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17 Not-So-Obvious Ways to Save Money on Hotels

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One of the biggest costs for travelers with kids like my family is lodging. Hotel prices have really creeped up the last couple of years as travel has made a comeback while inflation has also surged. If you are like me, you are probably always looking for some creative ways to save money on hotels. After a decade and a half of traveling with kids, I’ve uncovered a ton of hotel savings hacks that have allowed my family to travel more (and better!) for less.

Hotel Room in San Diego

But I’m not going to tell you to stay in hostels with young kids. Or boondock in Walmart parking lots. As I’ve gotten older, my minimum standards for an acceptable hotel have probably only gotten higher. The tips below will help regular family travelers secure comfortable accommodations while bringing down the cost of an average hotel stay.

Here are 17 of my favorite current money-saving hotel secrets and tips.

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Tips to Save Money on Hotels

1. Join a Hotel Points Program

Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe External View
We have made the most of our Marriott points by staying at the Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe during ski season!

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, but you should. Earning and redeeming points with hotel loyalty programs can save your family real money on your next vacation.

The vast majority of major chains have programs, from Marriott Bonvoy to the World of Hyatt to Hilton Honors. It takes a matter of minutes to enroll in each. There are also programs with online travel agencies and aggregators like OneKey which covers VRBO,, and Expedia that may work better for earning rewards on independent properties.

Most hotel loyalty programs still have expiration dates that apply to points (often 18-24 months), but there are a number of ways to track programs with minimal time and effort. My favorite tool to track programs, passwords, and expiration dates is AwardWallet (a basic account at AwardWallet is free, but I have several codes for first time users to upgrade to AwardWallet Plus free for 6 months with my code free-ztqfuc – use it while it lasts).

After a few stays, you may have enough points for a free night or two. It’s vital to redeem these points intelligently too – that’s half the battle! Research what points in each program are roughly worth and make sure you are getting a good points redemption value compared to the cash price of the hotel room. Most major hotel brands now have variable awards that fluctuate and also offer 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 co-branded credit cards can have generous points signup bonuses that can immediately translate into one or several free nights by meeting a minimum spend. When you put charges from that hotel brand on the co-branded card, the points add up even more quickly with the multipliers that are commonly available.

Some of these cards also even offer a free night certificate just for getting the card or other perks like status or credits. In addition to translating into free travel, many of these perks can help you have a more premium hotel experience while paying entry-level prices. Most of these cards do have annual fees so make sure the benefits you can use will offset at least some (or ideally all or more than all) of the annual fee.

For example, I’ve had the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card the last few years. As of the time of publication of this article, it is offering a 180,000 point signup bonus with $6000 in spend in 6 months. The card carries a hefty $550 annual fee, but it also includes an annual free night certificate that I redeemed last year for a room that cost well over $600. The card comes with other perks like Hilton Diamond status which has gotten my family free room upgrades and daily food and beverage credits on multiple stays. The card is also newly offering a $189 credit for CLEAR Plus membership which will stack up to even more savings when the CLEAR membership I already had renews later this month.

3. Earn Hotel Cash Back

Ways to Save Money on Hotels - Anaheim South Harbor
Several hotels on Harbor Boulevard within walking distance of Disneyland often offer cash back with the Dosh app.

Cash back portals and apps have proliferated on the scene for merchandise purchases. But a lot of travelers don’t realize cash back is available for hotel bookings too. Some of these offers can be quite lucrative – 30% or more cash back depending on where you book.

I’ve found one of the best cash back apps for travel and hotel stays over the years has been Dosh. Dosh often offers hotels priced at least a little bit less than what you can find on aggregators like,, or Expedia. Plus, it offers cash back on top of those savings. Some of the cash back offers can be really lucrative depending on the timing and price of the hotel. Here’s a full review of the Dosh app where you can learn more or sign up for Dosh here.

Another tool that travelers should consider is Rakuten. You can install Rakuten’s browser extension that “lights up” to alert you to cash back offers when you browse on a website that offers them. Periodic bonuses or additional discounts and coupons are available too. There are a surprising number of sites in the travel space that are on the platform, including online travel agencies like and Expedia as well as hotel chains like IHG and Best Western.

Cash back competitors to Rakuten to also consider include Top Cashback, Ibotta, RetailMeNot, Mr. Rebates, and others. Sometimes one site may include a hotel or travel agency program that others don’t, so it pays to shop around. The website Cashback Monitor allows you to search for retailers to find the cash back site with the best rates.

