Accommodation – hotels, B&Bs, hostels, apartment rentals – is always the first or second most expensive aspect of my trip. This is why it's so important to save on hotels, especially when you're traveling solo.
Tracey and I have two very different ways we think about our accommodation.
- Tracey wants a bit of luxury. She wants her hotel experience to be better than what she has at home.
- I want a clean, comfortable, friendly place to stay in a safe neighborhood. Basic is fine by me.
Whatever your preferences, when choosing your accommodation, here are 10 tips to save you money on hotels.
- Mix it up. Save on some nights so that you can splurge on others. Let's look at my 14-day trip to Slovenia, Croatia and Italy. My accommodation budget for the trip was CDN$120 a night. Here's what I spent.
- 1 night outside Venice – $119.89
- 3 nights in a very cool Ljubljana hostel – $229.51
- 3 nights in a very nice and central B&B in Dubrovnik – $196.90
- 2 nights in an Airbnb apartment in Split near the old city – $38 (I had a credit from the Airbnb referral program)
- 3 nights in a beautiful castle in Italy where my brother got married. – $456.98
I came in under budget at an average of CDN$86.77 per night. Add the room-night spent on the ferry between Italy and Split which cost $331.76 including the car and the average night comes to $103.62 – still under budget. The one place I would not stay at again is the B&B near Venice. It was satisfactory but no more. So, this is my number 1 tip for saving on accommodation: mix it up!
How to Book Hotels Cheap
- Shop and compare but… When you go looking for hotels through sites like Hotels.com or Booking.com you won't find a huge difference in price from one to the other. Don't spin your wheels. Go to your favorite site. Mine and yours is Booking.com. I can say this because it was the # 1 travel brand identified in our 2017 Reader Survey. Their cancellation policy is liberal and you pay at the hotel which means your money stays with you longer. But check two sites to be sure of the price. Read reviews by travelers who are confirmed as having stayed at the hotel and use their maps to make sure the location is what you want.
- Check with the hotel directly. To be really thorough call the hotel directly. After you have a shortlist from the booking sites, call the hotels directly to see if you can get a better rate or perhaps more amenities for your dollar.
- Time your trip for a better deal. Travel on the shoulder or off-season. Unless it's also a business destination, go mid-week when there are better deals.
- Look for a resort on a vacation rental site. Many resorts have units owned by individuals who then book their unit out to other travelers either themselves or through property managers. When I booked my resort stay in Kauai I booked through VRBO.com (Vacation Rental By Owner). It was half the price of booking through the resort itself. When I was booking I contracted two people with similar units for the same price. In one case I was in touch with an individual. In the other I was in touch with a property management company. Because I was booking on short notice, I asked for a discount and, not surprisingly, it was the individual who gave it to me.
- Stay away from the tourist areas. The closer you are to the center of the action the more expensive your hotel will be. It can be as much as twice the cost for a comparable room a little further out. Book outside the center, walk or take local transit to what you want to see and you'll save.
- Leverage points. Whether you are loyal to a hotel brand with its own point system or have a credit card or airline points to spend, using points is a great way to save on hotel expenses. Hilton and Sheraton are the leaders in loyalty programs. A February media lease announced: “Hilton Honors is now the first and only loyalty program that will offer members the choice to flexibly combine Points and money for a hotel stay, to use their Points at Amazon.com, to allow family and friends to combine their Points for free, and the ability to extend Diamond status when life puts travel on pause.”
- Watch for deals and discounts. Now this can be tricky but also very rewarding. Check out sites like Groupon.com/getaways. Simply google your preferred discount site and your destination and you'll get into their site in the right place. See if there's a hotel you'd like to book and then check the price on Booking.com for comparison. I did this for New York City and found the Park Central Hotel to be $45 less on Groupon. Now for the tricky part… When you buy through Groupon you buy a coupon and until you use that coupon you won't know whether you can book for the nights you want – regardless of whether the nights are open when you buy. So…
- Start by reading the fine print.
- Call the hotel directly. Ask if they'd like to match the price. When I tested this they would match the price though it would be a non-refundable booking. A bonus here is that if I were collecting points with the chain I would receive the points whereas booking through Groupon I wouldn't.
- If they can't honor the price, confirm that you can book the reservation with a Groupon coupon number. Yes? Have the person reserve the dates and keep him/her on the phone until you hit book on the Groupon site and receive your confirmation coupon number. Pay for the reservation with the coupon number. If they won't stay on the phone, confirm their cancellation policy and book your room and call back to cancel and rebook with your coupon code once you get it.
- Clearly, I'm being very careful with this and I'm asking you to be as well. Bottom line it's definitely worth checking out Groupon or other daily deals sites that deal with travel.
- Use your membership status. Are you a member of AAA or CAA? You'll likely get a discount. What about AARP or CARP (Canada)? Again, you're probably due for a discount. Your union or association membership can help. Even your gym membership (if it's a national chain) might get you a hotel discount.
- Know what's included and what's not. If breakfast is included you'll save on your food expense. If there isn't free WiFi don't fret as that's pretty easy to grab at a local coffee shop or off your phone if you won't have roaming charges. Also, if you're a points collector with certain hotels, know that you likely won't get your points when booking through a hotel booking site. For that you likely need to book directly with the hotel's reservation system.
- Avoid hidden hotel fees. Before you book your accommodation get a handle on what your actual costs could be. A local hotel tax and other details could break your accommodation budget. Look for the hidden costs and defray them with the tips in this post.
- Get a reputation. Whether you're visiting the same hotel on a regular basis or using the same hotel chain internationally, get something for your loyalty. Be friendly with the reservation staff or hotel manager and get a reputation as a guest they want back. Then ask for their best rate when you next book.
- Shake it up. This is back to point 1. Click here to read about my trip to Kauai and how I spent on luxury accommodation some nights and then saved on other nights to end up with a reasonable overall nightly rate.
For More on Accommodation
- Check out the Solo Traveler Accommodation Guide.
- See our Where to Stay in London: Great Accommodation for Solo Travelers article. We'll be covering more cities soon. Next up is New York City.
- Help your solo travel peers find the best places to stay. Submit your suggestions for our Accommodation Guide with this form.