How to Find and Book Cheap Hotels in 2023 – Get the Best Deals on Hotels, Hostels, Airbnb, & More
Lodging costs can be one of the most significant factors when determining your next trip destination and duration. Thankfully, finding cheap hotels can be easier than you think. While you can search hotel rates directly at online travel agencies like Expedia, Hotels.com, Kayak, Priceline, Travelocity, there are ways to save even more. You can use these booking tips to save money at desirable properties worldwide.
Best Days to Book a Hotel
The best day of the week to book a hotel stay is debatable, similar to the best time to buy airline tickets. Successfully finding discounted rooms can depend on whether you’re embarking on a leisure or business trip among other factors.
You may try searching for hotel rooms on the following days but trying to time your booking session precisely for the lowest price is challenging. Pricing trends can differ by hotel, location, and current travel demand.
While you might check rates over several days, you may decide to book as soon as you see an offer within your price range. It’s possible that the booking site offers a price match to issue a partial refund if rates drop.
Search at the End of the Week for Leisure Trips
Searching for hotel rooms towards the end of the week on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday can lead to lower prices. Various travel search engines report that more hotel searches occur at the start of the week than as the week progresses.
Take Time on the Weekends for Business Trips
Corporate hotel rates for business trips can be more affordable if you’re searching for empty rooms on Saturdays and Sundays.
This suggestion may hold true as fewer business travel coordinators are in the office on weekends.
Can Last-Minute Hotel Bookings Save Money?
Hotels may be willing to fill their rooms at a discounted rate instead of going empty if travel demand is relatively slow. HotelTonight does an excellent job of showing last-minute booking savings versus the hotel’s highest price in the last 30 days.
Waiting to book a room on the same day can be rather expensive but you might be able to save a few bucks when booking one or two days before check-in.
However, booking 2-3 months in advance is usually the sweet spot for competitive prices and ample room selection. As a result, the last-minute savings are typically not worth the wait.
If a fantastic deal comes up, it’s possible to cancel your existing reservation if it has a flexible cancellation policy.
Best Days to Stay at a Hotel
Your travel dates are more important than the day you book your trip. Fridays and Saturdays tend to be the most expensive.
Sunday through Wednesday check-ins are usually the most affordable.
Holidays and peak travel seasons are also good times to reconsider travel if possible. For example, tropical getaways are less likely to have good deals in the winter and spring break as many people visit to escape the cold.
Compare Prices at Travel Booking Sites
Comparing prices from several hotel booking sites is usually worth the effort. There are more variables to hotel prices than flight prices so there’s more incentive to hunt for deals.
It’s also not uncommon for rooms to sell out if you’re trying to book directly through the hotel but occupancy is still available on other platforms. This is possible because hotels allocate some of their rooms to third-party apps for extra exposure to travelers in need.
However, not every hotel price comparison site is created equally.
Third-party travel aggregators like Kayak (see our complete guide) and Google Hotels compare rates from the various hotel sites and booking portals. You might be able to book directly through the hotel or a third-party site.
Online Travel Agencies
Online travel agencies (OTAs) such as Hotels.com (see our complete guide) or Booking.com display rates from multiple hotel brands and you complete your reservation through that platform.
While you may not earn hotel loyalty points, many sites have in-house loyalty programs to save on future travel bookings.
Try Priceline Pricebreakers
If you’re flexible with where you stay, the Priceline Pick 3 feature can be an exciting way to save money. When searching for hotels on Priceline.com, you will see a box featuring three hotels of similar quality with the option to book one at random for a fixed price.
After doing a quick search of these three properties, you can decide if it’s worth seeing what’s behind Door #2 and accepting the bargain.
Compare Vacation Packages to Separate Bookings
A vacation package can potentially save money by combining your flight, hotel, and (possibly) a rental car in the same itinerary.
Hotel and airline loyalty programs offer travel bundles as well as online travel agencies. You might be able to receive special perks for booking a package.
The Vacationer Tip
See the following guides for additional travel advice for saving the most money on your next vacation.
– Best Websites for Booking Cheap Hotels
– Best Websites for Booking Cheap Flights
– Best Websites for Booking Cheap Rental Cars
– Best Websites for Booking Cheap Cruises
– How to Find and Book Cheap Flights
– How to Find and Book Cheap Car Rentals
– How to Use Google Flights
Consider Booking Directly from the Hotel
Your price comparison should also include seeing the best rates directly from the hotel. For example, you may qualify for member-only prices if you have elite hotel status at hotels like Hilton or Choice Hotels.
The hotel may offer additional packages like free parking, airport shuttle service, or complimentary breakfast that you will pay extra for through OTAs.
Additionally, booking directly from the hotel can make resolving customer service complaints easier and more likely to earn hotel points on your stay.
Consider Non-Refundable Bookings
Non-refundable bookings are available when you’re booking directly from the hotel and OTAs at least one week in advance. You will almost always pay the lowest rate in exchange for being unable to cancel your reservation.
