Best Money-Saving Hotel Tips
Which country has the highest-priced hotels?
The immediate answer is the Maldives, according to Hotels.com's recently released Hotel Price Index. But the real takeaway is that for the past few years hotel prices have been rising across the globe, no matter which country you choose to visit.
The average room rate rose by an average of 3 percent in 2012, with significant gains in the Caribbean (6 percent) and North America (5 percent), according to Hotels.com.
Thankfully, there are plenty of savvy ways to save money on a hotel room today—you just need to know the insider tricks. Many have to do with navigating the increasingly complex landscape of online booking. You’ll find start-up websites such as Tingo, which offers automatic refunds when a room rate drops. DealAngel, meanwhile, will help you decide if that online find is really such a steal. And all the major booking sites are embracing “bundling” as a way to drop rates to unprecedented lows.
Sometimes saving money on a hotel is simply a matter of being aware of where—and when—rooms are at their most affordable. Right now, according to Hotels.com, you can find five-star luxury for less than $250 a night in European cities such as Berlin, Budapest, and Lisbon. Smith Travel Research, meanwhile, pinpoints affordable rates at New York City hotels during July and August (who knew?).
But perhaps the best way to bring down room rates is to take advantage of programs that many hotels put in place in the wake of the recent economic crises, when courting loyalty was key to survival. Joining hotels’ often-free loyalty programs can yield you room upgrades, complimentary breakfasts and drinks, spa credits, free Wi-Fi, early arrival, and late check-in—in short, everything you need to stretch your dollar further. It can even earn you airline miles, thanks to a pioneering partnership between Starwood and Delta.
And if you just want to get out of paying for all those added extras, we’ve got some ideas for you, from how to use Internet phone services to avoid international-call charges to which hotels are committed to free in-room Wi-Fi (hallelujah!) to our favorite extended-stay brands with in-room kitchens.
Read on for Travel + Leisure’s best tips for saving money on your next hotel stay.
Reported by Jennifer Coogan, Nikki Ekstein, Amy Farley, Jennifer Flowers, Tom Samiljan, and Peter Schlesinger.
Hotels drop prices to unprecedented lows when they can “hide” their room rates from the general public. One way they do it: bundling rooms with airfares through online travel agents such as Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity. In a recent test, we searched for round-trip tickets from New York City to Los Angeles with a seven- night hotel stay at the Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey. Bought separately, we’d have had to pay $2,367. Bundled on Travelocity, however, we’d pay $632 less—that’s a full 20 percent savings.
Don’t be fooled: club-level rates at brands such as Sheraton, Ritz-Carlton, Fairmont, and Marriott may be higher, but they can offer real value. Here’s what you get when you pay $100 to upgrade to a Gold-floor room at Boston’s Fairmont Copley Plaza: Breakfast for Two: $52; Evening Appetizers: $20; Evening Dessert: $20; In-Person Wake-Up Call with Juice, Coffee, or Tea: $30; Large Bottled Water: $7; Soft Drinks and Snacks from the Lounge: $10; Welcome Drink: $10; Wi-Fi: $15. The total amounts to $164, which means those who pay to upgrade will save $64.
DealAngel, our favorite new online hotel search tool, doesn’t just aggregate bargains and sort them by price; it also compares the offered rate with the hotel’s average, assessing just how good a deal you’re getting. Bonus: the site’s handy color-coded calendar helps you figure out the most affordable times to travel to your favorite destinations.
The divide between airline and hotel loyalty programs is shrinking. A new partnership between Starwood Hotels & Resorts and Delta Air Lines allows Starwood Preferred Guest platinum and gold members to earn Starpoints for every dollar they spend on Delta fares. Similarly, Delta Medallion members with silver or higher status will get SkyMiles for money spent on Starwood rooms. And status members of both programs get priority treatment at the other.
Loyalty pays—especially when it costs nothing to join. Many brands offer perks and benefits to even the lowest tier of loyalty-club members. So next time you’re at a hotel, sign up. What do you have to lose?
You no longer need to pay exorbitant in-room or cellular roaming fees to make international calls. Internet phone services such as Skype, Rebtel, and Line offer free calls within their networks, as well as greatly reduced rates to landlines (17 cents per minute on calls from France to the U.S., for example). All you need is a Wi-Fi or mobile hot spot and you’re good to go.
The new website Tingo makes it extremely easy to get a partial refund if your hotel rate drops. Book a refundable room through the site, which monitors the price. If the rate goes down, Tingo will automatically refund the difference to your credit card shortly after your stay.
Three ways to use social media to get a better hotel stay.
1) Tweet the property before booking to see if any special deals are available. Hotels often broadcast deals on social media first. You can also do a keyword search (hotel name and “deal”) on Twitter.
