Picking up where we left off yesterday, hotels are also an area you can save a good amount of money. Unlike flights, hotels tend not to fluctuate in pricing very often, and tend to mostly increase the closer you get to the date you need the room, so in order to maximize your savings here, you must employ a little different tactics than with flights.
1. PICK A FEW CHOICE HOTELS
First, choose a handful of hotels that you wouldn’t mind staying at. Some people are extremely particular to a single hotel or chain (personally, we try to stay at Sheraton whenever possible, just because I like their accommodations), but limiting yourself to just one will also minimize the money you may be able to save. Take a look at the reviews of hotels in the area, and ask friends or family who have stayed in the area before for recommendations. I tend to take reviews on sites like Yelp and Travelocity with a grain of salt, because people can literally say anything, and who knows if their concerns or praises are a bit elaborated. I personally like to look at the overall star reviews, and if the hotel is anywhere between 2 to 4 stars (out of 4), or 2.5 to 5 stars (out of 5), or something similar to that, I tend to be ok with it. Anything less than 50% doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a dump, but that’s almost too much smoke for there not to be fire.
2. BOOK NOW
Second, book as soon as you can, even BEFORE you book your flight. Choose the hotel with the best prices/amenities, and book it! The only caveat you MUST MUST MUST be SURE you have with your booking is the ability to cancel as some future point in time, WITH NO PENALTY. That part is extremely important. Most hotels will allow you to cancel with no penalties up until 48 hours before your arrival date, or something similar to that. As long as you have this, you will still be able to shop after you book your hotel, and see if any hotels pop up with a better deal. It’s sort of like grabbing that awesome gift and walking around the store with it in your shopping cart… no obligation to buy, but if you see something better you can pick that up instead.
Now, you may be thinking to yourself, why book before I get my flight? I’m not even sure those are my actual dates? According to a few hotel reservations staff I’ve talked to in the past, hotel rates rarely decrease as time passes. But once you book your reservation, the hotel should be able to keep the rate you booked at and simply adjust your dates as needed. Obviously, this may not necessarily be true for any and all hotels, but at least as a last resort you’ll be able to simply cancel the whole reservation if they can’t/won’t help you out. Remember, ONLY BOOK THIS EARLY IF YOU CAN CANCEL WITH NO PENALTY!!
3. CHECK FOR BETTER DEALS
Third, keep checking for better deals. I often use a few sites to look. First, I look at the hotel websites themselves. In years past, you would almost always be able to find cheaper deals on the discount travel sites (travelocity, expedia, priceline, to name a few). However, at some point in time, I found that the hotels began to roll out deals that are just as cheap or even better than those sites. Plus, I spoke with a conceierge person a year ago who mentioned that the hotel often gives their worst rooms to guests who book via discount travel sites, and gives the better rooms or possible upgrades to those who book through the hotel direct. Even if it’s the same type of room.
I also try to use Third Party memberships to save a few extra dollars. One of these is Costco’s Travel website. Costco is obviously a great place to save money on 47 gallon cans of tomato sauce and beef ribs straight from the Flinstones, but did you know they also have great deals on hotels too? Even if the room prices are the same as the hotels offer, Costco will make the hotels throw in a few extras. For example, for our upcoming family vacation to Disneyland, we got the hotel at the same rate as on the hotel website, but with a free $10 ESPN Zone play card, a free $100 costco gift card, and a free $140 Disney Character Dining experience. You do of course have to have a Costco membership, but that’s only $50 or so, and then you actually can use it to save money on that 8′ tub of popcorn you saw your neighbor forklift home the other day.
Another Third Party membership that will often save you money is AAA. AAA is a roadside service membership you can purchase, which will assist you for any personal vehicle (sorry, no business trucks) if you need roadside assistance. This includes bringing you a bit of gas, jump-starting a battery, doing on-site diagnostics if you just can’t figure out what’s wrong, and even towing your vehicle to a location of your choice. All for free, depending on the level of your membership. Anyway, a side benefit is that AAA members often get discounts on all sorts of travel, including hotel stays. A normal hotel room discount is about 10% of the going rate. All you will have to do is click the tab to say you’re booking the AAA room rate, and then show your current membership card when you check in.
4. KEEP LOOKING AND REBOOKING UNTIL ABOUT A MONTH OUT
My final recommendation is that you should plan to book and rebook your hotel probably 2-4 times over the course of the time you’re browsing for rooms. It may not happen, but often you’ll find rooms at competing hotels at better prices, especially around the holidays when hotels run sales. And the final room you end up booking may actually be a non-refundable room. But if you’re only a month or so out from your travel dates, and already have your flights booked, then it’s probably worth it to just go ahead and save a few extra dollars by booking that non-refundable. After all, you’ve got to stay SOMEWHERE, right?
Tomorrow, we’ll check out how to save some money on vehicle rentals.