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The experience of staying in a 5 star hotel can be memorable, but the cost is unforgettable, too. For every dollar extra spent on a place to sleep, there is less available for other vacation activities, so it’s worth it to spend a little time researching to save some money. Sticking to the budget doesn’t have to mean sleeping in a dingy cramped room, though. Before booking a trip, ask these questions to get a great hotel that meets your needs and doesn’t break the bank.

 

How can I search for hotel deals?

It is possible to find deals searching each individual company’s website one by one. However, it is far quicker to use a metasearch engine that allows you to compare all the hotel booking sites at once. TripAdvisor.com, HotWire.com and Booking.com are all good places to start your search. You should be able to compare the base price per night along with the amenities for each hotel all within a single search.

Are there better deals than the websites?

Calling a real person at an individual hotel can often help you secure a lower rate. Look for the direct phone number for the front desk, not the service center, to be sure you’re speaking with staff who will be up to date with any special rate, discounts, or upcoming pricing changes. They may be able to save you 10-30%, but even if they can’t, ask politely about what’s happening on those dates. There may be big occasions like sporting events or conferences that are filling lots of rooms and keeping prices up. Then you’ll know to look in a different neighborhood, farther away from the stadium or conference centers.

If I see a better rate, can I change my booking?

Some booking sites offer a “best price guarantee” if a better deal comes out within 48 hours. Read the fine print to understand the terms: it may only be lower prices listed on the same booking site, not lower prices found elsewhere. Then check often during that window in case you have a chance to follow up on this promise.

Often hotels will begin to lower their prices closer to booking dates if they realize they have not filled enough rooms. Even if you already have a reservation, keep checking your hotel and hotels nearby to see if you can spot a lower rate. Not all hotels offer this service, but if you are able to book a cancelable rate, you will be able to switch to a new room and lower your costs without paying a fee. This tip won’t save you money if your original booking charges a non-refundable deposit or cancellation or change fees, so make sure to read the fine print before making your booking. Look for places that won’t penalize you for cancelations more than 48 hours before your stay.

How long should I wait to book?

If you can be flexible with dates and hotels, the cheapest rates appear for last minute bookings. Obviously, this is not a safe bet for significant vacations like a honeymoon or other special occasions where dates or location will make or break the trip. For a more adaptable get-away, however, waiting until the last minute gives you access to those empty rooms the hotel is anxious to fill at a discounted price. Conferences, large wedding parties, concerts, and holidays can all help hotels book to capacity on very short notice leaving you without a room. For this reason, don’t count on last minute, rock-bottom rooms in your budget. If the trip is important to you, book as soon as you can with a refundable reservation, and then keep your eye out for deals as the dates approach.

Should I use a travel agent?

In the age of the internet, a travel agent might seem like an unnecessary step to booking your hotel room. There are plenty of destinations for which you can handle the planning for yourself perfectly well. Finding the absolute best deal for other places may be better handled by an expert in the area or someone who has established a relationship with one or two hotel chains and understands their pricing better than a casual tourist. For example, if your trip includes heading to another country where the website and hotel staff speak another language, an agent who speaks the local dialect can implement many of these tips more effectively than a non-native speaker trying to call the front desk to ask for discounts on their own. The small fee you pay these agents can be offset by the big savings they get on your room rate. Other hugely popular destinations like Disney or New York City have agents who cost nothing to the traveler, and may have insider information about upcoming discounts and the cheapest times to travel.

How can I avoid hidden charges?

Some fees are unavoidable, but they don’t have to be a surprise. Make sure when you book a room rate you’ve accounted for tax and any state or local hotel or lodging fees. If you’re booking with a credit card, make sure to pay off the balance before the end of the billing cycle, or your savings will be spent on interest. When you check in, double check to make sure you’re not accidentally drinking the nine dollar bottle of water in the mini bar and that you leave the room in good condition so you won’t be charged repair fees.

What if I need to cancel my vacation?

Hopefully you followed the advice to book a cancelable rate so you won’t be charged any penalties. Make sure you call the front desk of the hotel and speak to a supervisor as soon as you know your plans are changing. You may be able to drop the reservation completely, or keep a credit with the company for a future trip. If you are being charged a fee, expect the amount to be higher if you are within 48 hours of your check in time, or if the hotel was already steeply discounted. Travel agents are not always able to cancel without penalties, especially if their commission is coming from the hotel or resort.

What should be included in a good rate?

Not all low prices are created equal: some hotels will offer amenities that save you money in other areas of your budget that make their rates a higher value compared to a no-frills room. Access to a pool, business center, and airport shuttle might save you money and improve your trip. Complimentary breakfast included in a room will save you time and money traveling to and eating in another restaurant, and a hotel that offers free wi-fi can save you ten to twenty dollars a day. On the other hand, some rooms have the choice for a dining package that increases the price and may be far more than you would spend to eat outside the hotel. Double check the amenities carefully to make sure they make sense for your needs.

Does it matter which kind of room I book?

In a word: YES. Every company can name its room types in a different way, so it’s hard to tell the difference between a garden and river view, or an accessible King and King Suite. If the type of room isn’t crucial to you, choose the cheapest listing you can find that includes the type of beds you need. One king is usually more expensive than two doubles, for example, but you may need two queens if you’re traveling with a big family or tall friends. Once you’ve booked the category of room you want, follow up with hotel staff on the phone and you may be able to request a specific room or area of the hotel that falls within that price category. Usually, this kind of specific room request isn’t an option during online booking, but it can make a breathtaking view possible on a shoestring budget.

I’m traveling internationally. How do I know which currency the price is listed in?

Traveling in a country you’re not familiar with is a great experience, but booking a trip in a country you’re not familiar with can lead to costly mistakes. Misunderstanding currency exchange is an example of a place to mistakenly overspend. A good rule of thumb is that bigger hotel chains in tourist areas should have the currency symbol marked, or will have two prices listed in order of local price followed by USD or pounds. Smaller independent hotels, local hostels, and rural locations usually just list rates in local currency. If you have any doubt how much an international hotel room will cost, make sure to call and clarify or work with a travel agent who can help before you book.

Should I book a package?

TripAdvisor.com and other metasearch booking sites offer deals that allow you to bundle airfare and hotel reservations under one price. Sometimes this package is lower than booking separately, but not always. It is worth doing a little extra research to price out flights and rooms separately and play around with your dates and times to make sure you get the lowest combination. Always read the fine print carefully to make sure any package deals don’t affect your trip insurance or cancellation options before committing.

Is the lowest price always the best deal?

Saving money on vacation is important, but having a good time is important too. Staying in a horrible hotel for pennies will ruin your trip just as fast as overpaying can. Before you start price shopping at all, make a list of your must haves in a hotel room. A few things like safety and cleanliness should be non-negotiable, but what else do you NEED to make your trip fun? Do you need quick access to transit? An indoor pool or fitness facilities? Do you need an elevator or space to unpack all your luggage during your stay? Before you book, check reviews online to make sure the low rate you’re getting isn’t due to poor quality rooms, and that the amenities you’re hoping for are quality enough to be worth paying a little extra for.

Booking a hotel room doesn’t have to push your vacation over budget. Use these tips to find the hotel that’s right for you at a price that makes sense for your needs. Researching to get the best price might take a little time, but planning a vacation is part of the fun and by the time you book your room you’ll be even more excited about your trip.

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