This reservation option can be a good deal if you’re absolutely sure that your travel plans won’t change. However, a flexible cancellation policy up to 24 to 48 hours before check-in can be better if you’re holding out for a better deal or want additional peace of mind.
Waiving the ability for last-minute cancellations can help you save at least $10 per night before taxes and fees. Depending on the hotel, you may still be able to cancel up to seven days in advance for a full refund.
Pay with Points and Cash
Points and cash bookings can help you save a little money when you don’t want to use all of your points (or buy hotel points) on your next trip.
It’s still worth comparing the cash rate to the points and cash rate to verify you’re getting a good deal. The point redemption values can be surprisingly low and it can be better to go all points or all cash.
Another potential downside of this hybrid payment option is that you will get refunded only in points. While you have more flexibility than a non-refundable room, a points refund may not be useful if you rarely stay with a particular hotel program.
Use Hotel Points for Extended Stay Discounts
Several hotel loyalty programs give you the 5th night free when you pay entirely with points on a stay of at least four nights.
The eligibility requirements vary by rewards club. For example, some hotels require having elite loyalty status instead of the basic entry-level status. This policy extends to Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy.
Others may only offer this benefit to co-brand credit card holders, such as IHG.
Look for Point Discounts
While not as common as a few years ago as hotel points are not as valuable as they used to be, hotel programs may offer reward night discounts. However, most of these properties are off the beaten path and usually have low travel volumes.
Marriott PointSavers is one of the best programs at the moment.
Join Hotel Loyalty Programs
It’s free to join hotel loyalty programs and you can be eligible for member-only rates and exclusive promotions that can help you earn bonus points or free gift cards.
These exclusive rates can be available to all members but elite members may qualify for sweeter deals as a unique way of saying thanks.
Each loyalty program site has an “Offers” or “Deals” section to help you find the best hotel promotions.
You can join these hotel loyalty programs for special savings:
Several of the third-party online travel agencies have loyalty programs too. Some of the most visible options include Expedia, Hotels.com, and Priceline. You can use the co-brand credit cards to procure free night awards sooner.
Anticipate receiving several emails per week from each loyalty program you join. You may consider using an account dedicated to finding travel deals to avoid flooding your go-to email inbox with marketing emails.
Look for App-Only Offers
Several third-party booking sites reserve the best discounts for mobile app users. In addition, you can join their free loyalty program and book through the app to save up to 10% more.
Some of the platforms with app-only savings for loyalty members include:
In addition to the upfront savings, you may receive rewards points that can be redeemed for a future stay.
Hotel loyalty programs may also extend special savings when you book through the app instead of on the website or through phone-based customer support.
Ask the Hotel
Directly calling or emailing the hotel may help you snag a personalized discount. For example, you might be able to secure a group rate or enjoy savings for an extended stay.
Sign Up for Hotel Newsletters
Joining a hotel or travel agency loyalty program may automatically enroll you in a special newsletter for special savings. In other instances, an opt-in is necessary.
Travelzoo has a weekly email newsletter featuring exclusive deals to save money at luxury hotels and resorts worldwide.
Look for Affinity Group Discounts
You might be able to get special discounts if you’re a member of these groups or employers:
- Airline loyalty clubs (i.e., Delta SkyMiles)
- Banks and credit unions
- Government agency
- Insurance providers (i.e., Farm Bureau, State Farm)
- Military discount (Active or retired)
- Sam’s Club
- Senior discounts
It can also be worth seeing if your employer offers discounts. The special corporate rate should be for business-only trips but they may have a unique partnership for leisure discounts too.
The discount differs by group and hotel brand but is usually between 5% and 20%. These rebates are only available when you book directly through the hotel instead of a third-party travel portal. So, you should compare prices from Expedia, Hotels.com, etc.
You can automatically receive the discount code from the affinity group website when you start the booking process. Other platforms may have you enter code into the booking screen or present it to the phone-based service agent.
Look for Hotel Coupons
You might be able to find discount codes and promo codes from independent websites. These deals can differ from what online travel agencies and affinity groups offer.
Some of the sites to consider:
The HotelCoupons.com site is the online publication for the travel coupon books that you may come across at rest areas, gas stations, and restaurants. This outlet might be best for last-minute bookings that may require reserving your room in person.
Use Cash Back Websites
If you cannot get an upfront discount, you can receive cash back through shopping rewards websites.
You can receive up to 10% cashback rates and the reward amounts differ by portal. Some of the best cash back sites are:
Earning restrictions apply and you may not be able to receive cash back at select luxury brands or points and cash bookings. The offer terms and conditions clearly describe ineligible situations.
These portals can also help you save money on merchandise purchases like clothing, electronics, and sports equipment.
There is usually a 60-day holding period before you can withdraw your earnings to guard against refunds. After that, the redemption minimum is usually $5 or less for most platforms and you can request cash or gift cards.
Pay With a Travel Credit Card
Travel credit cards can defray your hotel expenses in several ways.
Use Credit Card Points for Award Travel
Your credit card points can be most valuable when you use them for booking travel rewards. Most cards require you to redeem your points through the credit card travel portal such as Chase Ultimate Rewards or Capital One Travel.
