Hotels use complex formulas to set room prices, usually tied to supply and demand. A forecast of bad weather or a heightened terror alert might send rates plummeting. If a major conference is in town, expect to pay more. You can’t control external forces, but you can take steps to spend less on your next hotel stay, rain or shine.
Haggle. In a recent survey of Consumer Reports readers, the respondents who tried to negotiate for a better deal were rewarded with a lower rate or room upgrade 80 percent of the time. Skip the toll-free booking number; call the hotel directly and talk about room rates with a clerk. Inquire about discounts through AAA, AARP, and similar programs, and ask whether any specials or package deals are in effect. The video here shows how you can negotiate during such a call.
Know the lingo. Don’t assume the corporate rate, which is open to anyone, not just business travelers, is the best deal. And the “best available rate” might not be. Ask instead for the “cheapest nonrefundable rate” and the price could drop (but don’t commit to that rate if your plans might change).
Be loyal. If you travel often and like a particular hotel chain, see if it has a free loyalty program. You can earn complimentary nights, room upgrades, and even airline miles. Other perks might include late checkout, free Internet access, or weekend discounts.
Consider a suite. For about the same price as a regular room, you can sometimes score more spacious digs at an all-suite hotel. You’ll often get separate living and sleeping quarters, a kitchenette, and perhaps a sleeper sofa.
Compare rates. We’ve seen a smaller range in rates for the same types of rooms in recent years. That trend began when hotels started offering a “best-rate guarantee” for any room booked directly with them. If you can document a lower price for the same date for a room you’ve already booked, you’ll get a refund of the difference.
Lock in a rate. If you’re heading to a popular destination at a peak time, call around and check websites long before your trip. Get price quotes from three to five hotels, then lock in the lowest refundable rate. As your travel date nears, check prices again. If you find a better deal, cancel your original reservation in time to avoid a penalty.
Be a fan. More hotel chains are on social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. If you become a fan or follow a chain, you’ll get early notification of specials.
Avoid annoying fees. Don’t let the money you save get eaten up by unexpected fees. Before you book, ask the clerk if there are charges for anything other than occupancy and sales tax. For example, some resort-style properties with spas, golf courses, tennis courts, or hiking trails charge an extra $12 to $40 a day whether you use those amenities or not.—Tod Marks
This article appeared in Consumer Reports Money Adviser.