To Jones and his family, the "budget
chains have their place at 10 p.m.," when a stop
for the night is necessary.
But in general, amenities like free breakfast
are a must.
"Even at Denny's,
breakfast for the four of us is going to be $20 plus
the tip. That is the big picture
With advance planning, Jones says he can
typically book beyond-basics chains -- such as Marriott,
Hilton, Sheraton, Hyatt, and Westin hotels -- for $75
to $85 per night, including taxes, parking and breakfast.
Flexibility in your travel plans also can play a major
role in getting a good hotel deal. Consider, for example:
- Making that road trip during the off-season.
- Finding a hotel that also caters to
business travelers during the week near the highway
you'll be driving. On weekends, these hotels -- perhaps
near an airport -- have high vacancy rates and tend
to offer lower rates on weekends.
- Making part or all of your trip during
the week and avoiding the weekend rush.
Early bird gets
An assured reservation is one reason to book early.
After all, no one wants to wind up spending the night
in a hotel parking lot. Or, as Borman once did, driving
around all night searching for a vacancy.
As for rate shopping, experts say no single
search method will assure you of getting the best rate.
"Each hotel chain has its own rules," Borman
says. "Some guarantee the lowest rate will be found
online at their own sites. Others provide inexpensive
rates via online reservations booking systems like Hotels.com,
Orbitz and Travelocity."
Sometimes, the chain's toll-free number
offers the lowest rate.
"Try each way, and always ask, 'Is
this the lowest rate I can possibly get?'" Borman
says. Employees at some chains won't offer the lowest
rate if not asked directly.
Road-trip warriors might also ask their
favorite chains about frequent-stay programs, which
Jones says are underutilized by consumers. The programs
may offer weekly specials -- and the ability to negotiate.
Jones gives this example: Let's say a
frequent guest at "Plush Hotels" sees a special
at nearby "Outstanding Hotels," "you
might quote that better rate and say something like,
'Since I am a Double Super Duper Aluminum member with
you guys and would really prefer staying in my 'home'
hotel, could you extend that price to me?'"
Snip and save
Coupons from credit card offers and discount books such
as the "Entertainment"
book, are also worth checking out.
Just read the fine print. "Many
are not what they seem," says Jones. "Even
the 'buy one night and get one free' coupons tend to
be at rack (rate)" -- that is, the highest rate.
Magnuson agrees. "You're going to
have more flexibility as a consumer with the Internet
than you'll have with these types of things."
As for hotel type, Magnuson makes this
case for considering nonfranchised, independently owned
accommodations like his company's member hotels: Without
franchise fees, owners are typically able to pass along
savings of at least 30 percent.