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50 Hotel Secrets Only Insiders Know

Jaime Catmull
50 Hotel Secrets Only Insiders Know

Hotels are often a very large expense on any trip and can take a big bite out of your vacation budget. But if you know how to find the best hotel deals, you can save some serious money on everything from luxury accommodations to discount hotels. I spoke to hotel insiders and travel experts to get their best tips, so you can save money on your next hotel stay.

Book Weeks in Advance

Knowing the best time to book your hotel room can help minimize travel costs. You can usually get great prices by making hotel reservations 14 to 21 days before your stay, according to Expedia.

“Don’t make the mistake of not planning ahead,” said Rachel Cruze, a No. 1 New York Times best-selling author and host of “The Rachel Cruze Show.” “Lots of people think they’ll get a last-minute deal on a hotel, but often times prices go up, and you run the risk of rooms selling out. You’ll probably wind up spending more out of pure desperation. Book your room ahead of time. You can always cancel it if you find a better rate. Just be sure to check the hotel’s cancellation policy when you book.”

Tips: We Crunched the Numbers and Found the Cheapest Time to Book Any Trip

Or, Wait Until the Last Minute to Book a Room

If you can handle really waiting on this, you can often score a last-minute hotel deal.

“Book last minute,” said Geena Marcelia from Hotwire. “Although it’s common practice to book in advance, if it’s possible to wait, you can usually find the best rates one week before your travel dates.”

Get a Refund for a Price Drop

If you don’t want to end up without a place to stay, you can reserve a room in advance and still take advantage of price drops by booking hotels through Tingo.com. Tingo will automatically rebook your room at a lower rate, if the price drops, and refund you the difference.

Stay on a Sunday

Timing a hotel stay right can save you money. And Sundays “are almost always the cheapest day of the week for hotels,” said Marcelia.

Hit Tourist Locales Midweek

Cities that are major tourist destinations often see more traffic on weekends when people aren’t working and have time to travel. Since prices tend to rise with demand, you’ll save on the cost of lodging if you go against the tide.

“When it comes to booking a hotel, you’ll save the most by staying during the week,” said Cruze. “If you can take the time off work, you’ll be able to snag a much cheaper price for your lodging.”

Visit Business Hot Spots on Weekends

You can save money on hotel rates by staying in a city’s business district on weekends when business travelers have checked out and headed home, said Bob Tupper, author of “Drinking in the Culture: Tuppers’ Guide to Exploring Great Beers in Europe.” For example, he found a room in an upscale business district of Zurich, on a weekend at half the price of a weekday stay.

Take Advantage of the Shoulder Season

Shoulder season is the period of time between the off-peak season — when the weather is not ideal for travel — and the peak season when ideal weather conditions make prices high and crowds abundant. Because demand is lower, you might be able to find cheap hotel rooms.

“Hotels often run promotions during [the] low season, especially directly before peak season kicks off when they know they need to incentivize people to travel,” said Liana Corwin, travel and lifestyle expert with booking app Hopper. “Look for spring specials, especially before the last week in May, when many will still be running these promotions.”

Did You Know? The Financial Perks of Off-Season Travel

Get Deep Discounts During the Off-Season

Just because a destination has a reputation for extreme heat, cold or storms at certain times of the year doesn’t mean you’re destined to experience bad weather if you visit them, said Elizabeth Avery, founder of Solo Trekker 4 U, a site dedicated to those traveling alone.

What you will get, though, are deep discounts on lodging because demand is lower in the off-season. For example, locales known for having a rainy season can be a good value because the rains are often brief rather than continuous, she said. You can still do plenty of sightseeing — at a lower cost.

Stay in the Suburbs

If you stay on the outskirts of midsize and larger cities, you’ll find more upscale hotels at lower prices than you might pay for a budget hotel within the city.

“Most major cities have plenty of hotel options outside of the city center,” said Devon Nagle, head of communications at Priceline. “For example, when planning a trip to the Big Apple, consider staying in an outer borough versus Manhattan. Plenty of options exist at rates below those in the most popular areas; this allows travelers to spend the savings on experiences, versus lodging.”

