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.
I enjoy staying in lovely accommodations, and my days of roughing it in budget motels is over. But I like saving 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.
• 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: Airbnb, State Parks, VRBO
• With Airbnb, homeowners 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!
• 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.
• 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 on Accommodations
• 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.
• 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.
Use Social Media to Save Money on Accommodations
• Follow hotels and resorts on social media for last-minute deals and specials.