I’m very excited to introduce our first guest blogger of the year, Carly from 52 Cities. As an expert points and miles blogger, Carly has traveled to 52 cities (or destinations) each year using points.
Hi there! It’s Carly from 52 Cities, and I’m thrilled to be guest posting on Bon Traveler today to bring you tips on how to save money when booking hotels.
There are lots of different accommodation types out there for travelers, with a range of price points to match. I’ve done my fair share of camping, Airbnbs, you name it—and those options can be great, depending on the situation. But if you’re anything like I am, sometimes, you just want the comforts of a hotel room, and lately, I’ve found myself seeking that out more and more.
Of course, nice hotels aren’t always budget-friendly—but if you know where to look, there are ways to bring down high prices (and sometimes, avoid them altogether!).
Here are 12 tips for cutting costs when booking hotel rooms.
1. Book early—and re-check your rates
Hotel prices tend to fluctuate week to week (and sometimes even day to day), so I always recommend making reservations as early as possible. Oftentimes, your reservation will be fully cancellable until a couple of days before check-in, so you can always re-check your rates as your trip approaches. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done a check, found a lower price than the one I originally reserved and canceled/rebooked my reservation to lock in the better rate. It only takes a minute or two, and it can be so worth it!
That said, sometimes you’ll get the best rate by prepaying for your reservation. Particularly with larger hotel chains, I’ve seen prepay offers that take more than $100 off a nightly room rate. Of course, if you go this route, you want to be reasonably certain your plans won’t change, as these rates are non-refundable. If you’re worried, booking with a credit card that offers trip protection or getting travel insurance can help you recoup costs in the event of an emergency.
3. Break up your stay with multiple reservations
You might think that a three-night stay and three one-night stays at the same hotel would cost the same amount, but that’s not always the case. If you’re hitting a roadblock, try fiddling with your dates to see if breaking the trip up into multiple reservations brings down the price at all. If it does, call the hotel to link your reservations, and hopefully they can keep you in the same room (you’ll likely just have to get new keys at the front desk when your first reservation is over, which is a small price to pay!).
I also sometimes break up a trip between two different hotels to save money. This way, if one hotel has an event and is mostly booked up for some of your days but not all of them, you can avoid the pricey nights by staying somewhere else. Plus, you get to check out two different hotels, which can be fun, especially if you pick places in different neighborhoods within a city!
4. Join hotel loyalty programs
Most hotel loyalty programs are free to join, and signing up is a reliable way to save a few bucks on every reservation you make (it’s also a way to rack up hotel points—more on that in a second!). Major chains such as Hilton and Marriott always offer special rates for their members, and even smaller, independent hotels are sometimes part of larger loyalty networks. In short, no matter where you’re trying to stay, it’s always worth looking into!
5. Use hotel points
My very favorite way to save on hotels is not to pay for them at all. Large hotel chains—and again, even some smaller networks—offer the option to use hotel points instead of cash to book rooms, and doing so can open up opportunities to stay at places that would otherwise be unaffordable for most people (see: my overwater bungalow experience in the Maldives).
You might be thinking, “Okay, but don’t I need to pay for hotel nights in order to earn points in the first place?” but the answer is—you don’t! There are tons of ways to earn hotel points, including dining with participating restaurants, shopping with certain retailers, and leveraging partnerships (did you know you can earn Hilton Honors points with every Lyft ride you take?) Put a few of these strategies in motion and you’ll be well on your way to free stays.
6. Hotel credit cards
The fastest way to free hotel nights, however, is through hotel credit cards, such as the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant and the Hilton Honors Surpass (both from American Express). Cards such as these come with sign-up bonuses for those who can meet a certain spending threshold, netting you enough points for a free stay. Better yet, many of them also offer yearly free night certificates that can be worth much more than the annual fee for the credit card. For example, if you can get a certificate just by paying your $95 annual fee and use it to get a room that would have been $300, that’s some major savings.
7. Keep an eye on promotions
I always make sure I’m on the email list for hotel chains or certain properties I’m interested in, as they frequently send deals out to newsletter subscribers. Don’t want to be on a bunch of extra lists? It’s easy to set up a separate email account specifically for promotional emails—just don’t forget to check it every once in a while if you want to take advantage of the special offers!
8. Book through hotels.com
If I’m booking a room at a property that’s not part of a larger chain, I always head to hotels.com. The reason? Once you stay 10 nights booked through the site, you’ll get a night for free at any hotel of your choosing. Hotels.com simply takes the average nightly rate from the 10 nights you stayed and issues you a credit good for any property on its site, so you can either get a night completely covered, or use it for a big discount on a room that’s a splurge!
9. Use booking.com deals
Another popular booking site, booking.com, has a dedicated deals page where you can search for bargain rooms. They’re organized by destination, making it easy to find discounts you can use for your own travels.
10. Last-minute booking apps
The last few years have seen a group of apps crop up that connect travelers to hotels that are trying to book out deeply discounted rooms at the last minute. I personally have used HotelTonight, and I had a great experience scoring a super cheap same-day reservation. If you can afford to wait until the eleventh hour to make a reservation (or find yourself needing a room unexpectedly), this is a great way to save a ton of cash.
11. Join a club
If you belong to certain organizations, you may have access to hotel discounts. AAA and AARP are two whose members can often grab lower hotel rates (and contrary to popular belief, you don’t actually have to be 50 or older to join AARP!).
12. Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts program
The Fine Hotels & Resorts program from American Express Travel may not always help you save on room rates, but if you have a Platinum or Centurion-branded Amex charge card and are looking for a luxury stay, it can help you save on your hotel experience overall. Booking through FHR secures your room upgrades when available, includes daily breakfast for two, and comes with a “unique property amenity”—such a dining or spa credit—valued at $100 or more. Put it all together, and you can often come out ahead when booking this way, despite rates that are sometimes higher than those published elsewhere.
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PS — Are You Booking a Trip Soon? Use My Booking Checklist!
These are the sites I use most to book my own trips. Using the links below is a great way to support Bon Traveler’s travel journalism at no extra cost to you. If you need help organizing your itinerary, get my free travel itinerary template here.
1. Book Your Flights
Use Skyscanner to find the best flights. It searches 100s of airlines and websites across the globe to ensure you’re not missing out on any route options or deals.
2. Book Your Accommodations
Use Booking.com for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.
3. Book Your Tours & Experiences
4. Book Your Car
Use Discover Cars or Rentalcars.com to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.
5. Don’t Forget Airport Lounge Access
Get a Priority Pass membership to gain access to 1,400+ VIP lounges and airport experiences worldwide. The Priority Pass app is the first thing I check when I have a layover. I’ve been a member for over a decade, and having a comfortable place to relax before and between flights makes air travel so much more enjoyable.
6. Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
I never leave the country without travel insurance. It provides comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong (ie. illness, injury, theft, and cancelations, etc.). I use it frequently for my travels to stay protected.
My favorite companies that offer the best coverage and rates are: