Everyone wants to know how to save money on hotels. Generally speaking, hotels are usually your biggest travel expense after flights so it’s no surprise that people are looking to save on accommodations. The problem is, hotel prices change all the time depending on things such as the season, demand and even the local political climate.
Even though you won’t necessarily be spending a lot of time in your hotel, I think it’s important to be smart about your accommodations. Where you stay and what amenities you have could make a huge difference on your trip. Instead of focusing on the cheapest hotel possible, I recommend people look for the best value when considering things that are important to you such as location or brand. Here are my top tips on how to save money on hotels.
Being flexible when travelling is one of the best ways to save money, but when it comes to hotels, you really need to be flexible. Even though hotels have a low season, quite often weekends can be busy for weekend travellers while weekdays are popular for business travellers. There are also local conventions and events which may increase the occupancy rates. Since prices can fluctuate quite a bit and you may need to get creative.
Generally speaking, travelling during the off-season is a guaranteed way to lower your hotel costs. For example, hotels near Disney World usually have lower rates in January, February, and the second week of September. Another advantage of travelling during the low or shoulder season is that the destinations typically have fewer crowds which makes travelling more enjoyable.
The hotel’s location can also be a huge factor when it comes to costs since most popular areas of any city will always be more expensive. Think midtown Manhattan, West End London, and Shibuya in Tokyo. By simply staying just a few metro stops away from these major tourist areas, you can usually save a good amount. Keep in mind that staying further out does add time and you’ll have to pay for public transportation. I usually try to pick a location that has good access to public transportation to further reduce my costs.
Many people who travel internationally tend to stick to brands they are familiar with. This isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but it could cost you more money. There are many major local hotel chains in countries that are popular that you may have never heard of and are cheaper than the big international brands. Ibis hotels in Europe and APA hotels in Japan are two perfect examples of chain hotels that you may have never heard of but offer good value.
Even though I’ve focused on finding cheaper hotels, sometimes it makes sense to pay a little more. Since I usually travel with my daughter now, I try to find a hotel that’s near a playground or has kid-friendly amenities such as a playroom or pool. This might cost me more than other hotels, but I think it’s worth it.
Book in advance
Many hotels offer special promotions if you book months, weeks or sometimes just 10-days in advance. Not only will you be able to get the best price, but you’ll also secure your room before they sell out. Even if you do decide to travel during busier times, many of these book early deals are still available. There’s a chance that the booking will be non-refundable but if you’re looking to save, you can’t complain about that.
You’ll also want to pay attention to special promotions that hotels run. In recent years, I’ve noticed brands such as Marriott Bonvoy and IHG run seasonal promos where you can save 20% on rooms or get rooms for a low nightly rate. Since these are promos, there’s usually a specific booking window which lasts just a few weeks, but the travel dates for these promos will usually last a few months. If you know your dates already, it’s worth signing up for hotel newsletters so you’ll be alerted of any deals.
Even if you don’t have set plans, it’s sometimes worth making a reservation anyways since the reservations can be cancelled without any fees. That’ll give you some time to find a cheap flight or to get the time off work.
Join a loyalty program
Every hotel chain has a rewards program that rewards loyal customers. Although you won’t get a free hotel stay right away, you’ll usually get additional benefits such as free wi-fi, early check-in, late check-out and much more immediately.
The amount of points required to claim a free night depends on the rewards program and the hotel category so it’s worth reading up on the different programs so you can get the most value out of them. For example, a category 4 Marriott Bonvoy hotel during standard times will cost you 25,000 points to make a redemption. I personally value Marriott Bonvoy points at 1 cent each. That means if the hotel has a nightly rate above $250, then using my points is of good value. However, if the cost is less than $250, I’m better off paying with cash.
The real value of loyalty programs is the additional benefits as your status tier goes up. You’ll start to get things such as a higher earn rate, free breakfast, and room upgrades. Although technically these benefits won’t save you money (except free breakfast), the additional points earned would earn you free hotels down the road. Basically, if you’re a frequent traveller, being loyal can be worth your while.