4. Keep an Eye Out for Social Media & Website Direct Deals

Ways to Save Money on Hotels - Hotel Room

In 2023, there are truly an overwhelming number of places and sites to book a hotel stay. A lot of travelers will often start their search on online booking engines like, Expedia, or to see a wide range of choices.

But maybe you shouldn’t book there! I still almost always book direct because many properties still reward would-be customers who come directly to them in a variety of ways. You can often find deals by booking directly on a hotel website or coupon codes on a property’s social media channels. This is especially true for independent properties who need the big online travel agencies for visibility but don’t like having the middleman take a cut. I recommend perusing sidebar ads and Instagram/Facebook/X 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 on a hotel stay. 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.

These best rate guarantee programs have definitely gotten more stringent over the last few years. But if you learn the parameters of the system and are willing to read the fine print, you can often unlock some savings. Frequent Miler has a comprehensive guide to BRGs with a wide variety of hotel brands where you can learn more about all the details.

6. Don’t Forget About Trusty AAA

AAA Discount Rate on Courtyard San Diego Hotel
AAA rates at this San Diego Marriott property save $26 per night off the rack rate.

Isn’t AAA for your parents (or grandparents)? No! It may not be so hip, but it is still very valuable even in 2023. AAA membership is cheap and it gives the useful benefit of roadside assistance in addition to travel savings.

Most hotels still offer a AAA rate that can save you quite a bit in some circumstances – often 5-15% (and if you go through a cashback portal you can stack the cashback savings on top of that). Just be sure to search the hotel’s site 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 match or beat it.

One thing I love about AAA rates compared to booking deals on Expedia, Priceline, or other online aggregators is that you still get the benefits of booking direct with AAA rates. If you are staying at a chain property like a Marriott or Hilton, you can still earn loyalty points with AAA rates and will get any status or elite perks you have with that chain too. This isn’t true if you book through most online travel agency middlemen.

7. Negotiate!

Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel Exterior
The InterContinental Mark Hopkins in San Francisco

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? You can! 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. The bottom line? It never hurts to call and ask.

I once negotiated a great deal for my parents to stay in San Francisco’s InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel for two full weeks when they visited to help my husband and me during the birth of our first born. This was in 2009 during the “Great Recession” when the city was experiencing low hotel occupancy. They were able to stay in an iconic property for less than the cost of a moderate hotel in the city, and the hotel was able to still make some money filling a room that would have gone empty. So it can be done!

8. Skip Hotels and Book Vacation Rentals Instead

AirBnB, VRBO, and other vacation rental sites have exploded in popularity the last decade or so. In many locations, vacation rentals simply can offer more at a better price, especially for families needing additional space, extra beds, or amenities like a kitchen.

When we traveled to Italy last summer, we found that moderate hotels in convenient locations in major cities often started at $500 or more a night. Most of these hotels had rooms that would only sleep 2 or 3 people, meaning our family of four would need to book two of them. For the same price (and often for much less), we rented one and two bedroom apartments instead with full kitchens, laundry facilities, and other perks. Most of these properties were much more luxurious, and they certainly slept our family much more comfortably.

Check out what vacation rental sites you ought to be using to find the best deals. And remember – while the deals on apartment rentals can be great, be wary of deals that are too good to be true. Sometimes those can be a red flag. There are certainly greater risks and pitfalls with renting from individual owners compared to a big corporate chain, but we’ve had very few problems overall researching carefully.

9. Be Spontaneous

Hotel Tonight Discount Prices on San Francisco Fisherman's Wharf Hotels
Deep discounts for hotels in San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf on Hotel Tonight.

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.

These apps can be ideal for snagging a fantastic deal on a staycation when you are at your most flexible. Bonus that you can choose specific hotels unlike the opaque booking sites.

10. Pre-Pay

An increasing number of hotels and booking sites 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.

Because my family often needs flexibility, we are careful with these rates but have used them strategically with great success. When I was recently booking a business trip for my husband, I noticed the “refundable” booking still required three days notice for a refund and a pre-paid discounted rate was available with a 7 day cancellation and refund window. Because the cancellation windows were so similar, it was worth it to book the pre-paid rate for the savings. Read the fine print carefully to find sweet spots like this that can lead to more savings.

