In the excitement of planning a vacation, the search for hotels can take a long time. Not only do you have to decide where you want to stay, but you’ve also got to think strategically: should you book now or wait to see if the price drops? What if you book on one site but find a better price on another? What if your plans change and you need to change dates?
Booking a hotel can be a minefield, which is precisely why we spoke to our in-house hotel experts to get some practical info and insider tips on how you can get the cheapest hotel deals. Shall we?
Go during the off-season
For starters, avoid an overly crowded and expensive vacation by traveling outside of the peak seasons. Tourists tend to travel during peak times for a reason when it comes to snow and sun, eg. to get the best possible weather conditions. For beach destinations, peak season typically runs June to August, while winter destinations such as ski resorts tend to be the most popular between December and February. For destinations in the Southern Hemisphere, the peak winter and summer times are reversed.
If you travel outside these busy times, you’ll save money and avoid the tourists, it’s a win-win!
Skip Friday night
Avoid spending Friday night at the hotel, as it can be one of the most expensive nights of the week. With everyone wanting to make the most of their two-day weekend, Friday nights can be some of the busiest and consequently the priciest.
Instead, opt to arrive early Saturday morning. Leave your bags at the front desk if your room isn’t ready yet and head out to explore the city with the money you saved.
Only choose essential amenities
It’s nice to know that your hotel has an indoor pool, a spa and a gym, but if you know you are not going to use any of these things, why include them in your hotel search? If you click on too many filters you can end up limiting your options, so only tick the amenities that you absolutely need (Wi-Fi, parking, free breakfast included – it’s different for everyone).
Be aware of transportation costs
Before you settle on your perfect hotel, take a look at the cost of public transportation in the city you will be staying in.
City-center accommodation is typically more expensive because everyone wants to be within walking distance of all the main attractions. Look a little bit outside the city center for some potential steals. Can you easily get to the city with a quick (and cheap) hop on the metro? Is there an affordable and efficient bus within walking distance to your hotel?
Depending on the price of the local buses, trams, metro, etc., you could end up saving some money on a hotel a little bit further outside the center, as long as you don’t mind spending a few more minutes traveling every day.
Don’t base your decision solely on user reviews
Of course it’s a good idea to read user reviews to find out a little bit more about your potential hotel, but don’t let this single factor determine everything. People will complain about anything online, but remember to be reasonable with everything you read.
If you plan to stay in the center of NYC’s notoriously loud Times Square for example, there is bound to be noise from construction, traffic and people. A little bit of noise is the price you pay to sleep in the center, and there is nothing the hotel can do about it.
Determine for yourself whether a person’s complaints are realistic or simply over the top.
Star ratings aren’t all they’re cracked up to be
Little do most people know, hotel rooms must have certain amenities to be considered for each star category. One-star hotels are required to have essentials like daily room cleaning and a bathroom, among other things, whereas the more luxurious five-star hotels are required to have additional perks such as multi-cuisine restaurants and cafes for example.
However, there are no restrictions on what year the amenities can be from. You might be in a five-star room, but everything from the bedspread to the hairdryer could be from the 1970s. Which leads us to our next point …
Keep an eye on the pictures
A picture says a thousand words. Hotel photos can provide some insight into not only how your room will potentially look, but also when the hotel was last renovated. If everyone in the photos is wearing bell bottom jeans and flower power tops, you might infer that the hotel 1) needs to update its photos or 2) needs to update its interior, amenities, etc.
While it can sometimes be the case that a hotel has been recently renovated and just hasn’t updated its photos, it’s always good to pay attention to the details so there are no surprises when you arrive.
Is your deluxe really a standard?
Pay close attention to what the room is called when you’re booking. All these deals between different online travel agencies (OTAs) often result in some discrepancies on hotel booking sites: while a room might be listed on the OTA’s site as “deluxe”, it might be a “standard” on the hotel’s site (and possibly a “super deluxe” on another OTA site!)
It’s worth checking the hotel site to make sure you get what you book. Keep an eye out for what’s included in the room price too – free breakfast and Wi-Fi can make all the difference.
Refundable rooms rule
While booking a refundable room will cost around 5-10% more, it could save you much more in the long run. It will give you flexibility on your dates, that’s a given, but you can also use it as insurance.
If you book, continue your search for hotels, and find another room at a cheaper price (even in the same hotel), you can book the new one, cancel the refundable room, and gloat over your crafty deed. Some hotels allow cancellation right up to the same day, so there’s plenty of time to track down a deal – just be sure to check the cancellation policy to be sure of the timing!
Check what’s happening around
Not only do you not want the city you’re staying in to be overrun with conference or carnival guests (like the chaos of New Orleans Mardi Gras) clogging up the public transport and restaurants, you really don’t want to be stuck paying peak prices for a hotel room because they’re all in town. High-demand dates around things like large conferences and sporting events can really push up the prices, so a quick online search for any events could save you a lot when booking a hotel.
And for the expert travelers …
Mix booking itineraries
If you’re up for the challenge (trust us, this will take some time and effort on your part), make more than one booking at the same hotel.
For example, if you are staying for one week in Rome, rather than searching for one booking that covers the entire length of the trip, split up the time and make two separate searches at the same hotel. The hotel might not have any rooms available for six nights in a row, but they might have a deluxe room available for three nights and a standard room available for the following three nights. It’s unlikely that a hotel would downgrade your room, should you have to change rooms during your stay. If anything, you might get an upgrade!
Keep in mind that different bookings will come with their own set of terms and conditions (one might be non-refundable, or one might come with free breakfast, etc.) Play it safe, read the fine print carefully.
Find out more tips on how to become an expert traveler: