up with organic farmers, well, worldwide, and you work 4-6 hours a day in exchange for room and board. I’ve had friends work on rose farms in France and papaya farms in Hawaii – it’s an amazing way to see a different side of a country.

Also, keep an eye out for independent bed and breakfasts and small hotels that may offer great, local deals with personal service.

8. Negotiate

It’s always worth negotiating, whether you’ve booked the room or not. Particularly during off-peak times or last-minute bookings, hotels are eager to unload their surplus rooms. A survey by Consumer Reports found that 80% of those who negotiated their rooms came out with favorable terms; don’t be afraid to quote other offered room rates or ask for perks like free breakfast or Wifi. Be careful to ask for a sweetheart deal out of earshot of other guests – it’ll increase your chances of success.

9. Watch out for…

In the midst of your deal-finding frenzy, you’ll need to keep an eye out for a few gotchas:

Hidden fees: Often the addition of extra local taxes, parking fees, and resort fees significantly add to the base price of the room. Many hotels will charge for Wifi, breakfast and the like; in some countries, paying with credit cards carries its own surcharge. Keep an eye out for these fees, and if you know you can’t like without, say, Internet access, be sure to add that cost into your initial comparison.

False promises: Vetting your hotel on TripAdvisor or other travel review sites is crucial. You may think you’re getting a great deal on a hotel that looks great on paper but in reality is teeming with you-don’t-even-want-to-know. Thankfully, previous travelers can generally be trusted to speak honestly about a hotel’s quality.

Name-your price sites: The danger of name-your-price sites like Hotwire or Priceline is that you probably don’t know as much as you think you know. While you can arm yourself with forums like Better Bidding, where users post what they bid for hotels, you’re still facing an information disadvantage.