The travel dates are locked in, the flights are confirmed, and now, it’s time to settle one final item on the to-do list: booking the hotel. While AFAR has property recommendations and reviews of the best hotels around the world, there are plenty of strategies on how to get the best price for a room.
Whether arranging a last-minute stay for this weekend or securing a honeymoon hot spot more than a year away, travelers hoping to score a discount on their next hotel can use these six tips below to get more for their money, wherever in the world that stay may be.
Use Google Travel as a comparison tool
Knowledge is power, so it’s essential to compare prices and reviews across hotels (and across different websites). Google Travel is one of the best online aggregators, not only because it checks rates across a variety of websites but also because its ease of use is second to none. The interface is embedded directly within Google’s search results, and at a glance, travelers can scout key items such as pricing, reviews, location, and amenities.
Land on a property that you’re interested in? If the booking rate is similar on an online travel agency versus directly through the hotel, it’s recommended to go direct. (It’s generally easier to manage reservations when going the latter route, and you’ll also be able to earn and use hotel loyalty perks.)
Join a hotel loyalty program or use credit card rewards
Many hotel chains will offer their best cash rates to members of their rewards program. Even better: The top programs are free to join. Alternatively, use credit card or hotel points and free night vouchers to offset the cost of a stay. Check the balance in your loyalty accounts; hotel points typically expire within one to two years of inactivity so now might be the time to make a redemption. In addition, certain hotel credit cards—such as those from IHG, Hilton, Hyatt, and Marriott—offer a certificate for a complimentary night each year, simply for having the card open and active.
Track hotel rates with HotelSlash
Imagine a service that monitors hotel rates for any price drops, saving travelers cash if (and when) it happens. Here’s how HotelSlash works: Users sign up for an account and plug in their destination, dates of travel, and number of travelers. While HotelSlash adds a step to the booking process by sending an email with a link to the results, the company monitors reservations for any price reductions. If a lower price is found, users will be alerted and can cancel a booking—assuming the cancellation is penalty-free—and then make a new reservation at the lower rate. It’s a nifty tool that saves travelers money and the time it takes to search for more affordable prices. After all, many hotel booking sites offer price guarantees, but the onus is on the traveler to find the cheaper rate.
Take advantage of AAA, AARP, Costco, or other organizations
By simply belonging to a wholesale club, AAA, alumni network, or other professional organization, you can potentially save on the cost of travel, including hotels. The bargains will vary depending on the community you’re a part of, so it’s essential to check on the specific details. For instance, AARP members have exclusive discounts at over 4,000 hotels—and no, you don’t have to be retired (or even over 55 years old) to join.
Book a “secret” hotel room with Priceline or Hotwire
One piece of hotel advice that’s nearly universal: reserving a room early will help score the best deal. However, travelers can’t always do that, and that’s where the next two tips come in. “Secret” hotel rooms are sold by online travel agencies (OTA) at a reduced rate when they haven’t yet been booked (typically last minute). While you won’t know what the exact accommodations will be until after the reservation is made, the upside to the uncertainty is that savings can be 50 percent or more. Every OTA calls its program something different; for instance, Priceline brands it as “Express Deals” while Hotwire names it “Hot Rate” hotels. A word of warning: These offers are almost always nonrefundable.
Find last-minute or mobile-only deals
Similar to secret hotel rooms, HotelTonight offers travelers last-minute discounts at properties around the world thanks to something called “distressed inventory.” That’s industry lingo for a hotel wanting to at least earn something for a room that otherwise would go empty. These are often rooms that aren’t the most desirable. For example, a room might be next to the elevator that the guest will have to deal with, or another room might have views of the concrete parking lot next door. Therefore, travelers benefit, but of course, as with any last-minute booking, it’s a high-risk, high-reward endeavor.
Some online travel agencies, such as Booking.com, which owns Priceline and Agoda, also offer mobile-only hotel discounts, with lower nightly rates only shown to those using a mobile device. Booking says that 50 percent of its accommodation searches and reservations are made on mobile.