Bitterwallet Travel Guide Part 3: Get The Best Value Accommodation
If cheap tickets are the holy grail to travel, then cheap hotels are like the Ark of the Covenant. In fact, an overpaid hotel could end up costing beyond the savings you made on the tickets. Having a decent place to stay and hang your hat without costing you an arm and a leg really makes a big difference to the budget. So if you find yourself not staying where you want or paying twice as much as you should have, here are some of the strategies to secure a place you truly deserve:
1. Book directly with the hotel: Normally, we go online to find the cheapest hotel deals. But the best operating tactic I found was to look online, then book offline. Booking directly with the hotel not only cuts out the middle man and they will usually match the discounted rates you see, but it's also easier to make changes with your reservation or to claim a refund should you decide to cancel. Some 3rd party websites include a non-refundable policy with their offers, so this could pose a problem should there be last minute changes in your plan. Also, most hotel receptionists know the hotel inside out, and you will want their inside info. For example, I found an appealing offer through Hotels for a room at The Mediterrenean Inn in Seattle for £56, but it was only through contacting people at the inn directly that I found out the rooms were cheap for a reason. They were on lower noisier floors, without air conditioning. If we wanted a 'standard' room, the rate of £103 / night would apply. Oh well, at least they were honest.
2. Ask for the best price you want: Websites like Hotels, Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz are the best venues to find nice hotels with great value prices. But here's what I usually do: whenever I see an interesting offer from a website, I take one step further by calling the hotel reservation hotline and asking for the lowest possible rate of my preferred room on the dates that I want. If the price quoted over the phone is higher than the one I'd seen online, I would casually mention this to the agent. On many occasions, the agents would match and beat the competition.
3. The deals that are not broadcasted: Every Dick and Jane can find deals and offers that are well advertised. So bear in mind that in the current climate everyone wants your business, and some deals out there may just not be as well marketed, therefore less known. For example, I was eyeing up a luxury condo in downtown Seattle which starts around £122/night for a 3-night stay. I discovered that most downtown hotels in Seattle were giving a special winter rate, so using this to my advantage, I called the agent and asked her if we could meet at the £82-£90 mark, knowing that they would rather fill a room than not. I knew that at their current advertised price, they are most likely losing customers to top 4-stars hotels like Hotel 1000 and Alexis Hotel. End result? A 5 star apartment right in the center of the city with jacuzzi, fitness gym and free wifi / parking space for a measly $85 a night (£60 a night).
4. Bid For a Hotel: With sites like Hotwire and Priceline, bidding for a hotel has become one effective way of finding the most cost-efficient accommodation. But if you're new to this, the process can be very tricky and you might end up losing your bids. A helpful discussion board, Bidding for Travel, has a lot of seasoned travelers dishing out tips on how to figure out the realistic prices of hotels and tricks that can help you snag the hotel of your choice at a pocket-friendly price. And it's worth mentioning that these sites are known as "opaque" sites, which means that the name of the hotel will only be revealed to you after you've made the reservation. The marketing message is that well known hotels don't want the public to know that they are doing offers. But if you don't fancy surprises, check out similar auction sites Sky Auction and Luxury Link.
5. Know your needs and preferences: Make sure you have a clear list of what you want and what you need your hotel/room to have. You could often hack the price of a hotel room if you can do away with some of the perks. Sites like Hotels.com search engine allow you to choose these specifics. On the other hand, getting on a cheap hotel does not always guarantee a better value, especially if you need to pay for services that you would otherwise get from a slightly more expensive hotel free of charge, so as obvious as this may be, I feel it is worth the mention.
6. Check the season: Hotel rates wax and wane with the seasons. It's always a good idea to research any special events or festivals taking place at your planned destination. Peak-season typically renders bargaining hopeless. But off-season is the best time to flex those bargaining techniques. If the room that you want is too pricey, just tell them your limit. More often that not, they can do something to find a suitable alternative that generally meets your requirements and your budget.
7. Note reliable recommendations: If you're still looking for a hotel, it's often safer to choose based on what people are raving, or ranting, about a particular hotel. Hotel ratings are okay but are commonly plausible. For honest-to-goodness recommendations, I always check out TripAdvisor to start a search in a new city, where hotels are rank based on travelers' ratings and reviews. One sweet feature is the Best Deal link that opens up separate windows for travel websites offering the best deal for my chosen hotel. Also, doing a quick search on sites like MSE and HUKD could often yield some hidden gems.
Let me know your thoughts, and post any other tips/suggestions below.