What to do before and during your stay to get the best value on lodging.
Want to save on hotel rooms? Here’s what to do and when.
BEFORE YOU GO
Read reviews: Check websites such as Tripadvisor.com or Booking.com to find lodging in the locations you’re seeking. Then, if a place looks good, check the hotel’s website and compare prices.
Calculate the real price: Don’t just look at the room rate when you consider how much it will cost to stay. Check to see if there’s a resort fee, fees for parking and Wi-Fi, and more. Can you get a fridge in the room — and do they charge extra for it? Is there a special city hotel tax? These fees can drastically change the price of a room.
Don’t dilly dally: Many, if not most, hotels use “dynamic pricing” — as the number of available rooms goes down, the price goes up. So there’s no advantage to waiting to book, and it could cost you more if you do.
Plan ahead: If there’s a particularly iconic place you want to go, such as Yellowstone, you can generally book a year or more in advance. That’s what the smart travelers do, and it’s why they get the most affordable and best-value accommodations, leaving the rest of us to book the leftovers. There’s seldom a cancellation fee, as long as you don’t wait until the last minute, so there’s often no penalty if you change your mind. For example, at the iconic 1904 Yellowstone Old Faithful Inn, you can book starting May 1 for the following year’s season — and nearly every room is already booked for summer 2017.
Share a bathroom: It’s a regular thing in Europe, and it’s a growing trend in the U.S. If you aren’t averse to lodgings with shared baths, you save a bundle. For example, speaking of the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone, you’d pay $185 for a room with bath this year in the older section of the inn, or $115 if you’re willing to walk down the hall. The brand-new Society Hotel in the middle of Portland’s Old Town area has rooms with shared baths that average about $50 less a night than rooms with a private bath.
Join the club: Go online before you stay at a chain hotel and join its rewards club. You can nearly always get free Wi-Fi by doing this. The desk clerk will be more likely to give you upgrades or other perks if you’re a loyalty club member, and you can earn perks like free nights.
Add in free food: A free hot breakfast can save you significant change in the morning, and speed you along on your day, too. Just be sure to check what’s included, because a stale “continental breakfast” of a packaged sweet roll isn’t going to fill you up for long. And make sure you know the hours, so you don’t miss out. At a chain like the Embassy Suites, the rooms can be pricey, but you get a cooked breakfast in the morning, a fridge and microwave, and usually a reception with a cocktail and appetizers the night you arrive, increasing the overall value.
WHEN YOU ARRIVE
Ask for a discount: No one wants to look like a tightwad at the check-in desk, but don’t leave money on the table, either. Hotels often offer discounts for members of certain organizations, such as AAA, AARP, the military and others. It never hurts to ask.
Request an upgrade: If a hotel’s not full, there’s no reason not to ask for an upgrade, especially if it’s a special occasion like a birthday or anniversary. They might say “No,” but sometimes they’ll oblige, if you smile nicely enough. I always ask, “Can I have a room by the pool? Or with a view?” They might ask you to pay for it, and then I always ask if it’s really worth the money.
Disappointed? Speak up: If you walk into your room and you’re not happy, turn right around and go back to the desk. Explain nicely, with a smile, why that room won’t work for you, and ask for another one. Don’t be shy, but also don’t be unpleasant, it’s not going to help you. On a recent trip to a hotel where I’d stayed many times, I was ushered into a room with no window, just a broken slider onto a dark airshaft. As you can imagine, I was not a happy camper. After I asked to change, I got an actual window — and a patio too.