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Travel Tips: Saving Money on Accommodations

I’ve toured fancy hotel rooms where the nightly rate costs more than my first car. Even if I was a gazillionaire, I’d feel like I had to stay up all night to get my money’s worth! Of course all the high-class toiletries would find their way into my suitcase as well.

We've rented this home through VRBO for a family beach vacation.
We’ve rented this home through VRBO for a family beach vacation.

I enjoy staying in lovely accommodations, and my days of roughing it in budget motels is over. But I like to save some money on accommodations so there is plenty left over to go out to nice restaurants, indulge in a fun activity, and yes, maybe do a little shopping.

Here are a few ways to save on accommodations when you travel, which is the number one expense on vacation – 47 percent of the money we spend typically goes here.

Savings on Hotels

Call the hotel directly for the best rate.

• After you book a hotel, check back a few days before you travel. The rates may have dropped and you can cancel and rebook for a lower rate.

• Stay at a hotel that offers free meals or has kitchen facilities. We recently stayed at a Residence Inn in Washington D.C. It had a good complimentary breakfast, serves a complimentary dinner a few nights a week and has a kitchen where you could eat on your own if desired.

My balcony at Hotel Monaco, a Kimpton Hotel in Chicago
My balcony at Hotel Monaco, a Kimpton Hotel in Chicago

• Join loyalty programs at hotels. If you join the loyalty program at a Starwood Hotel you can get airline miles with Delta. The loyalty programs at Fairmont and Omni Hotels offer free wifi, as does Kimpton Hotels. You’ll also get a $10 credit for the minibar at Kimpton. Granted, that may get you a candy bar or a bag of nuts, but what fun to raid the minibar guilt-free. (We won’t mention the calories.) IHG, Intercontinental Hotels Group, has 4,600 properties and you earn points for stays and they never expire.

• Join AAA. They have great rates on dozens of hotels in every city. This is often the first place I look when booking a hotel.

Other Accommodations

• Rent an apartment, condo or home directly from the owner through VRBO or HomeAway. You can often save a lot off the price of a hotel and some owners are willing to negotiate prices. If they won’t come down on the price, they may throw in an extra day for free. I’ve booked several properties through VRBO and have always had a good experience.

I haven’t used it but a lot of friends swear by Airbnb, where homeowners will rent out their own homes while they are out of town, or may just rent a room in their home while they are there. There are listings in more than 190 countries, and I loved that they could be sorted by neighborhood. For example, when I searched Washington D.C., I saw descriptions for the neighborhoods. “Logan Circle: Night owls are sure to have a hoot.” “Dupont Circle: Champagne at brunch and gin at dinner.” Say no more!

A cabin at Richard Russell State Park in Georgia
A cabin at Richard Russell State Park in Georgia

State parks can be a very affordable option. In Georgia, we have 48 state parks, ranging up upscale lodges to cabins and campgrounds, or even a yurt. Cute cabins with one to three bedrooms start at just $85 a night. You can even stay in a yurt. North Carolina has 34 state parks, while Florida has more than 160.

• If you’d like to meet Jude Law on vacation, like Cameron Diaz did in the movie “The Holiday,” then try Home Exchange. The home exchange service has more than 50,000 members. You pay a small membership fee, then you can list your house and exchange it with others. Okay, you may not meet Jude Law but you’re sure to have an adventure in a real neighborhood and get free accommodations.

Helpful Apps to Save Money

DealAngel.  I love this hotel comparison site. Just put in your city and the dates you are traveling and voila! You’ll get the best deals with the name of hotel, the rate and how much I would be saving off the historical average. It also rates the hotels by what kind of deal you are getting, from Great to Overpriced. You can see a price trend that tells you whether the rate is likely to go down and what the chances of a sell-out might be. Add an alert to find out when the rates drop.

Hipmunk. I’ve used Hipmunk primarily for flights but the cute app with the adorable chipmunk also works for hotels. You can sort the results by business, kid-friendly, luxury or romantic getaway.

Hipmunk is a fantastic app for searching for flights and hotels
Hipmunk is a fantastic app for searching for flights and hotels

• Room 77. As soon as I started typing DC, it came up with neighborhoods and categories, like cheap hotels, hotels in Georgetown, hotels near White House, and it maps each one. I appreciate that because location is often of primary concern when I’m looking for a hotel.

Tingo.  Owned by TripAdvisor, Tingo has an awesome feature. If you book a room here and the price goes down, it automatically refunds you.

Social Media

• Follow hotels and resorts on social media for last-minute deals and specials.

Cyber Monday Mania

The Seven Stars Resort in the Turks and Caicos is one of tons of properties offering deals on Cyber Monday
The Seven Stars Resort in the Turks and Caicos is one of tons of properties offering deals on Cyber Monday

My inbox has been filling up faster than a One Direction concert with emails about Cyber Monday deals for travel.

