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How to Find a Cheap Hotel

Updated on January 17, 2016
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Dr. Penny Pincher founded the popular personal finance blog Penny Pincher Journal in 2013 and has published two books about saving money.

How To Stay Cheap at Hotels!
How To Stay Cheap at Hotels! | Source

Cheap Hotel Tips

Staying in hotels is one of the major expenses you face when travelling- how can you save money on hotels? Fortunately, there are a lot of ways you can save money on hotels and get the most for your money. This article provides tips that will save you money whether you are staying at a five star hotel like the Ritz-Carlton, or at a cheap hotel along the interstate.

Hotel Rewards Programs and Discounts

When I book a hotel room, I always ask for a AAA discount. I have AAA service for my cars which provides free towing and roadside service. This is a good deal for me since my car is pretty old and has a lot of miles on it. I can usually get an extra $5 or $10 per night off of my hotel bill if I ask for the AAA discount.

I also use travel clubs to get points when I book hotel rooms for business and for pleasure. Some popular hotel rewards points programs include Hilton HHonors, Mariott Rewards, Holiday Inn, and Radisson. Every time you book a room, make sure you are in the hotel's rewards program and are getting points. If you are not in the club, sign up and start getting points. I was able to stay for several nights for free in a nice hotel near the White House in Washington DC on a family vacation using hotel program points.

What is your favorite hotel rewards program?

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Comparison Shop for Hotel Deals

On a driving trip when looking for a hotel for the night, I will stop at the front desk of a hotel and ask for their best rate on a room. If I am not satisfied, I will do some comparison shopping by stopping at the front desk of other nearby hotels and asking for their best rate as well. It is interesting how much the "best rate" can vary just by walking next door to a similar hotel. I once saved $70 on a hotel bill using this method.

The desk clerk has some flexibility on the rates in many cases, and if there are vacancies and it is getting late, you could get a great deal if you are willing to spend a bit of time comparing hotel rates.

Free Stuff at Hotels

If you are staying at a hotel, try to maximize the value you are getting. I like to stay at Homewood Suites because they include free dinner and free breakfast. This is a great deal, and saves wear and tear trying to get food on a trip. Most hotels offer a free breakfast these days, but the quality varies a lot. Some have a breakfast buffet with hot items including bacon, scrambled eggs, waffles, etc. Others have only cold items such as cereal and donuts. For me, the free hot breakfast buffet is a much better way to start the day.

There are lots of opportunities to get free stuff at hotels. I always pick up the lotion, shampoo conditioner, and bars of soap that the hotel provides. I also take the complementary stationery pads and pens if I need any.

Get Free Stuff at Hotels!
Get Free Stuff at Hotels! | Source
Don't Forget the Free Tea at the Hotel
Don't Forget the Free Tea at the Hotel | Source

If your room has a small coffee maker, you will have free coffee pods and perhaps tea bags as well. I don't like the cheap, stale coffee in the coffee pods, so I leave that for the next visitor. The tea is fine, though.

Almost all hotels have free cable TV, so you can take advantage of that for free. If you get a free newspaper, you can look up what shows are on all of the many channels to maximize your viewing experience.

Many hotels offer free newspapers in the lobby or some even deliver it to your door. I like to pick up a free USA Today and the free local paper if it is available.

If you get hungry for a snack, see if the hotel has free food in the lobby before you look for the vending machine. Some hotels have cookies, fruit, lemonade, or other refreshments for guests.

Use the Free Microwave and Refrigerator to Save Money at the Hotel
Use the Free Microwave and Refrigerator to Save Money at the Hotel | Source

Use the Microwave and Refrigerator at the Hotel

If your hotel room has a refrigerator and microwave, take advantage of that to save money. There's no reason not to buy a few groceries and make some of your own food at the hotel to save some money. Why buy soda at the hotel pop machine for $2 each when you can buy some cheap at a grocery store and keep it in the refrigerator in your room?

I like to be able to bring leftovers from restaurant meals back to the hotel and put the box in the refrigerator to save for a meal or snack later. It drives me crazy to leave perfectly good food behind at a restaurant, even on a trip.

Get Coupons at the Hotel

Also in the category of free stuff at the hotel- ask for restaurant coupons at the concierge desk. Most hotels get coupons and special offers from local restaurants and keep them behind the desk. The person behind the desk can tell you which coupons they have and also which local restaurants are good. I was able to get $12 off dinner on a recent trip using this method.

Hotels also have coupons for local attractions and are worth checking out. If you have plans to visit an attraction, it only takes a minute to ask at the hotel desk if they have any coupons available.

Watch Out for Pay Per View, Video Game, and Phone Fees at Hotels!
Watch Out for Pay Per View, Video Game, and Phone Fees at Hotels! | Source

Avoid Unnecessary Expenses at Hotels

At the hotel, avoid using the hotel landline phone in your room for calls that go outside the hotel. Phone charges will be billed to your room. With most cell phone plans, you will be better off using your cell phone to make calls.

Also, be careful with the TV remote control. Most hotels offer pay per view programming and make it very easy to order movies. Some hotels even offer video games in the room for an hourly rate. These services are usually not free- so check before doing anything in the TV besides watching TV.

Once while staying at a hotel, I went down to the fitness club to check out the exercise machines and lift weights a bit. On my way out, I notice that a sign was posted that explained that there was a fee for using the fitness club. I should have checked this out more carefully before assuming the fitness club was included in my hotel rate.

Some hotels offer room service. This is usually expensive, and the people who deliver the food expect a tip. I prefer to go get food from a nearby restaurant and bring it back to the hotel. You can also order a pizza and have it delivered to a hotel for a lot less than paying room service prices for a pizza.

Save Money on Hotels- Stay Fewer Nights

Hotels are an expensive part of most trips. One way to reduce hotel expenses is to spend fewer nights staying in hotels. When I was younger, I remember sometimes sleeping in my car on trips to avoid staying at a hotel. With a family, this is harder to do unless you have a large car or a van. You can also spend some nights staying with friends or family for free instead of paying for a hotel.

Another approach to reducing hotel stays is to fly instead of driving on long trips. The airfare may cost more than driving, but reducing the travel time also reduces hotel and food costs. Depending on the number of travelers in your party and the length of your trip, air travel could be a good option.

Use Hotel Discounts to Get a Cheap Hotel Room
Use Hotel Discounts to Get a Cheap Hotel Room | Source

If the weather is good, consider bringing a tent and camping instead of staying in a hotel for at least some nights. You can get a spot at a campground that includes electricity and shower facilities for about $20 per night in many places. Camping may not be very convenient if your are visiting cities, but may be a good option for the drive along the way.

A fourth way to spend fewer nights staying in a hotel on trips: take a staycation instead of a vacation. A staycation is a vacation where you visit local attractions and stay in your own bed instead of a hotel. This can be a way to take some time off and greatly reduce hotel and travel costs.

Use Hotel Discounts to Get a Cheap Hotel

By following the tips in this article, you can save money on hotels on your next trip. It takes some effort to save money on hotels and get the most value during your stay. If you sleep 8 hours per night at the hotel and spend a couple hours eating and getting ready, you'll spend nearly half of your time at the hotel on your trip. Since the hotel is such an important- and expensive- part of your trip, it pays to figure out how to have a good hotel experience and save money at hotels.

© 2014 Dr Penny Pincher


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