Traveling can be expensive, no doubt about it. Airfare, rental car, gas, attraction tickets, food, hotel, and souvenirs can all add up to thousands of dollars for a typical family vacation. According to Vacation Kids, “Financial experts suggest that the average family vacation costs 5-10%” of the family’s total income. Similarly, this American Express 2013 survey pegged the cost at $1,145 per person while The Stuffed Suitcase breaks costs down by category and arrives at an average cost, for a family of 4, of roughly $4,000. From my own experience, and probably yours too, that’s about right. It’s easy, though, to save on hotels and this article shows you 7 ways to save money on hotels.
One way to reduce your vacation costs is to save on hotel rooms. Fortunately, we live in the age of computers and internet so comparison shopping is a relative fact of life. Websites like Kayak and Trivago do all the legwork for you by pulling the rates from a slew of different hotels. All you have to do is make the reservations. There are, however, other ways to save on hotels and other considerations besides the basic rate.
It’s All in Who You Know
Admittedly, this tip has a limited audience, usually. If you know someone who works for a hotel, like I do, you might be able to get a discount hotel rate. For example, the hotel chain many of my friends work for offers a friends and family rate. Employees can usually find a family rate at any of the ten brands for $10+ cheaper per night than the least expensive advertised rate. This discount hotel rate is not always available, especially on busy nights or during busy seasons. Still, it doesn’t hurt to ask if you know someone in the business. You may be able to save a significant amount of money on your hotel rooms.
Another option to save on hotels is to stay with family or friends wherever you travel. I know, I know…even if you have family or friends in the area, you may not want to impose on them. It’s still something to consider though. You can save yourself a lot of money this way plus reconnect with friends or family. Consider this: if you visit Florida for a week and stay with friends or family for two of those nights, you likely saved $300 to $600 on hotel rooms. Those savings pay for theme park tickets or a nice dinner out (take your hosts to dinner to say thank you) or enable you to extend your vacation a couple of days.
Ask, People. Ask!
In this internet era, we’re so accustomed to just taking what’s offered, we sometimes forget to ask for more and when trying to save on hotel rooms, it pays to ask. Looking for a better rate? Call the hotel directly. Many hotels have in-house reservation departments, and those people can hook you up. Besides a better rate than you might find online, they can give you free stuff, like upgrades, parking, WiFi, and breakfast. If you’re traveling for a special occasion – “happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you…” – let them know and you might be pleasantly surprised at how the staff helps you celebrate. Hotels are in the business of making people happy. Use that to your advantage and save money on hotels.
Another way to use a hotel’s hospitality to save on hotel rooms is through loyalty programs. Every company has one, and they’re free to join. If you’re a member of a loyalty program, try that chain first, especially if you travel often and have points saved up. You can trade those points in for free hotel nights and save money on hotel rooms. Even if you don’t have enough points to trade in right now, you will accumulate additional points to use in the future. My one caveat is this – some discount hotel rates, like the friends and family rate mentioned above, are not eligible to accumulate points because the rate is already deeply discounted. There will be times when you will need to weigh your need to save on hotels against your desire to collect points on a loyalty program for future free hotel nights.
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Make It a Package, Please
Hilton offers a bed-and-breakfast package. You guessed it, breakfast included, which can easily save you $20-$40 a day for two people. Marriott offers vacation packages that include airfare and car rental. Packages will vary depending on the location of the hotel. Many hotels in Orlando offer theme park packages. Some offer special packages depending on what event is in town. Its worth doing a little research or visiting around a special event. Even if you do not use all of the package components, the deal may still be worthwhile over paying full price for just a hotel room.
AARP, AAA, government, military. These are all discounted rates and can give you significant savings. There may be others depending on your professional associations. Similarly, a non-refundable rate can offer deep discounts, but it’s…well, non-refundable if your plans change or you find a better deal. Most hotels will make exceptions for natural disasters or personal emergencies. The hotel’s website will list the discounts available. For professional associations, check with your association. Many list the benefits on their websites.
Rent a House, or a Condo, or Half a Duplex, or…
Okay, so your family or friends are going with you rather than you staying with them. Consider a vacation rental to save on hotels. Here in the Tampa area, you can rent a condo a couple of miles from the beach for as little as $500 a week or a house on the beach for upwards of $2,000 a week. Oftentimes, the per night expense will be less than a hotel room which will save you money on hotel rooms, and you have more room with just as many amenities (or more) than in a hotel. Break that $125 – $150 per night charge among a couple of families, and you are now paying less than $100 per night on your lodging, a significant savings from a traditional hotel stay. This option has gained traction recently with the increased popularity of services such as AirBNB. Using a vacation rental or AirBNB offers a few added incentives:
- full kitchens, a check in the plus column for people with dietary restrictions or young children.
- local advice and information from your AirBNB host or vacation rental owner.
- free amenities such as WiFi, parking, and even things like kayaks which you would pay extra for at a hotel.
Forget the Designer Brand
Yes, it’s nice to say you stayed at a Waldorf, Hyatt, Ritz, or Hilton, but the cost! Seriously! The Fairfield Inn, Hampton Inn, and Embassy Suites often cost far less than their sister brands and offer free extras, like parking, wi-fi, and breakfast, that you’ll pay extra for at the luxury brands. These mid-priced options are great ways to save on hotels while still experiencing the luxury of their higher-end counterparts. Here are some of the less expensive options offered by top hotel chains:
- Hampton Inn – free hot breakfast and WiFi; free parking in many locations
- Hilton Garden Inn – in-room Keurig machines and free WiFi
- Double Tree by HIlton
- Hyatt Place – free hot breakfast and WiFi
- Courtyard by Marriott – free WiFi
- The Fairfield Inn – free hot breakfast and WiFi
- Discount brands such as Days Inn, Knights Inn, Microtel, Super 8 , and Travelodge
- Wingate by Wyndham – free hot breakfast and WiFi
Read the Fine Print
And while we’re discussing extra costs, let’s look at the fine print. While you may expect to pay, and budget for, extras such as parking, you may be surprised by other “hidden” fees which can blow your budget and attempts to save on hotels. Resort fees are the big one nowadays, and having worked in the business I can tell you it catches people by surprise. Though this fee must be disclosed (even on third-party sites), you might miss it if you don’t read the details. Imagine paying an extra $20-$40 a night but still paying for a beach cabana or parking. Many resort charges include precious little amenities or amenities which were typically free before the resort fee era, like free phone calls (who needs those with cell phones attached to our hands?) or free WiFi. Other unexpected charges can include early arrival, late departure, late cancellation (check the hotel’s cancellation policy), and early departure.
There are many ways to save on hotels and many ways to make sure you don’t pay more than you budget. If travel isn’t in your immediate future, you can still enjoy a great vacation at home. Check out these tips for making the best of your staycation.
Do you have any tips to save on hotels for our readers? What are the most ridiculous fees you’ve seen hotels charge? I’d love to hear from you!