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14 Ways to Save Money on Hotels for Your Next Vacation

By Kristen Kuchar

find affordable hotelsWhen you travel on vacation, it’s easy to overspend and to forget about your budget. When taking a break from the real world, money can be the last thing you want to worry about! However, you have to consider what might happen if you return home with an empty wallet, or worse yet, end up drowning in debt. After all, you want to return from your travels with less stress, not more.

Paying too much for lodging is one surefire way to bust your budget. Hotels can exhaust your travel funds more rapidly than most other vacation expenses, including airline tickets. However, before you cancel your next trip, realize that there are numerous ways you can save money on hotels.

How to Save Money on Hotels While Traveling

1. Stick to Your Budget

The first time we visited Las Vegas, my husband and I kept telling each other, “Come on! It’s our first time in Vegas! We’ll remember it forever!” anytime we became hesitant about making a purchase or placing a bet. Our vacation was memorable, but for all the wrong reasons. We couldn’t do anything for six months following the trip because we racked up so much debt!

To avoid this situation, first determine how much you want to spend on your vacation. Then, decide what comforts, conveniences, and other variables you desire from your lodging. When I travel, I generally do not spend much time in my hotel room, and could care less about the size of the room or the upgrades. I’d rather save my money to spend on entertainment.

If you plan to engage in costly activities and dine at expensive restaurants, choose a less luxurious place to stay. On the other hand, if you do not want to stay in a budget hotel or other cheap accommodations, you may need to consider cutting your trip short to save money. Is this a worthwhile trade-off to sleep in a more luxurious room? That’s for you to decide.

2. Be Flexible

If you have a flexible schedule, consider staying at a hotel during the off-season. This worked to my advantage during my August bachelorette party in Las Vegas. Sure, it was hot, but my hotel cost 50% less than the cost of my Vegas vacation last December. Plus, we still enjoyed swimming in the pool and visiting the air-conditioned resorts.

Traveling during the off-season costs less, and allows you to avoid contending with crowds, which makes sightseeing easier. Even staying in a hotel midweek instead of during a weekend can save you money. Furthermore, if you bid on a hotel at Priceline or if you book via Hotwire, you can receive further reductions on your rate. With Priceline’s bidding system, you will not know the name of the hotel until you make your purchase, but you will know the hotel’s approximate location and customer rating.

luxurious hotel

3. Choose Your Location Wisely

When I booked a hotel in Chicago, I realized that staying in the heart of downtown cost twice as much as staying at a hotel just a few miles away. Since I’m familiar with the area, I looked at nearby hotels to find cheaper lodging.

Fortunately, even if you don’t know the area, many travel websites offer maps so you can easily expand your search area and find lower prices for hotels. On the other hand, choosing a hotel far away from the attractions you plan to visit can result in high transportation fares and parking costs. Investigate the area’s public transportation system, and find out if you can walk to attractions from your hotel before you book your room.

4. Revisit the Same Hotel

You can score great deals when you stay at the same hotel (or the same hotel chain) each time you travel. If you visit the same place every year, you can become acquainted with the managers and reservations personnel. When you book your room, mention that you’ve previously stayed at the hotel. Places of lodging want your repeat business and may offer you a better rate – or, at the very least, an upgraded room.

5. Bundle It

You can save money when you go on vacation by bundling travel essentials. Through websites like Expedia, you can acquire cheap airfare, a hotel reservation, and a rental car in a package, saving hundreds of dollars.

Furthermore, you can maximize your savings by adding rewards program information to your travel website profile. All of the major travel websites allow you to enter loyalty program membership numbers for hotel chains, rental cars, and frequent flyer programs, so you can earn rewards while you travel.

6. Consider an Alternative to Hotels and Motels

In addition to hotels and motels, most vacation destinations also offer a variety of other lodging options to explore:

  • Inexpensive hostels have improved considerably over the years, and many offer conveniences that rival budget hotels. Check out Hostels.com for hostel reviews, amenities, and offerings.
  • You can have a memorable experience camping. Most campgrounds have showers, pools, play areas for kids, and other amenities for a fraction of the cost of a hotel.
  • If you plan to travel for an extended period of time or are planning a group vacation, consider a furnished vacation home rental. This inexpensive option also helps you save additional money because you can cook your own meals.
  • A short road trip may be the ideal opportunity to rent an RV. As long as you don’t have to fill up at the gas pump more than a few times, you can save a lot of money when you stay in an RV.
  • For a more adventurous option, house swapping has become increasingly popular. Sites like HomeExchange.com allow you to search locations online and then trade your house with someone else for the duration of your vacation.

7. Join Rewards Programs

A vast majority of hotels, especially hotel chains, have free rewards programs. You can accumulate points by booking hotel rooms or shopping with a hotel’s partner companies. Once you accrue points, you can earn a free hotel stay.

For example, the Choice Hotels chain of hotels includes Sleep Inn, Econo Lodge, Comfort Suites, and several additional hotels. For every $1 you spend at their hotels, you receive 10 Choice Privileges points. Once you accumulate enough points, you can trade them in for free nights at Choice Hotels.

free perks like continental breakfast can help save money

8. Consider a Hotel Credit Card Offer

Check out credit cards affiliated with hotel rewards programs. When you charge purchases to the card, you receive points toward a free hotel stay. You may also receive double points for using the credit card at the affiliated hotel.

Choice Hotels offers a Visa credit card that gives cardholders two free nights at a Choice Hotel after the first purchase. Promotions like these constantly change, but you can always find them online. The Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Visa and the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Card are popular options.

