How to save money on hotels

 

If you're traveling to San Francisco, Dallas, Omaha or other U.S. destinations, you probably peruse the Internet at sites like hotel.com, tripadvisor.com or orbitz.com to compare prices.

After you've found a couple of hotels located in the area where you want to stay, it pays to compare prices over multiple websites. Also, don't forget to check the hotel's own website. Just like airline sites, hotel sites sometimes feature special deals that aren't advertised on other travel sites.

So what's wrong with this picture? Plenty, say some travelers who are getting even better deals by doing business the old-fashioned way.

It may come as a surprise, but if you simply pick up the phone and call the hotel you may have more leverage than if you are a faceless shopper online.

There's no doubt about it, good hotel prices can be found online, but if you aren't using the phone in searching for good hotel deals, you may be missing out on some opportunities.

Here are a few reasons why you may get a better deal by talking to a real person at the local hotel reservations desk.

Use the phone

First you need to know that, yes, using the phone may save you money if you're looking for a domestic booking. That may not be the case when you're traveling abroad.

If you're traveling out of the country, a direct call to shop for hotel prices (which is not typically a toll-free number) may not be cost effective. Compound that with the fact that the language barrier may make this a less than desirable option.

But for domestic hotel pricing, give the phone strategy a try. The main reason is it's hard to be creative on both sides of the desk via the Internet. Travel information on a Web site usually doesn't allow for creating new and different deals than what has been set up mechanically online.

If you're still wondering why you should "go backwards" and call a hotel across the country when you can book a hotel room online in minutes, here are few top reasons:

  • Hotels feature a wide price range for rooms within the same hotel. Options vary depending on price. You may not have been asked online if you want a room with a view of the alley or of the harbor, or if you want one king bed or two queen beds, or if you prefer a bath with shower only or a bath with shower stall and separate tub. Or, if you want the absolutely cheapest room they have. A traveler recently used the latter tactic when they stayed at a large bed and breakfast inn in Ephraim, in Door County, Wisconsin, and was told the cheapest room was absolutely minute since it was under an attic eave. The rest of the rooms were booked so the traveler took it since they wanted to experience the ambiance of the place, its harbor side location, and its gourmet sit-down breakfast. The $79 price per night, as opposed to the $200 per night average price, which included breakfast, was worth contending with the bedroom's cramped quarters.

  • If you're a frequent visitor at a hotel chain, tell them upfront. Probe a little to see if you can find out if it's "off season" for tourism or conventions. If so, they may make you an offer you can't refuse.

  • Speaking of conventions, some big city hotels, which cater to business clients during the week, may have unadvertised weekend specials when many rooms are empty. Keep in mind that the “weekend special” may mean you'll have to stay over on a Thursday, Friday or Sunday night.

  • Be careful with options like a "romantic getaway package." That extra perk can cost $300 over and above the room rate for added amenities like a bottle of wine or "free spa products/toiletries." Ask some at the hotel about the specific details of these packages to find out if they are worth it to you.

  • Try to avoid calling the hotel's national reservations line. These representatives are not at the local hotel and they don't usually have the ability to make creative decisions. Local reps have inside knowledge of what is going on at the hotel, things like weddings or big conventions that you may want to avoid.

  • Ask about specific discounts. While some travel Web sites mention that they honor discounts for frequent travelers, other sites do not address it. Frequent traveler guest cards like those offered by Marriott, Hilton, for AAA members or for corporate clients can give you deeper discounts. But you may not have noticed (or have been offered) these additional discounts when you browsed online.

  • Ask about specific amenities. If you're a breakfast person and a hotel advertises a Continental breakfast, is it just juice, coffee and donuts? For the same price, you might find another nearby hotel that not only has a full breakfast but an enormous amount of free information about the area. That describes the wonderful and reasonably priced Anderson House in Washington D.C., which features a serve-yourself breakfast with more options than you'd expect.


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