I’ve teamed up with my dad (again) to give you insider tips for how to save money on hotels, no matter it’s a hostel or a 5* hotel. I’m proud to have a father who is a master of hotel booking hacks and although I thought that I knew quite a bit about how to find a cheap hotel, my dad has taught me some fantastic ways to save money when booking hotels. We’ve included 20 hotel booking hacks to save you money on your next vacation or business trip! Both my father and I have traveled extensively within the United States as well as within Europe, so these tips are not only for US-based travelers!
My dad and I don’t always see eye-to-eye when it comes to accommodation as he prefers well-known chain hotels with familiar perks and I’m all about unique experiences, however we both agree that we want to find the best deal on a hotel. Some tips are obvious, other tips are subtle but these tips work… We’ve included twenty hotel booking hacks on finding the cheapest accommodation!
Become a member of a hotel chain (for free!)
If you’re someone who enjoys high quality hotels, we recommend joining a hotel chain loyalty program for the perks. In many cases, it’s completely free to become a member of hotel loyalty program although in some cases, it’s a nominal fee. It’s worth it if you often stay at the same hotel chain.
There are often many benefits to being a member of a hotel chain and these often kick in as soon as you arrive. Benefits include being prioritized for an upgrade and free breakfast. I was upgraded to larger hotel rooms for free as I provided my membership when booking my hotel room. In one case, I even got upgraded for a free room after booking my hotel room entirely with hotel points! If anyone knows the Bob Dylan “Blonde on Blonde”, how about “Freer for Free’?
Just know that sometimes the desk clerk may not notice that you’re a points member if you forget to book your room using your loyalty card, so don’t be shy in mentioning it when checking in. You might get upgraded!
We recommend being a member of several hotel loyalty programs and prioritizing the one(s) that are better for your destination, so that you can have multiple stays with one chain and/or stay with a different hotel if the rates are better while still benefiting from your points! On a recent trip to France, my dad selected two hotel chains.
Get a credit card from a hotel chain
This tip isn’t for everyone as credit cards are less popular in many countries than America, however if you’re American, consider getting a credit card from your favorite hotel chain. Hotel credit cards get direct points for your grocery, furniture, flights, and other purchases. Some purchases will trigger a bonus purchase, such as flowers, gasoline, appliances, so know what purchases give you a bonus!
When planning for a big trip, I use my hotel card card for several months to ensure that I can stay for free while traveling. Be aware that your point totals (often) at the beginning of the month, so buying something close to your trip will NOT be usable on your immediate trip.
Don’t limit yourself to hotels; Check hostels, guesthouses, and vacation housing websites.
If you’re traveling with a group, vacation housing (using services such as Airbnb or VRBO) is often cheaper although…not always ethical
This a tip that I actually taught my dad! When looking for cheap accommodation for an upcoming family trip, my dad was shocked to find hotel rates were really high. He was primarily looking on hotel websites and he wasn’t finding much. I ended up introducing him to VRBO where he found a large house close to the destination that could house 12 family members for the same price as one room at a 4* for two people. The choice was clear and it’s saved the rest of my family a lot of headaches (and money on hotels) when trying to find accommodation! Airbnb recently added a option where you can split the bill on Airbnb.
I’ve been less satisfied with Airbnb for major cities and I’m trying to move away with it as affordable housing is a huge issue that Airbnb refuses to tackle. I mostly do Airbnb if I can only rent a room. The housing market in Amsterdam is a mess due to many apartments that are mostly for tourists that aren’t on the market. It is improving as Airbnb is becoming more regulated in Amsterdam, but read up on Airbnb in the city that you’re visiting beforehand.
If you’re visiting less touristy destinations and/or countryside, you may have an easier time finding guesthouses instead of hotels.
Some regions aren’t great for hotels, especially if you’re staying somewhere remote, so it’s best to focus on guesthouses. While road tripping around Iceland, we stayed at many cozy guest houses outside of major cities to save money without going off our route. Similarly, when I went on a road trip to Normandy. Instead of staying at a conventional hotel in Honfleur, I was able to stay at a French chateau dating back to the 17th century for a fraction of the price. It was truly a special experience and we wouldn’t have stayed here if I had not looked on a website about castle hotels/guesthouses in the region.
Use your hotel points wisely
While using your points for a free stay, be aware that many brands have different names, but are held under the same corporate entity. Although you might think that they’re competing, they’re not. Not surprisingly, higher tier hotel require more points towards a free stay. I have stayed using points in a three star hotel for two nights free instead of one night in a 4 star hotel. Book your hotels with points in advance because hotel chains allocate a low number of point stays. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.
If you’re short points for a free night stay, it might be cheaper to buy additional points for $35 than to pay for a full night’s stay. In the past, I’ve stayed at a three star hotel with points after paying $25 for additional points. An important note: If you book using your points and your plans change, cancel. If not, you will forfeit your points without staying for free!
Travel in off season
If you’re traveling to a popular destination, consider changing your dates to travel during the low season. In Provence, the same 4* hotel in Avignon in February costs $ 88 per night, however it almost doubles in price in May. However, you might also suffer from the lack of options if hotels and guesthouses are closed for part of the year.
Book directly on their website
Hotel chains often offer their lower prices directly on their website. Sometimes when you’re booking, you’ll see options for discount not mentioned elsewhere, prepayment, “green stays”, or discounts for certain people (retired). In Holland, one of my favorite hotel is the Golden Tulip, offered the “Green Discount.” We re-used the same towel two days in a row and other environmental measures. (It should be noted that many chains do not give you points if you book through a third party.)