11. Get Status

Hotel del Coronado San Diego
With Hilton Diamond status at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, we got a room upgrade and food and beverage credits.

If you want to save money on hotels, a great way to do that is with hotel status. If you stay often enough with a particular property or brand, hotels will reward your loyalty with additional perks that have real value – free breakfast vouchers, free or premium WiFi, complimentary parking, bonus loyalty points (that add up to free nights more quickly), 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. My husband and I both travel for work separately, so we also try to focus on different programs so we can earn status in more than one program for when we travel together.

And as already mentioned, it’s increasingly possible to “buy your way” into status with some co-branded hotel credit cards. The benefits of the status may well exceed the cost of these cards if you plan to stay enough at a particular hotel chain.

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 and drinks you would otherwise have eaten out, the increased price may well be worth it and then some.

This hack is hard to make work for solo and couples travelers, but for families (especially if you have hungry teens), you may be surprised to find you can get your money’s worth. Always do the math though. And make sure you aren’t missing out on too many food opportunities in your destination – eating at great local restaurants is a huge part of the joy of traveling!

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. For example, within the Marriott brand, almost all Fairfield Inns will offer free breakfast but Courtyards do not. In many destinations, I’ve found these hotels priced almost identically. It’s a no brainer to book the one that offers breakfast in this instance. If you can feed a family of 4 breakfast at no additional cost, that can provide an extra $20-50 in value a day.

14. Suffer Through Timeshare Presentations

Ways to Save Money on Hotels - Hotel Room
The (amazingly awesome) Hyatt Residences in Maui regular offers vacation deals if you agree to attend a 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 timeshares 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. If you are a member of a hotel brand’s loyalty program you may get these offers regularly in the mail (I get them all the time from Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt). 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.

Here’s the catch. You have to be firm to get out of there and limit the time these sales meetings can take. And whatever you do, definitely just don’t buy. That will cancel out all the savings and then some!

15. DVC Point Rental

Ways to Save Money on Hotels - Disney Aulani Rent DVC Points
Rent DVC points to stay at Aulani and other Disney villa properties at a discount!

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 of this site 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.

Disneyland Hotel Villas Tiana Themed Studio Hotel Room
DVC studio villa the Disneyland Hotel.

If you know a member, it’s possible to rent from a friend. But there are services that act as a clearinghouse for these rentals as well. The leader in DVC points rental with the most availability is David’s Vacation Club Rentals.

We rented DVC points at Aulani a few years ago and saved a bundle. Just be aware that these bookings are substantially less flexible than booking direct with a hotel, so make sure that you are willing to forgo the flexibility for the savings.

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. Or at the very least, make sure you include them when you are price comparing all your hotel options before you book!

These fees can add up to hundreds of dollars over the course of a stay if you aren’t paying attention when you make a booking. Often these fees can be a bit buried, but if you go looking for them before you book, you can ultimately save a bundle and avoid surprises that drive up your travel costs.

17. Opaque Booking Sites Can Still Pay Off

Hotwire Hot Rate in San Francisco Union Square
If you are willing to get any hotel in a certain area, opaque booking sites like Hotwire still offer substantial savings.

Last but certainly not least, opaque booking sites like Priceline and Hotwire have been around for awhile, but they are still reliable 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 filter by neighborhood and by hotel star category. Hotwire calls theses Hot Rate prices and Priceline calls them Express Deals.

Often, however, the choices in a particular neighborhood and category are fairly limited and you can make an educated guess at what the likely options will be. Occasionally there will be even more clues like amenities listed or a photo of an actual room at the hotel that you can match to other photos on the hotel’s website.

Priceline also offers another similar program called Pricebreakers that guarantees you will get one of three named hotels for a given price. The savings are a little bit less than Express Deals on average, but if you are happy with all of the three you see, this can be a smart middle ground savings strategy.

Priceline Pricebreaker Hotel Discounts in San Francisco Fishermans Wharf
Priceline Pricebreaker Hotel Discounts in San Francisco

Just be aware that these more opaque choices aren’t for travelers who truly need to guarantee a particular location or who have idiosyncrasies about bed types. But they work well if you have some flexibility.

Have any secrets of your own for saving money on hotels and lodging? Share your tips!

Maximize your travel budget with our insider tips and hacks for saving money on hotel stays! Secrets to leveraging hotel loyalty rewards, what websites currently offer the best secret deals and discounts, and more.

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Thursday 26th of April 2018

Thank you very much