Watch Out for Event-Related Price Hikes

Before you book a trip, make sure there are no major events happening in the city when you want to visit it, said Eric Grayson, founder of Discover 7 Travel. Otherwise, you could wind up paying astronomical rates due to increased demand for rooms in the area, he said.

Check the city’s tourism or chamber of commerce site for a calendar of events to ensure you’re not planning a trip at a time when rooms will be scarce and prices will be high.

Be Flexible With Travel Dates

The more flexible you are with your travel dates, the more you can save on a hotel room. Choose a destination, and then price the cost of a hotel over a few different weeks or months to spot the best rates.

Take advantage of the Trivago Hotel Price Index to see the average monthly prices for 35 of North America’s most popular cities to determine the cheapest time to book a stay.

Be Flexible With Destinations

You can save even more on the cost of a hotel room if you’re willing to be flexible with your destination. If you’re comparing beach destinations, it’s the same water, sand and sun — but the rate might be different. You can find more cheap hotels in some places than in others.

Use Mobile Apps to Book Hotel Rooms

Travelers can often get special hotel deals by booking hotels through travel apps. For example, the Priceline app has “Tonight Only” hotel deals that offer savings of up to 60% on last-minute hotel rooms, and the Last Minute Travel app offers discounts of up to 60% as well. You also can get $25 off your first hotel booking through the app.

Get Discounts on Unused Hotel Reservations

HotelTonight partners with top hotel chains to book their unsold rooms, so you can find deep discounts on last-minute hotel bookings.

“When it comes to booking the best stay, HotelTonight is my favorite app for finding hidden deals in each city,” said Jennifer Hawkins, a frequent traveler, and founder and president of Hawkins International Public Relations. “I’m honestly shocked every time I open the app and see a new, ridiculously awesome deal.”

Don’t Be Afraid to Book Blindly

You can find cheap hotel rooms and get discounts of up to 60% if you take advantage of the option to book a room and pay online without knowing the exact hotel where you’ll be staying at using sites such as Hotwire and Priceline. With Hotwire’s “Hot Rate” hotels, you’ll see a rate — and how much of a discount it is below published prices — along with the general location, hotel details and reviews. And with Priceline’s “Express Deals,” you can pick the exact amenities you want — such as the number of beds — in addition to star rating and location.

“Hotels — even some luxury — will often offer steep discounts — sometimes more than half off — to travelers who will book the hotel based on its star rating and neighborhood, rather than its specific name,” said Nagle. “Such deals often exist for last-minute travelers in particular, but can also be found weeks in advance.”

Use Online Coupons

There are plenty of coupon websites that offer codes to save money on purchases with online retailers, but coupon codes aren’t just for products.

“By using online coupons for travel, people can expect to save up to 20%,” said Scott Kluth, founder of CouponCabin, a site that offers both coupon codes and cash back on purchases at certain retailers.

The benefit of using coupons is that you can stack them with other discounts and cash-back offers to maximize your savings, Kluth said.

Save With Package Deals

You can save hundreds of dollars by taking advantage of deals offered by travel sites that bundle airfare and hotel accommodations into one price.

These package deals allow hotels to offer lower rates because the room price isn’t disclosed separately from the airfare, so it gives a hotel cover for selling at a lower rate.

Join Hotel Loyalty Programs

“Loyalty goes a long way with hotels,” said Cruze. “Lots of hotels reward people who join their loyalty programs with perks. Most of them offer things like early check-in, room upgrades and even special discounts on rooms. Signing up is free, so you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

Join Travel Site Rewards Programs

Some travel booking sites have their own rewards programs that members can join for free and earn points for free stays at a variety of hotels, from upscale to cheap hotels.

For example, Orbitz’s Orbitz Rewards program lets you earn 1 Orbuck for every $1 spent on eligible hotel bookings. Hotels.com also offers a rewards program that’s free to join and allows members to get a free hotel night after booking 10 hotel nights through the site.

