8 ways to save on hotel rooms

By Sean O'Neill
October 3, 2012

Have you ever paid hundreds for a hotel room, only to feel you paid too much? It can be upsetting. But, have no fear. Here are eight ways to save money on future hotel reservations.

Tell us your money-saving tips in the comments section.

Start a bidding war between hotels

Book a "cancellable" hotel reservation as you ordinarily would, but then call a nearby hotel to see if it might offer you a better deal. Say something like, "I've got a reservation to stay at [insert property name] in a double room for [insert the price], but I was looking at your TripAdvisor reviews and am having second thoughts. I really like your hotel because of [insert reason]. Is there anything you could do to offer a lower rate or a better room?" With luck, the clerk will make you a better offer.

Tip: In case the hotel is a chain, be sure to call the hotel's front desk directly because its workers are empowered to cut a deal on the spot. Don't call the chain's toll free reservations hotline, because its staffers are unlikely to negotiate.

Booking hotels overseas? Look beyond U.S. sites

Formerly just a flight search tool, Momondo has debuted a hotel search tool that is especially strong for its international listings. Easy-to-use site Momondo sources its hotels from retailers like Escapio and Hotelopia, providing a different selection of hotels than you'll find on U.S.-based online travel sites like Expedia, which rely only on the boring, overlapping lists of hotels provided by American chains and a few large listings databases (called global distribution systems).

Tip: No one site has all of the lowest prices or the best selection when it comes to international hotels. Beyond Momondo, you should also try Booking.com, Agoda.com, and Venere.com, which all list affordable hotels you often won't find through major U.S. online travel agencies.

Know the right lingo

Hotels have a language all their own. Sadly, travelers who don't know the lingo can lose out by paying too much. For example, if you call a hotel, you may ask for something vague like what's your "best deal on a room." But if you instead speak to the hotel clerk in his or her own jargon, you may boost the chances he or she will quote you the truly lowest price. So try asking for "the cheapest nonrefundable rate."

Tip: If you're asking for an upgrade, the best time to do so is if you check in around 6 p.m., by which time hotel clerks know which of the better rooms are going to go vacant for the night.

Lock-in a rate without prepaying

"Dibs" is a fresh concept that may catch on in the hotel industry. Here's the gist: As you know, rates typically go up and down every week for the same room on any particular dates. If you're nervous about booking a hotel room at today's rate thinking that it may drop in price tomorrow, you can visit TripDibs.com and buy the "dibs" option for about $5 to $10 per night rented. For example, you can currently lock in a $109 rate at the Platinum Hotel Vegas for a fee of $6 per night rented. TripDibs will hold the price for a period of a few months. Whenever you're ready to pull the trigger, log back into the site and book the room. At the moment, only a couple of hotels are participating, which means slim pickings. But if the "lock-in-your-price" idea proves popular, it could be adopted widely.

Tip: If you want to track changes in the prices of a specific hotel, you can sign up for a free an e-mail service alert service from Yapta.com, which will tell you if the rooms have gone on sale.

Become a member of AAA

Members of AAA, the American Automobile Association, can qualify for special rates for hotel rooms by providing their membership number. It may sound old-fashioned, but AAA discounts can save up to 50 percent off published rates at major chains, such as Marriott and Sheraton. Budget Travel has often found that AAA rates are usually close to the lowest rates quoted on major websites that you can cancel. (That said, you may sometimes save more by booking a nonrefundable, prepaid room instead of the AAA rate. Always shop around.) Membership in AAA, whose clubs are independently run by region, range in cost from $38 to $80 a year.

Tip: AARP membership also can mean discounts, and you can qualify from as young as age 50.

Don't forget about corporate perks

Your employer, your spouse's employer, or your brother's or neighbor's employer, may offer deep discounts for friends and family. For example, family and friends of employees of International Hotels Group qualify for dramatic savings of up to 40 percent off hotels worldwide using a search tool and filling out a form proving the relationship. In short: Don't forget to check with your human resources representative to see whether your company provides any travel discounts.

Tip: You will often need to book directly with a hotel through its website or over the phone if you're booking a corporate discount. Be sure to comparison shop, such as at online travel agencies, to make sure the corporate rate is the best deal for you.