Use credit card rewards
Speaking of hotel loyalty programs, some of them have a co-branded credit card. In Canada, there’s the Marriott Bonvoy American Express. With this card, you earn 5 Marriott Bonvoy points for every $1 on eligible card purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy properties and 2 Marriott Bonvoy points for every $1 on all other purchases. That means you’re earning points on all of your purchases which can be used later for free hotels. Best of all, the Marriott Bonvoy comes with a sign up bonus of 51,000 Marriott Bonvoy points when you spend $3,000 in the first three months. That’s enough points for 5 nights at a category 2 hotel during standard rates when you factor in Marriott’s book 4 nights on points, get the 5th-night free promotion.
You don’t even need to be loyal to a single hotel chain to take advantage of credit card rewards. Many of the best travel rewards credit cards allow you to redeem your points for any type of travel which includes hotels. Alternatively, you could use one of the best credit cards without foreign transaction fees which would save you 2.5% in fees if the hotel you’re staying at charges in a currency that’s not Canadian dollars.
Don’t use a hotel
Sometimes when people ask me how to save money on hotels I reply with, “don’t use hotels.” Hotels can be expensive, but there are many other options available to travellers these days.
In recent years, I’ve been using Airbnb a lot. If you’re unfamiliar with the service, it’s a website that allows you to book private apartments, houses, private rooms or even treehouses directly from owners all over the world. Costs vary depending on availability and the city you’re visiting, but it could easily be a 50% savings compared to hotels.
Hostels should also be seriously considered for a variety of reasons. They’re perfect for younger travellers who’re looking for the cheapest accommodations possible. Families or group travellers can book entire dorms to make it more “private.” Many hostels these days even have private or semi-private rooms with private washrooms which can be much cheaper than hotels.
Other accommodation options to help you save include vacation homes, home swapping, couch surfing or even renting an RV.
Use a metasearch engine
There has never been more choice for travellers when it comes to booking hotels. Skyscanner.ca, Hotels.com, KAYAK, Booking.com, and Expedia.ca are all great websites to book your travel since they search thousands of hotels to give you the best price.
I personally prefer booking.com since they have so many different filter options. I can search by price, star rating, location, fun things to do nearby, deals, reservation policy and more. What I also like about them is that I can search for different types of accommodations at the same time. Although hotels are usually my go to thing for accommodations, I often look at serviced apartments these days too. With booking.com, I can look for both at the same time. Heck, I could even search for other accommodations such as houseboats or luxury tents.
Bundle your travel
If you need to book airfare and hotels, you can sometimes save money by booking both through the same travel provider. I recently booked airfare through Expedia.ca and was immediately prompted to book my hotel and car rental at a discount.
I wasn’t convinced it was actually a better price so I decided to double check if I was actually getting a better offer. Surprisingly, it was indeed a deal. The best part about this discount is that I didn’t have to book everything right away, Expedia gave me 15 days to lock in my prices.
If you’re booking an all-inclusive hotel, it’s almost always cheaper to go book it as a package through a vacation package company or a travel agent.
This may contradict the previous point but if you want to know how to save money on hotels, you sometimes need to go directly to the source. Many hotels offer special promotions and packages that are only available on their website. Remember how I was saying you can save money by booking in advance or by taking advantage of special promotions? Quite often those deals are only available when booking directly.
It’s also worth noting that when you book directly with hotels, the customer service experience begins immediately. You’ll get access to more inventory, it’s easier to make special requests, and you’ll most likely have a more flexible cancellation policy.
The other advantage of booking directly is that your status tier becomes valid. What I mean is that even though you may have status with a hotel chain, if you booked through a third-party such as Expedia, that night would not count towards your nights stayed when calculating your status. Your other status benefits such as lounge access and late check-out should still apply.
Check for best price guarantees
If you really want to travel hack, pay close attention to best price guarantees. Basically, if you book through a travel provider or directly through the hotel and find a lower price within 24 hours, the original site you booked with will match the price and offer you something extra. Expedia offers a $50 travel credit, InterContinental Hotels Group will give you the first night free while Marriott will match the rate and give you an additional 25% off or 5,000 Marriott Bonvoy Points.
Check out other parts of the series below
Part 1: Budgeting for a trip
Part 2: How to pick a vacation destination
Part 3: How to find cheap flights
Part 4: How to save money on hotels
Part 5: How to eat cheap when travelling
Part 6: The best way to exchange money
Part 7: The basics of travel insurance
Part 8: Sticking to your travel budget