Get Free Stays at Independent Hotels

Major hotel chains aren’t the only ones that reward their guests for being loyal. You can get free stays at independent hotels through Stash Hotel Rewards. This free program lets you earn points by booking through StashRewards.com and then you redeem the points for rooms at more than 160 hotels across the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean.

International travelers can join Voilà Hotel Rewards at VHR.com to earn points for free stays at independent hotels and resorts around the world. Members also get other benefits, including early check-in, late check-out and room upgrades.

Get a Travel Rewards Credit Card

You can rack up points for free hotel stays even faster if you get a hotel-branded credit card.

“Choosing the right hotel credit card can help you get free night stays, and potentially save you hundreds of dollars per year,” said Nathan Grant, a credit industry analyst at Credit Card Insider. “Hotel cards can also get you an upgraded hotel status, which often comes with bonus points, room upgrades, early check-in, and late check-out.”

With the Hilton Honors Card from American Express, for example, you can earn seven points for every $1 you spend on Hilton properties, five points for every $1 spent on gas, grocery and restaurant purchases, and three points per $1 for all other purchases. There’s no annual fee, and you can get 75,000 bonus points if you spend $1,000 in the first three months after getting your card.

Get More Savings With Your Credit Card

Even if you don’t have a hotel-branded credit card, your credit card might offer savings and perks at hotels. For example, American Express Platinum cardholders can book through Amex Travel’s Fine Hotels & Resorts service for benefits such as room upgrades, free internet, food and beverage credits, and more. Check your card to see what travel benefits and hotel hacks it offers, and find out how to maximize those benefits.

Get Airline Miles for Booking Hotel Rooms

You can get a lot more value for your hotel dollar by using a travel booking site that gives you airline miles when you book through them, said Jared Blank, past chief marketing officer of deal and coupon site DealNews.

Rocketmiles, PointsHound and Kaligo are three sites that offer up thousands of miles per night for your favorite airline frequent flyer program when you book through them. And room rates are generally the same as those found on other travel sites, he said.

Get Free Food With Your Stay

Several hotels offer guests free food, so you can eliminate the cost of some meals if you stay at these chains.

Comfort Inn & Suites and Hampton Hotels, for example, offer guests free hot breakfast. Embassy Suites offers guests complimentary breakfasts and free drinks in the evening. And kids younger than 12 can eat free at Holiday Inn on-site restaurants.

Be Nice to the Staff -- and Don't Be Afraid to Ask For Upgrades

When you check into a hotel, treat the staff well to get better treatment. Being nice to hotel employees might get you a room upgrade or other perk at no extra charge.

“Many hotels will often upgrade their guests simply so their customers will have a good experience,” said Sara Skirboll, shopping and trends expert at RetailMeNot. “The hotel business is big business and hotels, big and small, are aggressively competing for customers every day of the week. All you need is a bit of courage and a smile and more often than not, the front desk staff will do what they can to give you a little something special. Whether that means upgrading your room or simply offering free breakfast, a small and polite ask may go a long way. Bonus points if you’re celebrating a special occasion and operate discreetly.”

 

Avoid Resort Fees and Other Hidden Fees

Resort fees are extra charges hotels levy for amenities such as the use of gym facilities or pool towels, and there might be other hidden fees that come with your stay, so try to do your research ahead of time to avoid them.

“Watch out for hidden fees when you’re booking your room,” said Cruze. “Some hotels might advertise that they have the cheapest rate, but then they charge for amenities like Wi-Fi, breakfast and other things that hotels usually offer for free. Those costs add up and might wind up making your stay more expensive than the hotel across the street that includes those fees in the price for their room. Do your homework and shop around.”

If these charges show up on your bill and you weren’t aware that you were going to be hit with them — or if you’re charged for amenities you didn’t use — ask to have the fees removed. Just remember to be polite about it.

Get Free Wi-Fi

If your hotel doesn’t offer free Wi-Fi, you might be able to get free access if you join the hotel’s loyalty program — which should be free.

Or, if you have an ample data plan for your smartphone, you can use your phone as a mobile hot spot to connect to the internet. Check your phone’s settings for the personal hot spot option.

