It’s easy to blow your travel budget on full-price lodging. But these tips can help you save money on your hotel room so you can spend your hard-earned cash on something more memorable.
1. Compare sites and deals
Start with sites like Kayak, Expedia or Priceline.com to get an overview of hotels in your desired area, but don’t rely on them to give you the full picture. Go on to research those hotels on your own. Search for promotion codes and perks such as free parking, breakfast or WiFi. And don’t neglect a hotel’s own website. Some chains promise the best rate when you book via their site.
2. Negotiate your rate
Once you know the lay of the land, select a few favorites and pick up the phone. Tell the hotel the price you found via other sites and see if they can beat it. Bargaining directly with the hotel yielded a better room or rate nearly 80% of the time, according to a survey by Consumer Reports.
» SIGN UP: Get personalized saving tips from NerdWallet
3. Look for last-minute deals
Apps like HotelTonight can help last-minute travelers score low rates on quality hotel rooms. A recent search on the app turned up The Swissotel Chicago for $314 for two nights, with taxes and fees. That was more than $100 cheaper than the prices listed on other popular sites for booking hotels.
You can book up to a week in advance with HotelTonight. Other apps for last-minute deals include One:Night, which is currently available in 14 cities, and Priceline.com, which offers “tonight only” deals at 11 a.m. each day.
Last-minute bookings don’t work in every circumstance, though.
If you’re traveling to a city for a conference with thousands of other people or to an area with limited hotel options, you’ll want to lock in a room well in advance.
“If you’re traveling to a city for a conference with thousands of other people or to an area with limited hotel options, you’ll want to lock in a room well in advance,” says Flavie Lemarchand-Wood, a spokesperson for Priceline.com.
» MORE: The cheapest way to rent a car
4. Bid on a room
Bidding on a room can yield solid savings, but you need to be OK with leaving things a little to chance. Priceline.com’s “name your own price” feature lets you select neighborhoods and star levels when you bid, but doesn’t reveal the name of the hotel until your bid is accepted.
Priceline.com’s Lemarchand-Wood suggests using the site’s regular listings to get a sense of hotels available in your desired area and star level. Then, she says, be flexible.
“When you’re ready to make a bid, start where you are comfortable and try again” if your bid is rejected, Lemarchand-Wood says. “Don’t get discouraged.”
The downside of bidding: Your credit card is charged as soon as your bid is accepted and you cannot change or cancel your reservation.
5. Explore alternative accommodations
Hotels aren’t your only lodging option. You can rent a room, apartment or entire house via sites like Airbnb and HomeAway. And hostels are a great option for budget travelers, especially those venturing outside of the U.S. Don’t worry — you don’t need to share a dorm-style room with a mass of 19-year-olds (unless you want to). Most hostels offer a handful of private rooms with en suite bathrooms.
6. Pick a different neighborhood
Staying in the heart of the city typically costs more. Save a few bucks by staying away from the city center, but near public transportation for easy downtown access.
Save a few bucks by staying away from the city center, but near public transportation for easy downtown access.
In Chicago, for example, you can book the Hyatt Regency O’Hare for $79 per night, according to a recent search on Kayak. The hotel is just a few minutes’ walk from the Chicago Transit Authority’s Blue Line, giving you easy access to the airport and downtown Chicago. By comparison, staying at the Hyatt Regency downtown will run you $125 per night.
7. Use your affiliations
Seniors, government employees, students, members of the military and AAA members may qualify for discounted hotel rates when traveling. Ask the hotel before booking or look for deals via websites such as AARP, Military.com and AAA.com.
Travel isn’t the only expense you can slash. NerdWallet can help lower your bills for free.
Updated May 10, 2017.