By Jenny Adams
A room with a view. The perfect location. A great restaurant just down the hall. The right hotel can mean the difference between a good vacation and a great one.
Booking rooms used to be easier: hotels often had clear guidelines for their rates, which you got by calling directly or going through a travel agent. But as the number of marketing opportunities exploded—websites, online travel agencies (OTAs), social media, apps—so has the complexity of hotel rates. The person staying next to you in the same type of room may have paid less just because they booked a different way or on a different day, says Spencer Spellman. Spellman is a travel writer, photographer, and creator of the travel blog Whiskey Tango Globetrot
In other words, getting the best deal on a hotel room now requires some strategy. Here's how Spellman recommends doing it:
Time it Right
The closer you get to check-in, says Spellman, the greater your chance to secure a good deal, since hotels are better able to confirm availability. Download last-minute booking apps and a hotel's own app to find them. Want a little more time to plan? Hotels in popular destinations tend to offer lower rates two weeks before or after a peak season, says Spellman. "You could save significant money by booking for right after major holidays," he says—which is why he often travels during the weeks after Memorial Day and Labor Day.
The popularity of sites offering person-to-person rentals is growing, says Spellman, as more people are looking for authentic travel experiences. Traveling this way can also result in more space at a lower cost. "For the cost of a basic hotel room," he says, "you may be able to find a multi-bedroom home." The savings could add up, especially if you're traveling with a group.
Remember, it Never Hurts to Ask
As a result of these new ways to stay, traditional hotels are upping their game. "To compete," says Spellman, "some hotels offer off-peak rates during peak times, upgrades, or extras like meals or spa treatments." But since hotels may not be advertising these benefits, you may have to ask. If you find a lower rate for a comparable hotel online, ask if the hotel you want can match it. Or request an upgrade for the price of a standard room. Calling close to your check-in date could also increase your chances of scoring a deal. And remember, he adds, that when you're calling hotels directly, "it's the time to lay on the charm."
Be Savvy on Social Media
Start following hotels and/or chains you like to travel with, and check back for special sales during holidays, says Spellman. "On Cyber Monday, some deals go for as much as 30-40% off." The same goes for Memorial Day, Labor Day, and the days directly ahead of Christmas. To avoid being overwhelmed during these fast sales, have tentative travel dates in mind. Another strategy Spellman recommends: sign up for hotel e-newsletters, which may offer discounts of their own.
Join a Loyalty Program
"Find programs that offer a lot of hotels within your budget," suggests Spellman. "Of course, it's best if they're in destinations you're most likely to travel to." Once you find a program (or two) that meets your travel needs, try to use it as much as you can, since you'll earn points with each stay. And don't forget about it when booking travel for work.
Do Your Research
With their variety of offerings, online travel agencies (OTAs) are a good place to start your research, says Spellman, but it never hurts to shop around. A little extra digging could pay off. See which OTA is offering the best deal for your destination, and keep in mind that bundling your flight, car rental, and hotel together tends to push the overall price down. But don't stop there. Before booking, double-check the rate on the hotel's main website and call directly. The extra legwork could save you money; if not, at least you'll feel more confident that whoever's in the room next door to you probably didn't get it for less.
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Originally published on GEICO