Everyone wants to know how to save money on hotels. Considering the costs can easily be a huge part of your travel budget, why wouldn’t you want to save? The problem is, hotel prices change all the time depending on demand and other factors which can make it tricky when you’re trying to find a deal.
I try not to leave things to chance. Instead of trying old “tips” like just asking for an upgrade or slipping the front desk $20 for a better room, I focus on practical things that I can actually control. Here are my top tips on how to save money on hotels.
Being flexible will always be the best way to save money when travelling. During the week, there are many business travellers while Friday and Saturday’s are busy for weekend travellers. Sunday usually has the lowest occupancy rate which might be lower rates. There’s no set formula here so you’ll want to play with your dates to see what’s available.
Travelling during the off-season is also a guaranteed way to lower your overall trip costs. Whenever there’s less demand, prices will fall. Hotels and flight prices can drop a fair amount during the off-season which can make your trip much more affordable. Plus, there are fewer crowds!
Alternatively, if you’re really flexible, you could bid for your hotel via Priceline or Hotwire. You could even wait until the last minute and try your luck with the Hotels Tonight app.
Book in advance
Many hotels offer special promotions if you book months, weeks or sometimes just 10-days in advance. Not only will you be able to get the best price, you’ll also secure your room before they sell out. There’s a chance that the booking will be non-refundable but if you’re looking to save, you can’t complain about that.
Even if you do decide to travel during busier times, many of these book early deals are still available. Some hotels still manually adjust their rates so if you might be able to book a lower rate
Join a rewards program
Every hotel chain has a rewards program that rewards loyal customers. Although you won’t get a free hotel stay right away, you’ll usually get additional benefits such as free wi-fi, early check-in, late check-out and much more immediately.
The amount of points required to claim a free night depends on the rewards program and the hotel category so it’s worth reading up on the different programs before committing.
Keep in mind that many of these programs offer a cash and points option where you can claim partial points and a reduced fee to get a night’s stay. If you do the math, you may find that cash and points are a better value than accumulating enough points to claim a free night.
Use credit card rewards
Speaking of hotel rewards programs, if you happen to be loyal to Starwood or Marriott hotels, you can earn points fast if you sign up for their co-branded credit cards.
The American Express Starwood Preferred Guest credit card is one of the best travel credit cards available due to the value of the points and the included travel insurance while the Marriott Rewards Premier Visa is one of the few credit cards that offer no foreign transaction fees which can help you save big in the long run.
Both cards have huge signup bonuses (after you meet the minimum spend) which will give you enough points to claim multiple nights right away. Check out my post about the best travel rewards credit cards for more card recommendations.
Don’t use a hotel
Sometimes when people ask me how to save money on hotels I reply with, “don’t use hotels.” Hotels are admittedly expensive, fortunately, there are many other options available to travellers these days.
My preferred accommodation these days is Airbnb. If you’re unfamiliar with the service, it’s a website that allows you to book private apartments directly from owners all over the world. Costs vary depending on availability and the city you’re visiting, but it could easily be a 50% savings compared to hotels.
Hostels should also be seriously considered for a variety of reasons. They’re perfect for younger travellers who’re looking for the cheap accommodations possible. Families or group travellers can book entire dorms to make it more “private.” Many hostels these days even have private rooms with private washrooms which can be much cheaper than hotels.
Other accommodation options to help you save include vacation homes, home swapping, couch surfing or even renting an RV.
Use a metasearch engine
There has never been more choice for travellers when it comes to booking hotels. Skyscanner.ca, Hotels.com, KAYAK, Booking.com, and Expedia.ca are all great websites to book your travel since they search thousands of hotels to give you the best price.
Everyone has their own preferred booking site so I’ll let you decide for yourself, but I usually book through Skyscanner or Expedia. The point is, you want to use search engines that search all the hotel chains.
Bundle your travel
If you need to book airfare and hotels, you can sometimes save money by booking both through the same travel provider. I recently booked airfare through Expedia.ca and was immediately prompted to book my hotel and car rental at a discount.
I wasn’t convinced it was actually a better price so I decided to double check if I was actually getting a better offer. Surprisingly, it was indeed a deal. The best part about this discount is that I didn’t have to book everything right away, Expedia gave me 15 days to lock in my prices.
This may contradict the previous point but if you want to know how to save money on hotels, you sometimes need to go directly to the source. Many hotels offer special promotions and packages that are only available on their website.
It’s also worth noting that when you book directly with hotels, the customer service experience begins immediately. You’ll get access to more inventory, it’s easier to make special requests, and you’ll most likely have a more flexible cancellation policy.
Choose your location wisely
The most popular areas of any city will always be more expensive. Think midtown Manhattan, West End London and Shibuya in Tokyo. By simply staying just a few metro stops away from these major tourist areas, you can usually save a minimum of 25%.
Keep in mind that staying further out does add time and potential travel costs. I usually try to pick a location that has good access to public transportation to further reduce my costs.
Check for best price guarantees
If you really want to travel hack, pay close attention to best price guarantees. Basically, if you book through a travel provider or directly through the hotel and find a lower price within 24 hours, the original site you booked with will match the price and offer you something extra.
Expedia offers a $50 travel credit while the InterContinental Hotels Group will give you the first night free. Check out Steven Zussino’s Travel Hacking Guide for Canadians to find out the full details of each individual program.
Barry Choi is a personal finance and budget travel expert at @barrychoi. He has been quoted in The Financial Post, The Toronto Star, Business Insider and The Globe and Mail. You can follow him on Twitter:
This article originally appeared on Moneywehave.com