After airfare, accommodation is often the biggest expense of any trip. And, unlike souvenir shopping, lodging isn’t exactly something you can skip to save money. There are, however, ways you can find cheaper hotel rooms no matter where you go, maximizing your travel budget without sacrificing things like safety and cleanliness. Here are some of our favorite ways to score the cheapest hotel rooms.
1. Start With an Aggregator Site…
It’s useful to begin your hotel search with the accommodation-focused aggregator site of your choice (such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, or Trivago). These sites can give you a general idea of what your hotel options are in a city or even a specific neighborhood, which is especially useful if you’ve never been there before.
If you've got firm plans and can book everything for your trip at the same time, it's also worth looking at a bundled deal (hotel + flight, or hotel + car) from a site like Expedia, as these can sometimes save you money.
2. ...and Don’t Forget to Log In
In some cases, having an account at one of the aggregators listed above means you’ll see members-only prices that are lower than the prices shown to people who use the sites as a guest. When creating an account is free and it could grant you access to better deals, there’s no reason not to sign up.
3. Compare Rates with Hotel Websites
Once you’ve got an idea of your hotel options and you’ve got a few favorites, it’s time to open a new window and go straight to that hotel’s official website. Most hotel sites have their own booking system so you can do the same search again to see if the room rates are different.
Even if they’re roughly the same, check the hotel’s site for other potential perks you won’t find on an aggregator—like free WiFi, parking, or breakfast. These sometimes come in the form of “package deals” advertised on the hotel’s site.
4. Call the Hotel Directly
Calling the hotel directly—not through the centralized toll-free reservations number—gives you a chance to negotiate a better room rate. If you see a lower price on an aggregator site, don’t hesitate to call the hotel’s front desk to see if they can offer a better deal, or at least match the lower price. The people who work at that specific hotel are far more likely to be able to arrange things like a discount or a room upgrade than people at a call center.
5. Consider All-Inclusive Deals
Whether you’re looking at a hotel’s website for a basic package that offers free breakfast with the room or you’re browsing resort vacation package options, bundling sometimes makes sense as a money-saving tool. By bundling separate things you would otherwise pay for—from breakfast to resort activities to equipment use—into an “all-inclusive” deal, you might be able to save quite a bit of money on your overall trip (even if the cost of the room doesn’t change). This is also a helpful way to stay on budget when you travel, since there are fewer unforeseen expenditures along the way.
6. Bid on a Room
For travelers who are more concerned about not going over a certain budget and less concerned about choosing a specific hotel, there’s Priceline. Bidding is only available on the app, but allows you to narrow your search to a neighborhood and how many stars the hotel should have. You won’t find out the name of the hotel until whatever price you’ve bid is accepted—and then there’s no changing the reservation. If you’re picky, it’s a risk, but if the biggest concern is cost, it can help you save.
7. Put a Hold on a Great Rate with a Free Cancellation Policy...
Planners who are searching for accommodation well in advance of a trip have a couple options. The first is finding a super deal on a hotel when you’re not 100% sure of all trip details yet. Instead of agonizing over losing such a great room rate if you wait too long to book, find out if there’s a free cancellation policy. This allows you to hold the room at that low rate, while still giving you some flexibility to change or cancel the reservation later if your plans change.
Just be sure you understand the cancellation policy—in most cases, there’s a cutoff point for the “free” part, after which you might have to pay for one night even if you don’t stay there.
8. ...or Book a Non-Refundable Room When Your Plans are Firm
The other scenario for advance planners is that the whole itinerary is set already, in which case you’re free to book a hotel when you find a good deal. Many sites, even if they have a “free cancellation” option, offer even deeper discounts to those booking rooms with non-refundable rates.
9. Look for Last-Minute Deals
Travelers who are more spontaneous can also get great deals on hotel rooms, provided they know where to look. The HotelTonight app is an excellent resource for finding fantastic rates on hotel rooms booked at the last minute. (The furthest in advance you can book with HotelTonight is three months in select cities, and you can book a room for the same day.)
Note that if you happen to be visiting a city during a big event, whether you’re there for the event or not, waiting until the last minute to find a room can backfire (and as we've mentioned, last-minute deals on airfare are rare). For a last-minute booking to work, you need hotels to have lots of rooms that they’d rather rent out at a lower rate than leave empty.
10. Pay Attention to the Timing of Your Trip
Think about the place you’re going, the type of people who predominantly visit, and the time of year of your trip. If you’re going to a city well-known for hosting trade shows and conferences, for instance, a summer trip might mean you’ll find better deals on hotels catering to business travelers who are more likely to be there outside the summer holiday months. On the other hand, going to a popular tourist destination in the winter could mean you’ll find discounted room rates on hotels because their usual crowd doesn’t show up until the weather gets warmer.
Timing isn’t just about seasons, either. Business travelers typically vacate hotels on weekends, while resort visitors are more likely to check out after staying the weekend. If you book your trip for the opposite of whenever the majority of guests tend to stay at a hotel, you’re apt to get a better room rate.
11. Consider a Longer Stay
If your travel plans are flexible, look into whether you’ll get a better nightly room rate if you book a longer stay. Some hotels offer weekly rates that are much lower per night than their regular nightly rate, and others will give you a night free if you book a certain number of nights.
12. Look for Membership Discounts
Membership in an organization can have benefits beyond what you might expect. With a AAA membership, for instance, there are travel discounts available besides car-related expenses that you’d expect for a car-focused organization. Here are just a few types of membership discounts to look out for, but this isn’t an exhaustive list. If you pay for membership to anything, ask whether they have a partnership with any hotels or hotel chains for exclusive deals.
- The company or organization where you work
- Airline loyalty programs
And while we’re on the topic of memberships, don’t forget to check the benefits associated with the credit cards you have. You might get something like a fourth hotel night free when you book a three-night stay using that credit card.
13. Hunt for Coupons
While you’re not often going to find coupons for airline tickets, hotel rooms are a different story. In addition to looking at popular coupon sites like RetailMeNot for hotel coupons, don’t forget to check Groupon for the destination you’re visiting.
14. Rack Up Hotel Points
Travelers who are loyal to a certain hotel chain can earn benefits (like lower room rates) by joining that hotel chain’s loyalty program. If you’re not as particular about sticking to one hotel chain, consider signing up with a booking site (like Hotels.com) that allows members to earn points for each booking.
15. Book Someone Else’s Unwanted Room
No matter how concrete travel plans may be, sometimes people need to cancel a hotel booking. If, however, they booked a non-refundable rate, they’re stuck—or they were, until RoomerTravel came along. This online marketplace lets travelers list hotel rooms for “sale” when they would otherwise just have to eat the cost as a waste of money. You, in turn, might just score a killer last-minute deal on a room.
16. Consider Hotel Alternatives
Staying in a hotel isn’t your only option anymore, and some of the alternatives could save you quite a bit of money.
- Hostels are no longer just for young backpackers. In fact, many hostels even have a limited number of private rooms (with en suite bathrooms), making them feel more like budget hotels.
- A vacation home or apartment is often more cost effective if you’re traveling with a group, but it can even be a better deal when you’re on your own. Check sites like VRBO and Airbnb for vacation rentals (sometimes you can rent just a bedroom in a local’s house, which is an even bigger money-saver).
- Depending on how long you want to stay, you might look into house-sitting. This is a great option if you don’t necessarily care as much where you go, only that you get to travel. House-sitting gigs might involve staying in someone’s home for free (in exchange for caring for the house, and sometimes plants and pets) or you may even get paid a small fee.