2) Introduce yourself to the hotel on Facebook and Twitter, and let the staff know how excited you are about your upcoming trip. You might be rewarded with a free upgrade.
3) “Like” hotel loyalty programs on sites such as Facebook and Pinterest to get updates on extra savings, such as the regular 24-hour Facebook flash sales for Hilton HHonors members.
If you’re looking for savings, timing is everything. We asked Smith Travel Research for a month-by-month look at average room rates for destinations across the United States. New York City prices, for instance, drop in July and August, while Phoenix peaks at about $150 per night in October. On Oahu, hotel prices decline by about $20 per night between early January and early February.
At high-end hotels, free Wi-Fi remains frustratingly scarce. According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association, 84 percent of luxury hotels charge for in-room Internet access, while just 8 percent of economy hotels do. Here, T+L acknowledges the upscale hotel brands that provide the best Internet service.
First Place: Peninsula and Shangri-La Hotels have free Wi-Fi not only in all hotel rooms and common areas but also in their automobile fleets.
Second Place: Andaz provides free in-room and lobby Internet access.
Third Place: Fairmont, Kimpton, and Omni hotels offer complimentary Wi-Fi in common areas and guest rooms if you join their (free) loyalty programs.
On our Radar: IHG Hotels, the parent company of InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, and Holiday Inn, will give free access to all loyalty-club members starting in 2014.
Hotels.com’s latest Hotel Price Index pinpoints the cities where you can find luxury hotel rooms for affordable prices. Here, 10 destinations where the average cost of a five-star room still comes in well below $250 a night. Tallinn, Estonia: $201 Warsaw: $125 Brussels: $186 Marrakesh, Morocco: $162 Lisbon: $180 Bangkok: $199 Cairo: $191 Pisa, Italy: $183 Budapest: $177 Berlin: $206
Extended-stay hotels may have a ho-hum reputation, but for value-seeking guests, they are one of the best travel finds. You can save money on meals by using the in-room kitchens, and rates are usually lowest on weekends, when corporate demand wanes. Major chains are responding by adding style-conscious brands: Hyatt replaced Summerfield Suites with the more modern Hyatt House, where guests can give grocery orders to the hotel staff and grill their own dinner on outdoor barbecues. Starwood’s eco-conscious Element hotels feature energy-efficient appliances. Also new is the Sonesta ES brand, with 17 outposts, including Orlando, Florida, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Having trouble staying faithful to just one hotel brand? Expedia’s loyalty program is custom-made for hotel-brand agnostics. You can earn points by booking airfare, hotels, and car rentals on the site, then redeem them for either flights or hotel stays. (Bonus: there are no blackout dates and no restrictions.) If you earn elite status, you get free upgrades and perks at more than 1,200 properties.
Freebies: From Hotel Loyalty Programs
There are a few ways to get free hotel perks. For example, each brand offers different benefits to its repeat guests. Kimpton Hotels’ InTouch members, for example, get free Wi-Fi access and newspapers, a $30 in-room spa credit, and $10 toward the mini-bar. The best part? The program is free to join.
Freebies: From Travel Agents
At the 975 hotels that are part of the Virtuoso network, affiliated travel agents can secure significant perks for their clients, from free airport transfers and museum admission to dining and spa credits worth $100. Likewise, agents in the Signature Travel Network can arrange free breakfasts and bonuses such as a $100 spa credit at Enchantment Resort (pictured), in Sedona, Arizona, or an evening charcuterie plate at the Amangani, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Freebies: From a Members-Only Club
The new, members-only booking site Want Me Get Me puts you on the general manager’s VIP list and grants you such perks as complimentary Wi-Fi access, automatic upgrades, and pick-your-own extras (free valet parking; cocktails; breakfast; spa credits) at more than 200 luxury hotels, including select Fairmont, Orient-Express, Oberoi, Peninsula, Standard, and Ace properties.
To get a better room, try checking in later in the day, when hotels have a better sense of their open inventory for the night, and become a loyalty-program member.
Be on the lookout for new hotels; they have added incentive to court return guests by giving them upgrades.
And consider booking with the website Room 77, a hotel search engine that scans prices adn availability through numerous online travel agencies and automatically contacts the hotel you choose to request a room that matches your preferences (room views, higher or lower floors, distance from the elevator, and more.)
Clients of Virtuoso travel agents get priority treatment—including late departures—at roughly 1,000 luxury properties. American Express (T+L’s parent company) Platinum Card members can keep their rooms until 4 p.m. when they book through American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts, which includes more than 750 properties. Most loyalty programs offer late departures to high-status members: Hyatt Gold Passport grants 2 p.m. checkout to platinum-level guests; diamond-tier members can stay until 4 p.m. Guaranteed 4 p.m. checkout also comes with Leading Hotels of the World’s top-tier program, which costs $1,200 per year.