Travel gets very expensive very fast—and one of the biggest costs is the hotel room. But with all the discounts and deal-hunting sites out there, you shouldn’t pay top price unless you absolutely have to. Instead, save more of your budget for actually enjoying your trip. Here are our top tips and essential resources for spending as little as possible on your next hotel stay.
Get the timing right
Most hotels will reward you for booking as early as possible: That’s when they offer the cheapest prices, and sometimes, they throw in sweeteners like free drinks or an extra night. So, once you know where and when you plan to travel, start looking at prices as soon as you can, while they’re at their lowest.
On the flip side, you can also find good deals by booking very late, as hotels try to fill up their rooms at the last minute. However, with this option, you’ll have a smaller pool of hotels and rooms to choose from. Thanks to the limited selection, you may miss out on your preferred location, especially if you’re visiting a popular destination. If you do want to take this risk, a couple sites can help you find the best deals.
- Hotel Tonight: With this service, you input your destination and your travel dates to see a list of hotel offers. It compares current prices with historical highs so you can see where the big savings are.
- Lastminute.com: This is another site built on the concept of the last-minute deal. In addition to a comprehensive hotel search tool similar to those we’ve already mentioned, Lastminute.com has a dedicated page for highlighting flash sales. As a bonus, it often gives out bigger discounts when you buy a hotel and flight together.
Another point to consider is free cancellation. If you’re interested in a hotel that offers this, take advantage by booking the room immediately, but continuing to check on the latest prices as your departure date nears. If you find that prices keep sliding, you can cancel your original booking and set up a new one for a better price.
In other words, the timing of when you book is not an exact science. Whether you should claim your room early or late will depend on the popularity of your destination and the policies of the hotel chain you choose. In fact, if you’re devoted to a particular hotel or chain, the issue of timing becomes less important. Instead, focus on that particular brand’s perks. Sign up for their newsletter or social media updates, which often advertise special deals. While you’re at it, sign up for a reward program, such as Hilton Honors or IHG Rewards., which offers members lower prices, free nights, and bonuses like discounts on restaurant meals.
Compare prices online
The internet abounds in this type of service. So we picked out three of the most popular options for you to consider.
- Booking.com: Input your destination and travel dates into this site to see a list of hotel choices. Then sort the results by price or by other travelers’ review scores. You can filter hotels using all types of criteria—free breakfast, free Wi-Fi, free cancelation, and much more. With Booking.com, you should keep an eye out for the “Great Value Today” labels, which highlight hotel prices that are unlikely to drop any lower before your trip date. Also check out the deals page, which shows special offers running right now. This site works best if you plan to book right away and want the cheapest immediate price.
- Trivago: Like Booking.com, this site lets you sort by price and traveler rating, and tap into filters that cover amenities, hotel facilities, and extras like complimentary Wi-Fi or breakfast. Trivago is particularly good at surfacing deals, whether those come directly from the hotel or through third-party travel services like Expedia. You can see at a glance how prices vary depending on the agent through which you decide to book your room. Then click through to access the best one.
- Kayak: This option includes an extensive selection of filters, so you can find a place tailored to your preferences. It also flags the locations where you’ll find the biggest savings, like if a hotel is running a half-price sale. But the area where Kayak really excels is in letting you watch particular hotels. If you register an account with the site, you can maintain a list of places you’re considering, monitor how the room prices change over time, and receive email alerts if prices drop. This comes in handy if you’d prefer to see updates in your inbox rather than visiting Kayak every day.
While you’re looking for low prices, consider a site that provides “secret hotel” deal. If you don’t really mind which company owns the hotel, as long as it’s in the right area, you can make substantial savings by booking your room first and learning the hotel’s name after.
- Lastminute.com: We already discussed this site, but we didn’t talk about its Top Secret Hotels page. Like with the standard service, you can sort by certain criteria, such as available amenities and star rating, but you don’t find out the hotel’s name until you’ve actually booked.
- Hotwire: This popular travel site also takes the secret hotel approach. You can see the star rating, user reviews, and how much you’ll save, but the hotel name remains hidden until you’ve completed your booking. As with Kayak, you can sign up for email alerts to notify you of dropping prices.
Check with the hotel directly
Once you’ve compared prices through a dedicated site, try going directly to the hotel to see if it has anything cheaper: Some locations save their best prices for customers who book through their official website or contact the hotel in person. If you’re determined to get the price down, it can’t hurt to get on the phone and speak to the hotel directly.
When making this type of comparison, remember to look at the final prices, which should include all the extra little charges like room tax. Also weigh up the bundled bonuses, such as free meals, that you might receive when buying directly from the hotel—even if you end up paying slightly more for your stay, you could save money because you won’t have to purchase those items separately.
Try other sources
Finally, it’s a good idea to look for discount offers outside of the hotels and their related search engines.
Groupon is a great resource for discounts on just about any experience, including hotel stays. You can search by location or decide to take a trip to wherever seems to have the biggest savings.
A similar resource, but focused more on trip-related discounts, is TravelZoo. You have to register an account before checking out deals. But once you do, you’ll see special offers on hotel stays and on experiences to enjoy while you’re away. We especially like the list of top 20 deals, hand-picked by TravelZoo staff.