One of the biggest costs for travelers with kids like my family is lodging. Hotel prices have creeped up as the economy has gotten better. As I’ve gotten older, my minimum standards for an acceptable hotel have probably gotten higher too. If you are like me, you are probably always looking for some creative ways to save money on hotels. It’s time to share my favorite money-saving hotel secrets.
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But I’m not going to tell you to stay in hostels with young kids. Or boondock in Walmart parking lots. The tips below will help you secure realistic accommodations for regular family travelers looking to bring down the cost of their average hotel stay.
Tips to Save Money on Hotels
1. Join a Hotel Points Program
If you travel semi-regularly, you probably already are a member of an airline frequent flyer program or two. Fewer travelers seem to join the hotel equivalent. Earning points in hotel loyalty programs can save your family real money on your next vacation.
Remember to redeem these points intelligently too – that’s half the battle! Make sure you are getting a good points value compared to the cash price of the hotel room, watch out for discounted points deals like IHG’s Points Breaks or Marriott’s PointSavers, and consider cash & points redemption combinations.
2. Get a Hotel Credit Card
What if you don’t stay in a particular hotel chain often enough to amass points for rewards quickly? No problem. Hotels often have credit card partners for that! Hotel-branded cards can have generous points signup bonuses. A few even offer a free night benefit just for getting the card.
3. Earn Hotel Cash Back
I’m sure you think there’s a catch to this one. I did. You can actually now get cash back just for booking a hotel stay with an travel and money-saving app called Dosh. I was so impressed with Dosh that I’ve partnered with them to spread the word to other budget-minded family travelers. Dosh always offers hotels at at least a little bit less than what you can find on aggregators like Hotels.com, Booking.com, or Expedia. Plus, it offers cash back on top of those savings. Some of the cash back offers can be really lucrative depending on your timing and the price of the hotel. Here’s a full review of the Dosh app where you can learn more for yourself or download Dosh here (you’ll get $5.00 Dosh cash just for signing up + link credit cards to your profile or refer friends of your own for more Dosh credits).
4. Keep an Eye Out for Social Media & Website Deals
With so many online booking engines offering hotels and lodging, there is a lot of competition for eyeballs in the hotel booking space. Some hotels reward would-be customers who come directly to them – either on their hotel website or on their social media channels. Scour sidebar ads and Twitter feeds to see if you can spot a deal direct from your hotel of choice.
5. Know about BRG!
Many hotel chains offer a best rate guarantee (BRG) that can help you save. If you find a better rate at their hotel elsewhere after booking directly on the hotel’s site, you get the room at a lower rate plus some savings for your trouble. Hold hotels to these best rate guarantees by doing a little research to see if you can beat the house.
6. Don’t Forget About Trusty AAA
Isn’t AAA for your parents (or grandparents)? No! It may not be so hip, but it is still very valuable. Most hotels still offer a AAA rate that can save you quite a bit in some circumstances. Just be sure to search with and without AAA discounts every time. While the AAA rate is often the cheapest, there are rare occasions where other deals or promotions can beat it.
Don’t just take the price offered up to you on the computer screen as a hotel’s final offer. Did you know you can haggle on hotel stays? This is especially true for longer stays or during low seasons where its worth it to the hotel to offer a few additional incentives to earn your business. It never hurts to call and ask.
8. Skip Hotels and Book Vacation Rentals Instead
AirBnB, VRBO, Vacatia, FlipKey and more are all the rage right now. In many locations, vacation rentals simply can offer more space at a better price, especially for families needing more space. Check out what vacation rental sites you ought to be using to find the best deals.
9. Be Spontaneous
While planning ahead can be important (especially when traveling with kids), sometimes last minute travelers get the best prices. Apps like Hotel Tonight or travel deal sites can heavily discount last minute hotel inventory meaning deals for you. Bonus that you can choose specific hotels unlike the opaque booking sites.
An increasing number of hotels offer discounts in exchange for locking you into a non-refundable rate. If you have set travel plans (and are willing to risk eating the cost of a hotel room if an emergency arises and you do need to cancel), you can often save 10-25% off the regular rate with pre-paid hotel rates.
11. Get Status
If you want to save money on hotels, a great way to do that is with hotel status. Stay often enough and hotels will reward your loyalty with additional perks that have real value – free breakfast vouchers, free or premium WiFi, complimentary parking, bonus loyalty points, concierge lounge access, and more. Of course, the room upgrades aren’t bad either. If you have one spouse in your family who travels for work, try to have that person be loyal to one hotel chain so you can leverage status benefits for your family’s leisure travel too.
12. Book the Concierge Level
This one may seem totally counter-intuitive – why am I telling you to book a MORE expensive room to save money? Because concierge levels come with perks that save you on other aspects of your vacation – most notably, food and drink. If you can hit up the concierge lounge enough to save on meals you would otherwise have eaten out, the increased price may well be worth it and then some.
13. Always Look for Free Breakfast
In the same vein, there is another big way to save on food on your travels – always book a hotel with a free breakfast. For family travelers looking to feed a lot of mouths at one time, the savings can be substantial. Interestingly enough, it’s often the more budget hotels that are the ones that offer free breakfast anyway. I consider that a win-win.
14. Suffer Through Timeshare Presentations
I’m not a fan of timeshares and their hard sell tactics. And I would never buy one (except maybe Disney’s version, DVC). But they have one worthwhile purpose – they offer deals and incentives to folks willing to listen to their pitch. Often you can book a highly discounted vacation in advance by agreeing to attend a sales meeting once you get there. Or if you just happen find yourself at a resort that offers timeshare presentations, there may be gift cards and other on-site perks if you spend an hour or two listening. Just don’t buy.
15. DVC Point Rental
Speaking of timeshares and DVC, this next tip is exclusively for Disney hotels. I would be remiss not to include it on the list with as many readers who go to Disney. Disney Vacation Club (DVC) is Disney’s version of the timeshare that gives visitors access to condo-style accommodations at Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Aulani and more. But you don’t have to buy into DVC to take advantage. Instead you can “rent” someone else’s DVC points to get these same rooms at a substantial discount off the rack rate. We rented DVC points at Aulani a few years ago and saved a bundle.
16. Just Say No to Extra Fees
Parking. WiFi. Resort Fees. Hotels are always looking for a few new line items to add to your bill. Just say no to hotels that charge these sneaky extras. Don’t give them your business. Often these fees can be a bit buried, but if you go looking for them before you book, you can ultimately save a bundle.
17. Opaque Booking Sites Can Still Pay Off
Last but certainly not least, the reliable opaque booking sites like Priceline and Hotwire have been around for awhile, but they are still great tools for finding deals. I’ve saved as much as 50% on some hotels by using these two sites over the years.
In order to get the steepest discounts, you won’t know for sure which hotel you will get. Instead, you choose by neighborhood and by hotel star category. Often, however, the choices in a particular neighborhood and category are fairly limited and you can make an educated guess at what your likely options will be. Just be aware that this choice isn’t for travelers who need to guarantee a particular location. But it works well if you have some flexibility.
Have any secrets of your own for saving money on hotels and lodging? Share your tips!