To save money on lodging, the number one travel tip is to be flexible. In an earlier McCool Travel article article, I showed the one travel tip that will help you save money (and have more fun)—on EVERY trip. That same premise can be applied to lodging.
#1 Travel Tip to Save Money on Lodging
*** Be FLEXIBLE ***
I will assume that your destination and dates of travel are fixed (because you probably found a great airfare). Otherwise, I would start this post by saying be flexible about the dates and areas you stay.
Here are some ways to be flexible SAVE MONEY ON LODGING:
* Be Flexible About How You Book Lodging
Hotel rates can vary greatly between booking websites (such as Expedia, Kayak, Orbitz, Travelocity), discounters (such as Hotels.com), and hotel websites (such as Hilton.com). Individual properties may have their own website; the San Juan Embassy Suites often lists specials that are not found on EmbassySuites.com or hilton.com. I like a tool called TravelAxe; it compares rates from many sources. Special rates sometimes materialize when you directly call the property.
* Be Flexible About Using Discount Codes
A great way to get lower hotel rates is to use a discount code. My favorite discount programs are AAA and Costco. However, if I find a better discount code, I am going to use it. Discount codes can be listed in magazine ads, emails, websites, and message boards. By the way, join the frequent stayer program for any or all hotel chains you expect to stay (they will send discount offers by email). Here is a link to a list of Marriott discount codes on FlyerTalk.com. If you are going to a conference or planning group travel, the organization may negotiate a better rate than any discount program.
* Be Flexible and Bid for a Room
Reverse auctions, like Priceline and Hotwire, are excellent sources for lodging discounts. I recently had nightly rates in Ft. Lauderdale of $25 and Orlando of $17. I recommend using Better Bidding or Bidding for Travel to research strategies, methods, and historical rates. These websites will turbo-charge your travel bidding experience!
* Be Flexible About Where You Stay, Part 1
Even if you are loyal to a hotel chain, such as Starwood or Hyatt, you can stay at different places in the same city or area. Properties in the city are usually more expensive on weekdays while suburban properties are the opposite. Perhaps the best example of flexibility in hotel choice saving you money and allowing you to have more fun is staying in a room with a kitchenette. Having at least a mini fridge can save you money on dining costs.
* Be Flexible About Where You Stay, Part 2
OK, enough about hotels, for now. Being really flexible results in many other choices. More choices means better chances to get cheaper lodging rates. For instance, consider bed and breakfasts. B&Bs are more fun for many travelers and often less expensive. How about a two bedroom, two bathroom condo for the same price as a standard hotel room? Vacation rental properties include condos, apartments, boats, castles, farms, and more. More choices: how about hostels? monasteries? university dorms? For true budget experience, try Servas or Couchsurfing.
* Be Flexible and Assertive
In exchange for about two hours of your vacation you can save much money. How? By attending a timeshare presentation. While I do not consider it fun, others do or tolerate it to get excellent travel deals.
* Be Really, Really Flexible
Home exchange is not for everyone but veteran exchangers love it. Imagine staying in a downtown Paris apartment, Tuscan villa, or South Pacific beach home—for FREE. If you have a swappable property, then you can find people all over the world willing to trade for a week, month, or longer. In addition to saving thousands of dollars on lodging, you might exchange vehicles and have no rental car expense. Brilliant!
* Save Money on Lodging: Anything Else?
How about you? Do you have any other general areas of flexibility to save money on lodging? Leave your comments below. Thank you.