Pay Less for Parking

Some hotels in metropolitan areas charge outrageous parking fees. You might be able to find cheaper parking at a nearby parking garage or lot — and there might be coupons that let you save more.

Don’t Check In Early

Find out what time you can check in at the hotel you’ve booked before you arrive by calling or looking online. Otherwise, if you show up before the designated check-in time, you could be charged a fee.

Don’t Overtip Housekeeping

Before you leave money in an envelope for the person who cleans your room, ask whether a housekeeping gratuity is automatically included in your bill so you don’t spend more on tipping than necessary. Resorts, in particular, are prone to adding this charge.

Your Tipping Guide: Insider Secrets of Tipping Etiquette

Order Food Delivery Instead of Room Service

You pay a high price for the convenience of room service. Not only will you be charged a room service fee and a gratuity, but you’ll also be expected to tip the person who brings the food to your room.

If you’re too tired to venture out to a restaurant, ask the hotel staff which restaurants in the area deliver to the hotel for free and whether they have menus for them. Or, check local restaurant sites to find out which ones offer the best prices.

You can also go the BYO route and stock the minibar with your own snacks before you arrive.

“Typically I will order items off of Amazon and have them shipped to my hotel,” said Ian McClarty, a frequent traveler, and president and CEO of PhoenixNAP Global IT Services. “On Amazon, I have created a repeatable order. With a few clicks, I can have my favorite healthy snacks and drinks waiting for me when I check into the hotel. I have used this on almost every trip over the last few years and saved not only money but also my waistline.”

Don’t Leave Your Bags in Hotel Storage

If you ask the hotel staff to hold your bags in storage to avoid checking out late, you might get hit with a fee. To be safe, ask about any fees before handing over your luggage.

Watch Out For Extra Person Fees

Most hotel rates are based on double occupancy. If you have more than two people in a room — even if they’re kids — you might have to pay more. Always check a hotel’s policy before you book, and avoid properties that charge extra if there are more than two people in your party.

AAA offers significant discounts for a variety of hotel chains, too.

Use Membership Discounts

Take advantage of your profession or membership in various groups to score hotel discounts. For example, hotel chains such as Choice Hotels, Hilton and Marriott all offer discounted rates for military members and government employees.

AARP, the organization for adults 50 and older, offers its members discounts that typically range from 5% to 15% at several hotel chains.

Use a Travel Agent

It’s easy to compare prices and book hotel stays online. But you might get a room with more perks at no extra cost if you use a travel agent to book your stay. That’s because travel agents can leverage their relationships with hotels to get more for guests.

“A lot of people think using a travel agent isn’t within their budget,” said Cruze. “But most agents don’t even charge for their services. If you’re overwhelmed trying to book a hotel, it’s worth looking into a travel agent. They often are able to get deals that you can’t find elsewhere, and you have the convenience of getting expert advice. Not to mention, everything is booked for you so there’s less work on your end. Just be sure to ask upfront if they have fees, but for the most part, they do not.”

Don’t Pay Extra for a View You Won’t Enjoy

Getting a room with a view of the beach or a city skyline can cost you more. If you’re only going to be in your room after dark, don’t pay extra for a view you won’t be able to enjoy, said Avery.

Avoid Deals That Are Too Good To Be True

If you find a hotel deal that seems too good to be true, it probably is, Avery said. A hotel with an unbelievably low rate might have lots of hidden costs that could wipe out any savings you think you’re getting. Moreover, quality issues might be the reason a hotel’s price is below the going rate — and a good reason to stay away, she said.

Be Persistent

If you check for hotel rates and can’t find any that fit your budget, don’t give up. Hotels frequently adjust their rates. If you don’t see something you like today, keep checking.

Set Price Alerts

To keep track of hotel rates, you can sign up for price alerts at the travel aggregator site Kayak. You’ll be notified via text message or email when rates at hotels you select change. Setting price alerts can help you nab hotel deals without having to check back at hotel or travel sites daily.