Email or call the hotel for a better rate
This is a hotel booking hack that my dad taught me. Although he was interested in one 4* boutique hotel after seeing a rate via Booking, he ended up calling them to ask about the rate. The girl on the phone asked him to inquire officially by sending an email. After doing so, he received a rate that was 40 euros cheaper per night. Why not ask?
Hotel prices depend on more than one factor
Hotel prices change frequently on a lot of variables, including booking time, location, planned duration, and season. For instance, hotels catering to business travelers during the week offer discounts on the weekend, so you might find a 5* hotel for the same price as a hostel as I recently did. If you’re seeing really high prices, consider whether demand is very high due to an event. If so, you might want to consider staying a bit further away from the area.
My husband attended a music festival and when I tried to help him find a cheap hotel, I found it nearly impossible to find him anywhere affordable to stay as most festival goers booked something ahead. With widening the search to the country next door (only 20 minutes away), I was able to find him a budget hotel for 55 euros per night only forty minutes from the festival. Most people hadn’t looked there!
Consider staying outside of the city center
Research your upcoming trip and don’t be afraid to stay outside of the city center. A prime location is at a premium and you should expect nearby restaurants to have higher prices. Taking a short ride on public transportation or a thirty minute walk from the center can save money and provide a more local experience with local restaurants. Similarly, it gives you the opportunity to explore other neighborhoods outside of the typical tourist areas.
Don’t book on name recognition alone
Never book a hostel or hotel only based on the name. Some hotels name themselves after famous hotels elsewhere and/or make it sound more grand than it is, so check the reviews before you book! I always check Booking, TripAdvisor, and Kayak for ratings.
One bad review isn’t cause for concern as people have differing opinions about small things (the pool wasn’t the perfect temperature), but more than one? Be careful! However, look at how many reviews there are, how uniform the reviews are, and how recent the reviews are. It’s good to go with accomodation with a large number of reviews. There is always a risk, but I usually look for places with more than an 8/10 rating on Booking. (My dad aims for 98% favorable, but we differ here.)
You don’t need hotel breakfast, especially if it’s extra
Especially if you’re traveling abroad, skip the hotel breakfast unless it’s something special. Use your mornings to get a cheaper and more delicious breakfast outside at your hotel. Instead of having waffles and eggs for $10, save money when booking your hotel by skipping the breakfast. In France, we skipped the breakfast in lieu of having breakfast at the food markets in Provence. Even if you want to eat croissants, I guarantee that the ones at the local bakery are better than the ones available in your hotel.
Check in as late as possible
This is a hotel tip for those of you who are on a budget, however you’re hoping to upgrade your room. If you check-in late, it’s possible that your hotel might have a better room available due to a cancellation and/or staying unbooked. Due to a delayed flight, a friend and I got upgraded to a suite for free as someone cancelled last minute.
Traveling with a child? Book a double room and ask for a rolling bed!
This is a basic one, however if you’re traveling with three people, don’t be afraid to book a double room as a rolling bed is often free with the room.
Try out new apps if you’re traveling last minute
I ended up using a local app for social deals and ended up with a cheap hotel after seeing a deal on the app. Especially if you’re traveling locally, your local apps (like Groupon) might have something good!
Consider the cost of parking in your hotel cost if you’re taking a road trip
My husband and I take a lot of road trips and although you might find a cheap hotel in the city center, you’ll need to pay for parking. Parking in some cities can be fairly pricey, so take it into account when booking a trip. I was considering a cheap hotel that was only 48 euros per night, however parking was at least another 10 euros per night, which was an issue. Instead, we opted for a hotel that was about a 20-30 minute walk or ten minute train ride from the city center with free parking for the same price.
Have some time before your trip? Track the price!
If you’re wondering if you’re getting the best price for a hotel that you really want to stay at, consider looking up your search and signing up for updates to hotel prices. You can see if the hotel price drops and you can receive emails for when the price drops. There’s many services for this, including Kayak.
Traveling last minute? Wait until 24-48 hours beforehand to find the best hotel deals
About 48 hours before a date, hotels often slash their prices to ensure that all their rooms are booked. If you’re traveling last minute, keep this in mind when looking at hotel prices if you’re in need of a little getaway. Our little getaway to Friesland was thanks to a last minute hotel deal and included free chocolate upon check-in!
Refer your friends
This is super basic, but many apps and websites will provide a discount if your friends book with your code. I use Booking.com regularly for myself and they have a deal that when my friends book something with one of my codes, both of us get $25 USD. It’s a great deal!
Book more than one night
Rates are often cheaper and you’ll get more perks if you book more than one night. Many hotels will have deals that give you 1-2 free nights if you stay more than five nights and/or free breakfast after three nights. Ask when you book direct!
Consider staying at a business hotel on a weekend
I’ve done this and I’ll be doing this again soon. I was able to find a 5* business hotel that offered rates that were similar to a private room in a hostel for two nights for a cheap price as the hotel was next to a big government institution that catered to ambassadors. Why stay at a hostel when you can stay in luxury for the same price!?
If you’re flexible, consider starting your trip mid-week rather than on Friday/Saturday night.
This is a pro-tip for saving money as most people travel between Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Alternatively, most people leave on the same day as a holiday. You’ll save a lot of money on transportation as well as hotels if you end up arriving 1-2 days before the weekend on a less popular day and checking out 1-2 days after everyone else. I find that budget flights are often 50% cheaper when I fly on a Thursday rather than a Saturday and many hotels are significantly cheaper for Thursday/Friday night than for Friday/Saturday night.
What are your tips for saving money while booking hotels?
Let me know what you thought of these hotel booking hacks on how to save money on hotels!