Select travel rewards credit cards may also let you redeem them as a travel statement credit or transfer them directly to a hotel.
Your credit card points are usually worth 1 cent for award travel. However, they can be worth 1.25 cents (25% more) for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and 1.5 cents (50% more) Chase Sapphire Reserve®.
Tip: You can use the CardMatch tool to find credit cards with the best bonus categories and signup offers for your travel habits.
Redeem Credit Card Statement Credits
Premium credit cards tend to offer a travel statement credit that can apply to hotel purchases.
Many travel credit cards also partner with hotel networks such as The Luxury Hotel & Resort CollectionSM.
Some of the best hotel travel credits include:
- Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card: Up to $300 in annual statement credits on purchases through Capital One Travel.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve®: Annual $300 travel statement credit and special benefits at Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection, Relais & Châteaux hotels, and sbe hotels.
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Up to $200 in statement credits at Fine Hotels + Resorts or The Hotel Collection bookings when staying for a minimum of two nights. Plus on-site credits for qualifying stays.
- Citi Premier® Card: Up to $100 off a single hotel stay of $500 or more through thankyou.com once per year.
- Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card: Up to $250 in annual statement credits at participating Hilton resorts. Additionally, up to $100 in property credits on minimum 2-night stays at participating Waldorf Astoria® Hotels & Resorts and Conrad® Hotels & Resorts.
Hotel Free Night Awards
Select hotel credit cards offer an anniversary night award after renewing your annual fee. Most cards automatically give you the first night each card anniversary. In addition, you may have the opportunity to earn a second night by meeting a minimum annual spending requirement.
The specific redemption details vary by card but you can usually redeem them at participating properties requiring 40,000 points or less for the major loyalty programs like Marriott Bonvoy and IHG.
The value for these rewards can easily offset the annual fee and you can enjoy other perks like elite loyalty status and earning bonus points on card purchases.
Some of the cards to consider first include:
- Hilton Honors Aspire Card: One weekend night award at account opening and each card renewal. Receive a second reward night after $60,000 in annual purchases.
- IHG® Rewards Premier Credit Card: One night on your account anniversary date valid for 40,000 points or less.
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card: 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month (50,000 points or less).
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® credit card: Single free night award each card anniversary worth 35,000 points or less.
- World of Hyatt Credit Card: Redeem your night award at category 1-4 hotels and resorts. Receive an extra night after $15,000 in annual card spending.
Unfortunately, no-annual-fee credit cards don’t give you the opportunity to earn free nights. Thankfully, dodging the annual fee makes it easier to maximize your purchase rewards and you may enjoy a few add-on perks.
Don’t Be Afraid of Hotel Alternatives
If you’re traveling with a large family or want additional privacy, finding your desired hotel room is going to be more expensive than if you’re just a party of two looking for clean and cheap accommodations.
These alternatives can be more affordable than the economy hotels and mid-tier hotels you may typically stay at.
Airbnb and Vrbo were popular travel platforms before the pandemic but traveler interest exploded after March 2020 as people wanted private amenities.
Consider vacation rentals if you want to rent single-family homes, condos, or apartments to house your family instead of getting multiple hotel rooms. You can also enjoy a stocked kitchen and hands-on care from your host.
Vacation rentals can also be cheaper for solo travelers if you’re willing to stay in a spare bedroom or a small guesthouse.
When comparing Airbnb or Vrbo listings to hotel rooms, be aware that hosts charge cleaning fees and other service fees may apply. These add-on fees might make a one-night stay too expensive but you save money on multi-night itineraries.
Additionally, Vrbo purchases most likely won’t earn credit card points due to coding discrepancies.
More online travel agencies are beginning to offer vacation rentals and apartments to easily compare prices head-to-head.
International travelers can save a buck by staying at hostels. While many hostels are relatively primitive with shared bathrooms and no on-site amenities, some offer private showers while being cheaper than a budget-friendly hotel.
Hostelworld is one of the best platforms for researching this hotel alternative.
Another way for solo travelers and couples to find cheap accommodations with locals is through Couchsurfing.
If you’re going on a hiatus, you may consider house sitting. This is an excellent opportunity to volunteer or work abroad in exchange for lodging and other basic needs.
Workaway showcases hundreds of open opportunities in 166 countries and especially throughout Europe.
If you love the outdoors, camping can also be cost-effective as it’s easier to enjoy the fresh air, evening campfires, and being closer to remote areas.
Outdoorsy can help you rent campers and RVs that might be at a fixed campground or can be moved to your preferred destination.
The Vacationer’s Final Thoughts
You will find the most opportunities to book affordable hotel rooms by comparing rates on hotel websites and online travel agencies. Becoming a loyalty club member can also be worthwhile if you anticipate staying multiple times to unlock special offers.
You can secure lower rates by comparing curated packages in several ways. As you search for availability, don’t forget to see which on-site amenities are available for free since the selection can differ by website.
Also don’t overlook price match guarantees and cancellation policies. Your travel plans may change and you may also find a better price or room option that fits your travel budget.
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