Book Your Hotel in Person (in Some Destinations)

“When traveling through Southeast Asia, you can save up to 50% on hotels just by booking your room in person and paying with cash,” said frequent travelers Max Chambers and Loren Rispoli. “Sites like Agoda, Booking.com, and Hostelworld are great for the U.S. or Europe, but don’t provide competitive rates in a number of Southeast Asian countries.”

“Recently, in Cebu in the Philippines, we found the price of one hotel on Agoda quoted at $35, but when turning up at the hotel, they were charging $25 for the exact same room,” Chambers said.

Bargain With the Hotel Owner

If talking to the front desk or hotel staff doesn’t get you hotel perks, talk to the big boss.

“Another tip to get cheap hotels in [Southeast Asia] is to bargain with the hotel owners,” said Chambers. “Not only can you get a reduced price on your room, [but you can also] get things like breakfast or meal vouchers included in your stay.”

Book Through the Mobile App

“The best way to find last-minute deals is through mobile websites, mobile apps and by calling in,” said Mahesh Chaddah, co-founder of hotel booking site Reservations.com. “Many hotels will offer limited discount rates to mobile users only, so keep those apps handy.”

Look for Hidden Rates

“We have all heard of the old saying, ‘What you see is what you get,’ but sometimes you want what you don’t see,” said Chaddah. “Almost all hotels publish the same room rates on all public websites. However, most also offer discount hidden rates up to 30% cheaper through unpublished channels, like the call center.”

Become a Registered User and Log In

If you haven’t signed up to be a registered user on your favorite travel booking site, you should do so before you plan your next trip.

“Most websites offer limited special rates, flash rates and extra room availability on sold-out hotels to their registered and logged-in users,” said Chaddah. “So, make sure you sign up and sign in before searching.”

Take Advantage of Tuesdays

Don’t wait until the weekend to book your hotel — do it on a Tuesday.

“Based on historical data, hotel booking rates are the lowest on this day of the week,” said Chaddah. “So be sure to compare prices and take advantage of the lower rates being offered on this day.”

Don’t Ignore State Resident Discounts

If you’re planning a vacation in your state, you might be eligible to score a discount on your hotel stay.

“Many hotels — for instance those in Florida and Hawaii — offer state resident discounts,” said Chaddah. “All you need is a state-issued ID at check-in, and you can save an extra 10% to 20%. So next time you take a staycation or local getaway, make sure you show off that driver’s license.”

Ask the Front Desk About Partnership Deals

“Most hotels create business partnerships with local businesses, restaurants, and activities,” said Jennie Jacobs, director of sales and marketing at Hotel Santa Barbara in California. “These relationships equate to great experiences, savings, and deals for guests. For instance, a local restaurant partner might provide the front desk or hotel concierge with some discount coupons or maybe a free dessert with dinner if the staff calls and books the reservation.”

Tell the Hotel About Other Travel Deals

“If you go to a booking site that has “deals” listed, call the hotel or inn directly, and tell them you have seen the rates offered on the site and were wondering if they could better it,” said Pekka Paavonpera, innkeeper at the Snapdragon Inn.

“Chances are they can, by between 10% and 15%, because that’s the commission they have to pay the booking site anyway.”

Sign Up for Hotels’ Virtual Guest Books

If you’re planning a trip to Las Vegas, travel journalist David Yeskel offers this tip on how to score the best rate on your hotel.

“Travelers should register on the individual hotels’ virtual guest books,” he said. “They’ll receive promotional emails that often pair low room rates with free daily buffet passes and other resort credits that can bring the effective daily room rate down to ridiculously low levels.”

Start a Bidding War

Next time you’re planning to travel, book a hotel reservation that doesn’t come with cancellation fees. Then, call other nearby hotels and ask if they can offer you a better deal. If you’re talking to a hotel chain, make sure to talk to the front desk directly, as they’re the ones who can make on-the-spot deals.

Click through to read about other travel tips like the airport secrets only insiders know.

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Sydney Champion, Cameron Huddleston, and Gabrielle Olya contributed to the reporting for this article.

This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: 50 Hotel Secrets Only Insiders Know