Whether your hotel is meant to be a vacation highlight or just a place to rest your head at night, you can always do better than the everyday rate most people pay. Use these 10 tips to stretch your travel budget and get the best deal, every time.
Stay flexible. The biggest savings come from traveling during your destination's off-season or shoulder season. But even if you can't plan your trip around low-season prices, you can still save by opting to start your stay on a Sunday rather than a Friday. Travel midweek for even better prices.
Make a business decision. If your heart's set on a weekend stay, head to the business district for real value. Many hotels in corporate, financial, and conference hot spots are busiest midweek and offer better deals on the weekends. They're usually well-situated near public transportation, too.
Get upgraded for free. Price isn't the only measure of a great deal. To improve your chances of getting a room upgrade, wait until about 6:00 p.m. to check in. At that point the front desk will know which of the nicer rooms are still vacant and you'll have an increased chance of scoring a better room, minus the extra cost.
Membership has its privileges. You don't have to be a frequent traveler to take advantage of frequent-traveler discounts. Sign up for a rewards programs linked to a credit card and start earning points toward free stays. Even if you never achieve a free stay, simply belonging to a program can ease your way to a room upgrade or, at the very least, free Wi-Fi.
Take advantage of freebies. After the cost of flights and accommodations, meals take up the biggest portion of most people's travel budget. Look for a hotel that offers daily free breakfast—even a buffet—to rack up real in-trip savings. The same goes for an in-room coffee pot, refrigerator, and microwave.
Don't pay for amenities you won't need. Your hotel is passing the cost of its swimming pool and fitness center onto its guests. If you’re not likely to take advantage of them, find another place to stay. Odds are you'll find a suitable room for a lot less.
Beware of hidden costs. Mandatory resort fees don't always appear in the property descriptions posted on popular online travel agency (OTA) sites. Likewise, parking costs and Internet charges may be buried in the fine print. Read carefully to make sure you're really comparing apples to apples before you book.
Use the force (of collective buying power). You may already belong to an organization that has negotiated special discounts for its members. Ask the hotel directly about AAA, AARP, student, military, teacher, and government-employee discounts. Those special deals may trump even the "best available rate" prices posted online.
Book in advance. Hotels hate empty rooms, so the earlier they can fill them the more willing they are to give you a deal. Many properties will discount rooms anywhere from 15 to 20 percent off the going rate if you're willing to commit more than 14 days before your stay.
Start a bidding war. Book the best refundable room rate you can find, and then get to work calling other hotels in the same area. Make sure to tell the front desk you already have a reservation elsewhere, but are willing to change plans if they can do better. You'll be surprised how often it works.