I’ve focussed a lot on this website on techniques to get cheaper flights. However, a holiday isn’t just the cost of the flight. Most of the time, you end up spending the same amount or more on paying for accommodation. Finding bargains in hotels can be tricky, and loyalty programs can often be more convoluted than airline programs. This is all made more difficult by systems designed to promote hotels which pay the highest commission and review systems that are often inaccurate. Here, I want to show you how to get cheaper hotel rates and search for hotels for your stay.
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Book directly through the hotel (Use best rate guarantees).
Comparison sites are everywhere. We all know about the big ones – Expedia, Booking.com and Trip.com. Don’t get me wrong, they can be handy as a starting point to get an idea of where hotels are, areas you might want to look at, and a rough idea of pricing. My issue is that comparison sites take a commission when you book through them from the hotel. This can increase the price you see as the cost is passed on to the consumer. Secondly, comparison site results aren’t sorted as you would expect them to be. Typically, you will be offered options to sort by price or rating, but the default is “recommended”. These “recommended” results show hotels that have paid to appear at the top of the search results rather than the best or cheapest.
Regardless of your opinion on comparison sites, I recommend booking directly through the hotel website. Even if you find a hotel on a comparison site, try and find their website and book through them. Hotels have an incentive to encourage you to do this. They don’t need to pay a commission to a third party if you book through them. This means they often add perks such as complimentary breakfast or more flexible booking conditions in exchange for doing this.
Sometimes, the comparison site is cheaper than booking directly through the hotel. Most hotel chains offer a best rate guarantee. This means not only do they match the price that you’ve found, but they will often beat it. For example, Hilton has one of the best policies I’ve seen. They will beat the price by 25%, which can be a considerable saving. A caveat is that the rooms must be identical, including booking conditions. I have successfully done this where the price difference was only $1, saving over $200 after the price match! It is worth calling the hotel booking line beforehand, and they can usually confirm if they can price match before proceeding with the booking.
An added benefit to booking directly through the hotel is accruing points through their loyalty program. Unlike flights, hotels will require booking through them or an accredited agent for points to be credited. This means agents such as Expedia and Booking.com will push you to their own loyalty programs.
Recheck the price once you no longer need a refundable room
Most people value flexibility in their bookings. Especially after travel restrictions during the pandemic threw many people’s plans into disarray. Booking refundable hotels benefits you in a few ways.
- If you aren’t sure you’re going to proceed with the trip or aren’t firm with the details yet, you can book a few rooms in various hotels with the ability to cancel.
- These rooms often only require you to pay at the hotel, saving you from forking the money out straight away, especially when booking months in advance. I
- It allows you to get cheaper room rates well in advance without having arranged other things such as leave from work or flights. This often comes at a price. Flexible rooms are more expensive than prepaid, non-refundable bookings; the difference can amount to a few hundred dollars.
There is a way to get the best of both worlds sometimes. When you’ve booked a flexible room, it’s worth checking a few days before your trip if a non-refundable room is still available. In some cases, this could be cheaper than your flexible room. You can then cancel the flexible room without penalty and save some money.
Make use of cashback and loyalty schemes
In some cases, expensive hotel rooms are unavoidable. During peak periods in some cities, the levels can be eye-wateringly high. There are still a few tricks to help you save a little bit.
You can use cashback programs. One which I have personally used is Cashrewards. These programs give you a portion of their commission for referring you to a hotel’s website. The process can be slightly tedious, and there is a risk that the website doesn’t register your sale correctly, though generally, there is a process to get your cashback manually. Another factor here is the delay in obtaining cashback. It can sometimes be several months! Most major hotel brands have representation on Cashrewards, though you won’t find smaller hotels on this. You can also get cashback through the comparison sites which feature several of these boutique hotels, so it’s worth a shot for a small discount. Note that if you’re using a cashback site, you will not earn loyalty points on top of this. The discounts will usually amount to between 2 and 6%.
Hotel loyalty programs have their advantages and are worth signing up to. All major brands and many smaller ones have one, and I think it’s worth investing the time into getting to know them. Some, like Hilton and IHG, will give you free WiFi and a discount for signing up to the program. IHG even offers you free late checkout! If you stay at a chain regularly, it is worth trying to work your way up the status levels. It can add on benefits such as room upgrades and complimentary breakfasts, which can be an excellent way to save money. The points earned with your stays can be used for free nights. I particularly like the Hilton Honors program where, once you’ve worked your way up the status levels and considered additional bonus points offers, it will often give you enough points in a stay to get another free night later down the track. For example, a recent seven-night stay at a Hilton earned me 90,000 Hilton Points, enough for a free night at a resort worth over $500!
Try ringing the hotel directly
This one is pretty straightforward, but most people don’t tend to do this. Ringing the hotel booking lines will often allow you to match competitors’ prices and give you some room to negotiate. I have usually found myself calling hotels for slightly more complex bookings, and every time, I have been offered a rate lower than that available online, although it is often on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. This policy may vary by hotel, but there’s never harm in calling and asking for a better rate.
Consider buying points instead of paying directly for the hotel room.
I’ve saved this one for last because it has the potential to save you thousands of dollars when used correctly, although there are a few caveats to watch for, and it can be slightly more complex than your usual money-saving trick. This may work for other loyalty programs, including Bonvoy, but the Hilton Honors program has several key benefits I will discuss below.
Let’s take the case of the Maldives, one of the most beautiful and expensive places to visit. The Conrad Maldives is on an island where villas cost $1800 per night. Points redemptions start at 120,000 points per night. Let’s say you’ve stayed at a few Hilton hotels and have managed to get yourself 200,000 points, which would give you a night in the Conrad. Paying for the rest of a five-night stay would be $7200, which still isn’t cheap, though you’ve saved $1800. However, Hilton’s program has a wonderful benefit once you achieve silver status, giving you the fifth reward night in a five-night stay for free if you have used points for the whole stay. You would need 480,000 points to get five nights in this hotel, leaving you 280,000 points short.
Hilton allows you to buy points from them with frequent bonuses, giving you double the points when you purchase. The amount of points is capped at 160,000 per year (the double points are added on top of this, meaning a maximum of 320,000 points). In previous promotions, the purchase rate was US 0.5 cents per point. This means you can purchase those 280,000 points you were missing for US$1400 or $2100 during one of these periods. An added benefit of the Honors program is that the points cost covers all taxes, meaning a reward night is a free night with nothing for you to pay!
Using this advice, you can get your entire 5-night stay in the Maldives for $2100, saving $6900 on accommodation alone!
As always, there are caveats. Your chosen date may not have reward nights available, so it’s best to book as far in advance as possible (the rooms are refundable, so you’ll get your points back if you need to cancel). Hilton also has two types of reward nights – standard and premium. Premium reward nights are drastically higher and much worse, so standard nights are the ones you’re looking for. Some popular resorts have no standard nights available, so you must hunt around to secure good deals.
Finding cheaper hotel rooms can be a challenge, especially during peak periods. These methods help you save a little bit of money and still maintain flexibility in your booking. Once you’ve mastered these tricks, you’ll likely develop your own ways of finding cheap hotel rooms for that big holiday. Combining this with my tips for finding cheaper flights or getting upgrades gets you closer to getting your entire holiday for free!