Similar to performing a flight search, in 2018 there really isn’t a single hotel website that consistently provides the best deals when booking a hotel room. All these companies now have access to the same information, so there’s little need to check multiple travel sites when searching for the perfect place to stay.
Here’s what I do when I need to reserve a room.
1) I go to TripAdvisor and search for hotels in the town I’m planning to visit. I’ve found TripAdvisor reviews to be very helpful and accurate. Be sure to read some negative reviews as well as the positive ones to get a full range of opinions. Some people are high maintenance psychopaths and like to complain about every minor detail, so keep that in mind. Also, hotels occasionally go through renovations, which can make a massive difference in quality, so I put more confidence in recent reviews that were written within the last year.
2) Once I find a handful of suitable hotel options, I search for them on Google Maps and read the reviews there. If they’re reasonably similar to TripAdvisor’s reviews, then I don’t spend too much time on this.
3) I always book directly through the hotel website. The price is the same as booking through a third party site like Travelocity, Orbitz, hotels.com, or Priceline, but if any problems come up with your reservation or travel plans, it is much, much easier to deal with the hotel directly instead of a Travelocity representative named “Rachel” who lives in Bangladesh and can barely speak English. I’ve had to do this before, and it’s very frustrating.
4) I always book the flexible rate with a cancellation policy. There is almost always a cheaper nonrefundable option that requires upfront payment and no cancellation. Resist the temptation. I’ve been burned on this in the past when travel plans have changed or when room rates dropped closer to the vacation, so I never do the pre-pay option anymore. I have a great recent example of this at the end of this post.
5) If you’re eligible, take advantage of special rates such as discounts for triple-A, AARP, and government employees. Sometimes these rates can be significantly cheaper, especially if you work for the federal government. Don’t forget to bring your ID card, because they’ll sometimes ask to see it.
6) The absolute most important tip to get a cheap room: check early and check often, all the way up to the days before your departure. If a hotel has tons of rooms available one week before the reservation date, they’ll usually drop prices to try to fill up the hotel. This is why it’s so important to book a flexible rate with a generous cancellation policy. I save a shortcut to the hotel website on my bookmarks bar in my Chrome browser, and all I need to do is click on this every now and then to see if prices have changed. Minimal amount of time and energy required.
In a recent post, I discussed preparations for a trip to Egypt. We’re arriving a day early to Cairo to rest up and adjust to the new time zone before the tour begins. My initial hotel booking was made way back in January, and two rooms with all fees and taxes included came out to $390. A few months later, prices dropped, and I rebooked at a lower rate totaling $350. Not bad. Two days ago, I looked again and prices had actually gone up a little bit, so I figured that my price was a good deal and decided to leave it alone since we’re only a few weeks away from departure. Out of curiosity, I looked this morning and was pleasantly surprised to see that prices had dropped again, and I rebooked once more at $274. From the time I first started looking, the amount spent on these hotel rooms for one night decreased by $116. If we were looking at multiple nights, the savings would have been even more substantial.
This is one of the main reasons why I always book the flex rate. A few days ago, I seriously considered changing over to a non-refundable rate at this hotel since it was so close to our travel dates and it would save me some cash. I’m really glad I didn’t do that because I would have been unable to get the lower rate that was unexpectedly available to me this morning.
So no matter the details of your own search method, check back regularly! I’ve gotten some great deals this way, and it’s totally worth the small amount of effort.