Whether it’s a budget-friendly room or five-star resort, hotels and accommodations are among the biggest expenses of any trip—sometimes even more so than airfare—and no one wants to pay more than they have to.
Fortunately, there are some strategies you can use to find lower rates, most of which boil down to timing. Room rates can vary appreciably, depending on factors like how far in advance you’re making travel plans, what time of year you’re traveling, and whether or not demand is trending in that destination.
Be it a vacation or a weekend getaway, it pays to understand the best time to book a hotel room so your hotel stay doesn’t end up costing more than it has to. From taking a chance on last-minute bookings to working your travel plans around less expensive days of the week, here are tried-and-true tips for getting a better deal on your next hotel stay.
What is the best day of the week to book a hotel room?
The best day of the week to book your hotel at the lowest rate is Saturday for domestic travel and Friday for international travel, according to travel aggregator Kayak, which analyzed hotel searches conducted between January 1 and September 8, 2021 (the most recent such study conducted by Kayak).
On the other end of things: Tuesday is the most expensive day to book domestic hotels and Sunday is the most expensive day for booking international hotels, according to Kayak. As the week slides into the weekend, hotel searches can drop by as much as 30 percent, and the rates tend to drop off as well.
Interestingly, travel booking and review site Tripadvisor offered some slightly different intel, reporting that Tuesday is the cheapest day to book a hotel, both for domestic and international accommodations, while travel-planning search engine Skyscanner found Friday to be the best day for booking domestic hotels and Thursday for international hotels.
While it may be confusing that different sources offer conflicting information, our advice would be to use this information as a jumping-off point and do some comparison shopping to find the best hotel rates. It’s always best to compare prices across a few websites, and, if prices look high, set an alert to see if they drop.
What is the cheapest day of the week to check in and out?
Prior to the pandemic, Kayak had reported that Sunday is the cheapest day of the week to check into a hotel, the day that travelers on a weekend getaway usually return home and prior to the Monday check-ins that are typical for business travelers. But in 2021, Kayak reported that Tuesday is now the cheapest day of the week to check into a hotel both domestically and internationally.
It remains true, however, that when traveling domestically, if you plan to arrive on a Friday or Saturday and leave on a Sunday, you’ll be paying top dollar. Internationally, Thursday is the most expensive day for check-in, followed by Friday. Therefore, if you have the flexibility to avoid that weekend time frame, you’ll save money.
How far in advance should I book a room?
The calculations get a little trickier here. According to travel booking site Hopper’s 2023 Travel Booking Hacks Guide, if you’re looking for a hotel in a leisure travel destination such as Las Vegas or Miami, booking at least three months in advance will likely save you at least 50 percent or more on your hotel stay.
But when it comes to city stays, booking later is to your advantage. “Hotels in large cities have to compete with many other, similar hotels to capture your reservation,” explains Hopper. If you book a hotel within three weeks of travel, you could save about 30 percent on the booking.
Similarly, Kayak found that if you’re not risk averse and can wait to make a last-minute booking, say one to four days before your planned check-in date, you can save a lot of money. Many hotels will offer deals on booking sites for what would have been empty rooms.
Hotels typically have a 24- to 48-hour cancellation policy and do see cancellations come in just ahead of that window via those looking to avoid being penalized. Rather than have those canceled rooms go unused, the hotels will cut rates to fill them.
The issue with waiting is that availability and room category options for lower rates could be sparse. But if you’re game for a bit of a gamble in exchange for a good deal, a travel site like HotelTonight will be particularly useful to find last-minute deals.
If you’re not comfortable waiting until right before you leave for hotel deals, hotel comparison site Trivago suggests choosing a handful of hotels that fit your price range a couple of months before your departure. Then start tracking them over a few weeks to gauge the best price and lock it in when you’re satisfied. Trivago found that if you’re traveling abroad, booking more than two to three months in advance will cost the most.
Consider booking at a less busy time of year
If your main goal is to save money on hotel prices, booking off-season is the way to go. That means avoiding popular domestic or European destinations in the summer and opting for spring or fall instead. Likewise, you won’t find many deals in Palm Springs, Mexico, or the Caribbean in winter. The same goes for popular holiday destinations and major events—think Christmas in Hawai‘i, New Year’s Eve in New York City, or Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Finding the best hotel rates
In short, remember that getting the best deal on a hotel room comes down to a few basic rules: Make your bookings on a more favorable day of the week (try Tuesday or the weekend), try for last-minute bookings if you can (maybe make a back-up booking with a flexible cancellation policy and check back for any last-minute deals), travel off-season whenever possible, and avoid checking in on Friday.
This story originally appeared in 2019, and was most recently updated on May 1, 2023, to include current information. Erika Owen contributed to the reporting of this article.