Most of these deals start right at the stroke of midnight on Monday, Dec. 2 and run through midnight, although some go longer. Check each property for details.

And now, presenting in absolutely no discernable order whatsoever, lots of awesome Cyber Monday deals. Send me a postcard!

Stay at the lovely Jupiter Beach Resort & Spa and get 50% all room types, starting at $100, for stays through April 30. Use promo code CYBER.

Get 30% off the best available dates at the St. Kitts Marriott Resort & The Royal Beach Casino for stays Dec. 1-31 and May 1-Sept. 30. Use promo code D59.

Rates at Casa Palopo in Guatemala are 35% off for stays May 1-June 30 and Sept. 1-Oct. 31. Email reservations@casapalopo.com and mention “Cyber Offer.”

The JW Marriott Cusco in Peru is offering rates of 20% off, starting at $204 for stay from Jan 2.-March 3. Use promo code 125.

Get 35% off a king room, with breakfast included at Sense Beach House in South Beach for stays through Dec. 31. Use promo code CYBER.

Stay three nights at the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino/Palm Beach and get three nights free for travel from April 20-Nov. 22. Use promo code D52.

Get up to 75% off rates at Westin Playa Bonita/Panama City, Panama for travel through Dec. 2, 2013. This deal starts Black Friday.

Abercrombie & Kent, a luxury tour company, has stretched out Cyber Monday until Wednesday and is offering 30 percent off a companion fare when you book an A&K Signature journey. Check out these destinations: Thailand, South Africa, Croatia, Italy, Eastern Europe, Peru, Tanzania, Kenya, Morocco and Jordan.

For Cyber Monday and on Tuesday, Delta Vacations is offering savings of up to $400 and 23,000 bonus miles if you book air and hotel vacation packages to select resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean.

Get an extra night with a slope side view upgrade (if available) and a day of free skiing at Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa in Colorado with the “Ski Free, Stay Free’ offer good for stays between December 3-20. Use promo code CYBER here.

Head to sunny Miami with a deal at Turnberry Isle Miami. Get 30% off on Best Available Rate from November 29, 2013 – March 1, 2014. This deal actually starts on Black Friday and can be booked through Cyber Monday.

Rates start at just $99 for stays at a Marriott in Costa Rica through December 31. Get 40 percent off rates at Los Suenos Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort and Costa Rica Marriott San Jose.  Use rate code PROB.

Book the Wolcott Hotel in Manhattan for two nights and get the third free for travel from Jan. 2 – March 31. Rates start at $120. Use promotional code step4.

Rates start at just $229 at the Waldorf Astoria New York for select dates in January and February if you book between Dec. 2  and Dec. 6.

Aren’t you overdue for a trip to the Big Easy? Get 40% off the Courtyard New Orleans Downtown/Iberville for weekend stays from Dec. 30 through March 31 with promo code 16C.

Get 25% off the best available rate at the newly renovated Hotel Victor South Beach on Ocean Drive, which includes a complimentary breakfast for two, using booking code CYBER for travel through Dec. 31.

Get 30% participating JW Marriott Resorts with promo code 16C, with one-day rates starting at just $91. Participating JW Marriott Resorts include JW Marriott Camelback Inn Resort & Spa, JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa, JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort & Spa, JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa, JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa, JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. Live, JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa and JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes.

Beach Rentals of South Walton, my favorite beaches in the world,  are offering rates starting at $89 for a one-bedroom cottage and 20% off bike rentals at participating homes in Blue Mountain Beach, Dune Allen Beach, Grayton Beach, Inlet Beach, Rosemary Beach, Santa Rosa Beach, Seacrest Beach, Seagrove Beach, WaterColor and WaterSound.

Book a stay at one of the MENIN Hotels in South Florida and get 25% off. These include Bentley South Beach; Gale South Beach & Regent Hotel and The Sanctuary.

The deals at Atlantis Resort, Paradise Island, Bahamas start on Black Friday, with rates from $99 to $199 a night for a stay in the Beach Towers, depending on travel dates.

The many properties of the Benchmark Resorts & Hotels are offering deals on Cyber Monday. Here are just a few. Check the site for more deals.

• Hawaii: 20% discount for stays through March 31 at Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu.

• California: $99 at Chaminade Resort & Spa in Santa Cruz

• Colorado: $79 at Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs for stays through March 31

• Wyoming: Save up to 40% on rooms in the newly renovated Snow King Resort in Jackson Hole with rates ranging from $75 to $375 to celebrate the resort’s 75th anniversary

• New Mexico: Get 30% off Eldorado Hotel & Spa in Santa Fe for stays through January 20.

• West Virginia: Stay in West Virginia’s only four diamond resort, Stonewall Resort, and get 30% off for stays through January.

• Curacao: Rates start at $223 for the Santa Barbara Resort & Spa.

Book four nights or more at Seven Stars Resort in Turks and Caicos and get $100 off any room. Valid through Dec. 20, 2014. To book this sale, call 866-570-7777.