Keep in mind, earning points for a free hotel night by racking up credit card debt and accruing interest won’t help your travel budget. If you decide to get a travel rewards credit card, always use your credit card wisely.

9. Find Out What’s Included

Factor the hotel’s amenities into your travel budget. For example, a complimentary breakfast saves the cost of your morning meal and coffee. A pool, game room, and fitness center offer hours of free entertainment. Free shuttle service or the ability to walk to nearby destinations reduces your reliance on taxis and public transportation. Some hotels may offer free snacks, complimentary drinks at the hotel bar, discounts at the hotel’s spa or restaurants, and gasoline gift certificates.

Don’t underestimate these free perks. They can significantly impact your travel budget.

10. Find Out What’s Not Included

Learn more about hidden fees and costs before you book your trip. After waking up in my hotel the morning after drinking too many cocktails at a wedding, the large bottle of water next to my bed looked glorious. I enjoyed the water, but I didn’t appreciate the $10 charged to my credit card.

Also, many hotels charge for parking, which can easily run up to $20 per day in a metropolitan area. Hotels may also charge guests for using the phone, the Internet, and even the in-room safe.

11. Keep an Eye Out for Deals and Coupons

You can save money when you book your hotel on a website like Hotels.com, but getting creative can save you even more money. Before you leave on your trip, do an online search for coupons for your vacation destination to unearth deals and discounts.

Additionally, consider signing up for money-saving sites like Groupon and Living Social, and view the city pages for the areas you plan to visit. If you regularly view deal-of the-day websites, you can find rock-bottom prices for hotels and resort packages.

You can also request a free visitor’s guide from the state, city, or region’s official tourism office to save money on your trip. These guides typically include coupons or online promotional codes for attractions, restaurants, and lodging.

If you find yourself on the road but you neglected to search for deals ahead of time, there are still opportunities to find a deal. Visitor centers and other locations frequented by tourists – such as gas stations, restaurants, and stores near major interstates – may also have coupons for area hotels and inns. You can also find coupons at airports, bus or train stations, rental car companies, and tourist attractions.

hotel reception

12. Use Discounts You Already Have

Unfortunately, I only learned about student discounts after I graduated from college. I could have saved money every time I purchased movie tickets, visited museums, and dined at restaurants.

Don’t make the same mistake I did. There are a number of membership cards that save you money, and you may already be entitled to a number of discounts. Students, alumni, teachers, emergency workers, AAA members, AARP members, military personnel, and government employees can all receive discounts when they shop, dine, or stay at hotels. Call hotels or check out their websites to learn more about membership and organization discounts.

13. Book Your Room by Calling the Hotel Directly

After you pick the best hotel and travel dates to fit your budget and you have researched the lowest online rate for a hotel, consider calling the hotel directly to book your room. You may get a better deal or get a room upgrade if you call and speak with a hotel employee.

When you call, you can also find out about items that might impact your stay. For example, you can ask if the hotel will be under construction or if they have a large convention or group visiting during your stay. If you originally called the hotel to check on price and availability, check online for a lower rate and look for online promotional codes before booking a room.

14. Beware of Entertainment Packages

I once booked a trip to the Mall of America in Minnesota using a hotel and entertainment package. Once I arrived, I realized the package didn’t provide any real savings. I could have saved money by purchasing the hotel and entertainment options separately!

Many hotels offer golf packages, free tickets to local attractions, spa services, and romance packages, but these package deals usually don’t really save you any money. Research the prices of hotels and visitor attractions to see if it makes sense to purchase everything together before you buy a package deal.

Final Word

It may seem like a hassle, but planning your trip carefully in advance can really pay off in the long run. Be flexible about when and where you travel to save money on lodging. Do your research to discover the amenities, fees, and location of the hotels you are considering to help you stay within your budget, and seek out coupons and discounts, as this may net you some unexpected and highly rewarding savings.

How do you save money on lodging? Which hotels offer the best savings?

Kristen Kuchar
Kristen Kuchar, author of "Mac 'N Cheese to the Rescue" writes about travel, food, and most importantly, enjoying life while on a budget. In the last several years, Kristen went back to college for a Journalism degree, got married, and is now pursuing a career in editing and writing. She also had to move, and her husband is going through a career change. All of these things have forced Kristen to find creative ways to save money.

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  • http://www.moneysavingenthusiast.com/3/post/2011/12/a-list-of-43-frugal-gifts.html Karen@MSEnthusiast

    I needed this. I can’t wait to go away on the December break. I’m happy that I stumbled on this article. A nice hotel is a great incentive to stay on track with my Christmas budget. Can’t wait to try our your ideas.

    • Karen

      meant try out.LOL

    • Karen

      meant try out.LOL

  • http://blog.debteye.com Kevin @ DebtEye

    What a timely post. I actually was looking into hotels in Lake Tahoe for skiing, and once I found a hotel, I called the lodge directly to ask them a few questions about some amenities. Turns out that they were offering 30% off the listing price, so I saved a hundred bucks per night just by calling in!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kristen-Kuchar/100002941222787 Kristen Kuchar

    That’s great! Enjoy your trip!

  • Frank

    I never knew there were so many ways to save on travel. Since I am very polish, I love to save money. Thanks for your help!

  • http://lamar-garnis.webs.com/foreigncurrencyservice.htm Jacob Loveney

    On a recent trip I stopped at a motel, possibly a motel 6, for the night. I found the motel a short time ago at a free wifi hotspot and the rate was fair. The desk clerk informed me that the rate I found was the special online rate and without the online reservation the true rate was x dollars.

  • http://www.hotelluckystar.com/ hotelluckystar

    Thank you for the wonderful tips.

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