If you aren’t planning on staying with friends or family over the upcoming Memorial Day, Independence Day, or Labor Day weekends, you’ll be faced with finding accommodations during peak travel times. While holidays are known for high hotel prices and increased tourism, we’ve found ways to save.
Regardless of where you’re visiting, these expert tips will help you save money on hotel stays during peak travel periods.
- Look for holiday-specific sales or packages: Kathleen Sanford, director of revenue strategy for Kimpton Hotels, a boutique hotel chain, notes that “special holiday weekend packages can include parking, breakfast, shopping coupons, or even tickets to a local museum or theater. By bundling the components of the package together, hotels can provide guests with a fabulous experience at a good value.” As most of these packages are subject to availability and blackout dates, be sure to read the fine print to make sure your travel dates are valid—sometimes “holiday” sales may not be available over the actual holiday.
- Get online: Online-only discounts are a great way to find a bargain, and many hotel chains offer the lowest room prices available only on their company websites. Crowne Plaza, Doubletree, Hilton, Holiday Inn, Hyatt, Kimpton, Omni, Starwood, and Wyndham all offer such pricing, which could be the best way to find a low rate for your holiday trip. To guarantee the lowest price, however, many hotels may require prepayment and offer no refunds in the event of cancellations. Be sure your plans are solid before choosing this option. And as hotel deals change often, visit SmarterTravel.com’s hotel section to keep track of the latest offers.
- Use opaque sites: Opaque sites such as Priceline and Hotwire may be a good bet for finding an affordable room. Both sites let you search by neighborhood and choose star classes, so you can hunt for value rather than being completely in the dark. At press time, for example, a Hotwire search for Boston hotels over Memorial Day weekend found a three-star hotel downtown for $124 per night, significantly less than the city average price of $187 per night.
- Check local CVBs for promotions: Many times a CVB will partner with area hotels to offer extra savings and special perks only available through its website or by calling the tourism office directly. Tourisme Montreal, for example, is sponsoring a two-night Sweet Deal package at hotels across the city that includes accommodations, late checkout, breakfast, travel totes and coupons, and 50 percent off a third night should you extend your stay. Rooms start at $137 per night.
- Compare—then compare again: It’s always smart to be an informed consumer and compare as many prices as you can. Save time when researching hotel rates by using an online comparison tool such as BookingBuddy.com, a sister site of SmarterTravel.com, or Kayak.com.
Save in popular cities
While some travelers head to the beach or lakes over summer holiday weekends, many cities do see brisk tourism business, and finding an affordable hotel becomes an even greater challenge. If you plan on having an urban holiday weekend this year, here are some extra savings strategies to consider.
- Check alternative accommodations: Vacation rentals, home stays, bed and breakfasts, and hostels may offer greater availability, sales, and overall cheaper lodging possibilities over holiday weekends. CVBs may also be a good resource for finding local listings and specials for these types of accommodations.
Be an early bird: Sanford recommends planning ahead: “If you’re traveling to a popular destination or during a busy season … book as far in advance as possible when there is greater availability and rates are slightly lower.” This could be up to a year in advance for New Year’s Eve in New York City, May graduations in Boston, or the Fourth of July in Washington, D.C.
“Don’t wait until the last minute,” Sanford advises. “As room availability decreases throughout the city during high demand periods, hotels will increase room rates and you could get squeezed out of any deals or a room [itself].” If advance planning isn’t possible and you must go last minute, “shop around—even the day of your arrival—and don’t be afraid to ask if there are any specials or same-day rates in case the hotel received last-minute cancellations.”
- Learn from others: Online communities often have great strategies for places to stay, cheap finds, and hidden gems. The reader recommendations on Frommers and TripAdvisor (another partner of SmarterTravel.com) can help you plan a smart, savvy getaway, and perhaps even find a great deal that wouldn’t be listed elsewhere. The deals section of Hotel Chatter, a hotel blog, often lists company glitches such as computer pricing errors and ad misprints, blindfold sales, and individual property promotions that may provide value and savings applicable to your holiday weekend trip.
- Check alternative promotions: If you can’t find savings on your hotel stay, check to see if alternative savings are offered through hotel partners. Choice Hotels, for instance, provides rental car discounts, savings at Amazon.com, and up to $20 in free gas with MotorPlus. While it may not save much on accommodations, such discounts may help alleviate the overall cost of your trip.
- Look outside the city: If you don’t have your heart set on being downtown, staying just outside the city often will be cheaper. So, if you’re headed to San Francisco, check hotels in Berkeley or Oakland. Visiting New York City? Compare prices in Hoboken, Newark, or on Long Island. Lastly, if you don’t mind staying near the airport, you can often find cheaper rooms at airport hotels, which can provide substantial savings when compared to city properties.
No matter where you’re headed this holiday season, make sure you pay the right hotel price for your budget. With planning, research, and the patience to shop around, an affordable hotel should be within your reach—regardless of high demand. Then, once you arrive, you can truly celebrate your savings and have a relaxing holiday.
Our insider secrets
We asked our editors to share their own strategies for booking hotels over high-demand holiday weekends:
- Josh Roberts, managing editor: Never pay for more than you need. If all you need is a bed and a roof over your head, don’t go looking for a place downtown. Find a place outside the city—on a highway or something. They’re not the nicest places, but they’re more likely to have availability and be cheap than someplace with a better location. Last summer, when I drove from Boston to Denver on Memorial Day weekend, I didn’t have any trouble just pulling into a Motel 6 on the side of the highway when I needed a room, as long as I wasn’t picky about the location.
Shop around before you go. Use a map website to find out where there are hotels near where you’ll be staying. Often the ones that are a little off the main highway will be cheaper than the ones you can see from the highway.
- Erica Silverstein, associate editor, Frequent Flyer and Cruise: Compare fares on BookingBuddy.com (a sister site of SmarterTravel.com), check online providers (Orbitz, Travelocity, etc.), and then go to the hotel’s website to see if there’s a better rate with no service charge. Try to book as far in advance as possible. Opaque sites are great for hotel reservations, but check Biddingfortravel.com for hints before booking and then double-check parameters (like neighborhood) before submitting a request. Read TripAdvisor to make sure the hotel is not a dump. Remember to play all membership cards (loyalty programs, AAA, AARP, WGBH) as sometimes you can get lower rates. Confirm the reservation a few days before leaving.
Never show up on their doorstep [without a reservation]. You’re not likely to find day-of empty rooms on a holiday weekend.
- Jessica Labrencis, associate editor, Air: Look at alternative arrangements, like camping or hostels. Stay in a hotel geared toward business travelers, which can be less busy on weekends and holidays.
- Molly Feltner, associate editor, Senior, Student, and Family: If it’s too pricey in the city, look for rooms in nearby towns that are connected by public transportation or are a short drive away. For instance, if I were going to Washington, D.C., I’d look for hotels in places like Alexandria, VA, and Bethesda, MD, which are both a short metro ride away from downtown.
When using a site like Hotels.com or Orbitz, make sure you look at a map and figure out where the hotel is in relation to what you want to see, because the cheapest options are often pretty far away. Sometimes, though, paying a little more to be closer and avoid transportation hassles is worth it.