Despite what you might think, you don’t have to spend a fortune to stay at a four-star hotel. A little legwork can score you cheap deals, whether you’re staying at a luxury resort, bed and breakfast, or run-of-the-mill hotel or motel.
With the following tips, you and your companions can trim hotel costs and enjoy a delightful getaway without breaking the bank.
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Use membership programs and special offers
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Members of groups such as AAA and AARP often qualify for reduced hotel rates.
The same holds true for people in certain professions, such as educators and military personnel, says Nancy Dunnan, editor and publisher of TravelSmart, one of the nation’s oldest consumer travel newsletters.
“If you work for a nonprofit or are an educator, mention the fact when making reservations,” Dunnan says. “You may get a discount or an upgrade.”
Many hotel chains and individually operated hotels give discounts to military personnel. For example, Choice Hotels offers a 10 percent discount plus 10 percent bonus points on future lodging. Marriott offers 15 percent off while Days Inn has a 10 percent discount.
“Through 2010, the elegant Warwick International Hotels is giving a 25 percent discount to active military personnel who are on R&R,” says Dunnan. The discounts are available at hotels in Dallas, Denver, New York City, San Francisco and Seattle.
Discounts may also be extended to returning guests, she says.
“If you have been a guest of the hotel previously, mention the fact,” she says. “Or, if your company uses the hotel or chain, again state the fact, even if you’re not on a business trip.”
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Time your trip for savings
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When it comes to getting a good deal on a hotel room, timing can be everything.
“One of the easiest ways to trim your travel budget is to go off-season,” says Lauren Braden, founder of Northwest Cheapsleeps, a Web site and blog about affordable travel in the Pacific Northwest.
“You’ll save on airfare and accommodations, and might appreciate some additional perks, like shorter lines,” she says.
“Off-season” varies according to your destination. In the Caribbean, for example, the summer is considered “off-season” whereas the Pacific Northwest and Europe receive fewer tourists during the winter, Braden says.
“You’ll also save some, but not as much, by pushing your trip time just before or after the heavy tourist season into what are called the ‘shoulder seasons,'” she says. “For example, visit London in October or Cancun in April.”
You may be able to reduce your hotel bill by staying midweek rather than during the weekend. However, this is not always the case.
“In some cities, weekend rates are actually lower — if it’s a ‘business’ city and therefore empties out on the weekends,” she says.
Hotels also often drop rates after 6 p.m. if people with reservations have not arrived, Dunnan says.
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Surf the Web for deals
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The Internet can help you save money on virtually everything, including hotel rooms.
“I recently stayed in a four-star hotel in downtown Seattle on a weekend night for $69 through Priceline.com,” she says. “Had I booked directly through the hotel, a similar room would have cost me about $150.”
TravelSmart’s Dunnan agrees that the Web offers many deals, but she and Braden advise consumers to check the fine print before booking a room. In the case of Braden’s recent hotel stay, her reservation was nontransferable and nonrefundable.
“Another tactic is to check the hotel Web sites directly for seasonal deals and promotions before you book a room through Priceline or Hotwire; if you can get a similar deal by booking direct, you might enjoy more flexibility should you need to cancel the reservation,” Braden says.
For increased savings, Dunnan advises travelers to always check for package deals on hotels and rental cars when making an airline reservation at sites such as Orbitz and Travelocity.
Many Web sites also provide promotional codes that can be used for discounts at hotels and motels.
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Think outside the box
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“Travelers can save a lot of money on accommodations, and enjoy truly unique travel experiences, by thinking outside of the box when it comes to lodging,” Braden says.
For example, your wallet may benefit from choosing an independent inn or a small bed and breakfast over a more “traditional” hotel.
Such facilities “are often friendly, inexpensive and a good value when a home-cooked breakfast is included,” she says.
You can find these independent lodgings in guidebooks, the destination’s chamber of commerce Web site or the visitor’s bureau’s list of local lodgings, Braden says.
Vacation rentals can also provide significant savings over more traditional accommodations. Braden says such rentals often offer more space and range “from a cabin on the Oregon coast to a farmhouse in upstate New York.”
Such rentals can be found at Web sites such as HomeAway, she says.
You can also trim your travel budget by casting a wider net when it comes to location.
“A hotel in Jersey City, for example, is almost half the price of a midtown Manhattan hotel, and yet it’s a short train ride into Manhattan,” Braden says.
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In some cases, it’s appropriate to negotiate a room rate.
“It’s important to do this tactfully and to pay a fair price in the end,” Braden says.
Frame your initial offer so that it doesn’t create a combative exchange, she says.
“For example, ‘I’d really like to stay here, but $80 a night is a bit higher than my budget allows. Would you consider dropping that by 15 percent?'”
Sometimes, you’ll get a receptive response. If the answer is a solid “no” or the person seems offended, let it go, Braden says.
Dunnan says some situations increase bargaining power. For example, if the hotel/motel parking lot is not full, “that’s usually a sign that there are unsold rooms. This gives one additional leverage in negotiating,” she says.
Just be sure to leave your baggage in the car. By dragging luggage into the lobby, “you’re sending a message to the check-in person that you’re planning on staying the night regardless of the price,” Dunnan says.
Also, try to negotiate other charges. Once, Braden “negotiated out of a steep cleaning fee at a vacation rental by assuring the owner that I would clean the cabin myself before leaving.”
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More frugal travel stories
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Read these Bankrate stories to learn more about ways to save when traveling.