If you're going solo, try independent hotels

Most chain hotels are biased against solo travelers, quoting room rates on the assumption that two guests will stay—without offering discounts for solo travelers. Yet smaller hotels, such as New York City's Pod Hotel, may sell rooms aimed at solo travelers for lower rates. You may also find that smaller, independently-owned hotels and inns are also usually open to negotiation about the nightly rate if you explain that you're traveling solo (and if they have vacancies to fill).

Tip: Some tour companies, such as Intrepid Travel, don't charge a single supplement and can help arrange for travel at lower prices than you might find on your own.

Book group travel through Priceline (really!)

Priceline may be famous for its bidding service in which travelers bid blindly on airfares, hotel rooms, and the like. But the online travel agency also sells travel at standard retail rates and it happens to have the most thorough service of the major online travel agencies when it comes to helping travelers book group travel, such as for family reunions. Find the service by clicking "groups" on the top of the Priceline homepage.

Tip: A common mistake planners make is to think that "adjoining rooms" means that the rooms are connected by a door, when that isn't often the case. If you need rooms that connect, specify that.


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Health precautions to consider when traveling

The current E. coli outbreak in Germany is a sobering reminder of how important it is for travelers to arm themselves with reliable (and relevant) health information before they head out the door. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is one of the best and most comprehensive resources we have for travel health information. The World Health Organization also provides in-depth reports on global health issues. The CDC currently reports 15 deaths associated with the E. coli outbreak in northern Germany, and 642 patients that have been diagnosed with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure associated with E. coli. In the U.S., there is one confirmed and three suspected cases of E. coli in people who recently traveled to Hamburg, Germany, where they were likely exposed, the CDC notes. "At this time, a specific food has not been confirmed as the source of the infections. German public health authorities advise against eating raw sprouts, tomatoes, cucumbers, and leafy salads from sources in northern Germany until further notice," the agency stated. The CDC has a page on its website devoted to travel health notices. This is a good starting point for travelers preparing for any trip, no matter how near or far, exotic or not. The government agency also has a country search option where travelers can see the CDC's recommendations for a specific country. Before a trip to the Peruvian Amazon I took a few years back, my doctor actually pulled up the CDC recommendations before deciding which vaccinations to administer. The World Health Organization and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have an International Certificate of Vaccination, a handy yellow card (shown in the photo above) that travelers should keep with them in their travel documents case on which vaccinations are recorded, including the date and type of immunizations to help keep track of them all. Without mine, I would never have the answer to the inevitable question the doctor asks about what shots I've had and when (I got mine from my travel medicine doctor). Many vaccinations need to be administered between four and six weeks before traveling in order to be effective, so this is something to consider in planning for your trip. And not all doctors are travel medicine doctors, so a call to your healthcare provider would be advised to see if he/she is able to administer the vaccinations you need for your trip. If not, there are travel medicine doctors and clinics that specialize in travel medicine. Lastly, the CDC has a "Survival Guide to Safe and Healthy Travel," which covers all the other ways in which travelers can and should prepare for their trip from a medical perspective. More from Budget Travel: Study: No significant health threat from TSA's full-body screening Will Your Health Plan Cover You Overseas? How to fight a cold on the fly

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This week marks the start of the 2011 Shakespeare in the Park season in New York City, with free performances of All's Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure playing through July 30 at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Since the program began in 1954, the Public Theater's famous—and famously free—productions have attracted stars like Anne Hathaway and Al Pacino. And all you have to do to snag a seat is wake up early and wait in line. In fact, an online lottery system has made the system even easier—simply sign up, enter the drawing in the morning, and check back at 1pm to see if you've been selected for a free seat for the evening. But you don't have to come all the way to New York City to see exciting live outdoor theater this summer! Last month, the New York Times compiled a comprehensive lineup of summer theater across the country. Here are some regional standouts from their list: Houston Houston Shakespeare Festival July 29–August 7 Othello and Taming of the Shrew houstonfestivalscompany.com San Diego The Old Globe May 29–September 25 Much Ado About Nothing, Tempest, and Amadeus oldglobe.org Santa Cruz Shakespeare Santa Cruz July 18–August 28 Henry IV, Part 1 shakespearesantacruz.org Spring Green, Wisconsin American Players Theater June 4–October 16 Taming of the Shrew, Tempest, Glass Menagerie, and Of Mice and Men americanplayers.org Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts Vineyard Playhouse July 20–August 14 Comedy of Errors vineyardplayhouse.org Check here for other shows in your area. SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Video: How to Get Broadway Tickets for Less Finally! Affordable hotels in New York City have arrived London: Pop-up theater