With increasing rates and more booking options than ever, finding a good hotel deal for your trip can be a time-consuming and complicated process. Even as a mature traveler, you can’t rely on senior discounts to give you the lowest price, so it’s important to have a game plan in place when you need to book accommodations. To help you sort through all the options and find a hotel that suits your needs and budget, here’s our step-by-step hotel-booking guide.
1. Browse the online travel agencies
If you don’t have a specific hotel in mind, start by browsing several of the big third-party online travel sites such as Expedia, Hotels.com, Orbitz, PlacesToStay.com, and Travelocity. Most of these sites allow you sort the listings by price, star rating, and distance from the city center or another landmark or address you designate.
This initial search will help give you a general idea of what’s available in your destination and what price range to expect. Keep these rates in mind, but don’t book until you’ve had the chance to see if you can get a better deal through the hotel chain’s website. Also note that these sites do not display AAA, AARP, or other special discount rates.
To search third-party sites more quickly, you can try using an online search tool that allows you to compare rates from multiple sources. Such search tools include SmarterTravel’s price-comparison feature, Kayak, Mobissimo, SideStep, and Travel Axe.
2. Check hotel ratings
Once you’ve narrowed down the field, make sure the hotel you’re considering meets your standards. It can be hard to judge a hotel by the star ratings a hotel search site assigns it, but you can find out how recent guests felt about their stay by looking up the hotel on a user review site like TripAdvisor (another SmarterTravel.com partner) or HotelShark.com.
3. Look up rates on the hotel chain website
When you’ve found a good option, go to the hotel chain’s website (or the hotel’s own website, if it has one). Often, you’ll get the best publicly available rate this way because many chains offer a lowest-rate guarantee that you won’t find better prices elsewhere. Note that the lowest rates are often only available online and may also be subject to advance-purchase rules, harsh cancellation policies, or other restrictions. Also, be sure to check for special rates such as AAA, AARP, or the chain’s own senior rate. Often you can do better than the AARP or senior rate with other promotional rates, but these special rates usually have fewer restrictions than sale rates and can be booked at the last minute.
While you’ll likely find the best price online, it doesn’t hurt to call the hotel and see if they can give you a better rate.
4. Try an opaque-booking site
If you’re not set on a specific hotel, you may be able to beat publicly available rates by booking through an opaque-pricing travel site such as Hotwire or priceline. Using these sites, you can often snag very good rates at high-quality hotels—sometimes the best prices you’ll find anywhere. Of course, such deals don’t come without a tradeoff: When using the opaque-booking function, you are allowed to designate the area of the city you want to stay in and the hotel class, but you won’t know the exact hotel you’re staying in until after you’ve made a nonrefundable, non-changeable reservation. Thus, this type of booking is only recommended if you’re fairly certain your plans won’t change.
5. Save with Entertainment discounts
Another alternative method for saving on hotel is using Entertainment book discounts. Purchase an Entertainment coupon book that covers one of more than 160 popular U.S. destinations and you’ll be eligible for thousands of exclusive discounts, including hotel savings. The 2005 editions cost $22 to $45 each (varying by destination), which gives you membership in the Entertainment hotel discount program through November 1. Members are entitled to a 50-percent discount off the rack rate at more than 5,000 hotels worldwide. If the hotel has a lower promotional rate, members may be given an additional 10 percent off that price. Note that Entertainment rates must be booked over the phone and discounts only apply when the hotel is operating at less than 80-percent occupancy. For more details, visit the Entertainment website.
While there’s no sure fire way to find the best deal, you can at least get close by following the steps outlined above. Knowing that you’ve covered all your bases will give you peace of mind when you make your decision.