When you check in to a hotel, don't be afraid to bargain. Ask for the manager (not the desk clerk), and request a free room upgrade. Also, inquire about the "concierge floor rate." In many large hotel chains, there is a concierge floor with a lounge where guests can relax and enjoy complimentary newspapers and breakfasts, cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. Although the room may cost more, the amenities could mean big savings, especially when traveling with your family.
For a more intimate lodging experience, try Tripping.com, a free community for travelers who want to skip hotels and stay with locals. For example: Imagine traveling to London; instead of paying for an expensive hotel room, you can stay in the guest room of a local English family. Not only will you get a free place to stay, you'll also get an insider's view of the local culture.
Judy Woodward Bates, founder of the website Bargainomics.com, offers this advice:
Buy certificates from eBay for hotels. Note the seller's rating to be sure it's a no-gimmick deal (like a timeshare tour, etc.). If there's little or no feedback, you don't want to test the waters. Always read all the fine print in an auction, such as tacked-on fees, required tours or blackout dates.
Also, charities frequently auction gift certificates on eBay and sometimes upscale accommodations. And here's a gem: Call colleges and universities where you're headed to see if they have dorm rooms available. The money crunch has many institutions opening their dorms as rentals, especially in the summer.
Here's another way to relive your college lifestyle. CouchSurfing.com offers free beds at a participant's private home. Be sure to read the person's profile as well as comments from people who've stayed in that home. You don't want to be the first guest — you want to know that other people have stayed there, been comfortable and felt safe.
If you enjoy camping, sign up with Kampgrounds of America. The site will notify you of specials, like free nights.
Hostels aren't just for young backpackers anymore. Hundreds of hostels are in major cities and popular vacation spots. Most hostels offer complimentary Internet and Wi-Fi and have fully equipped kitchens. Some even have nightclubs, swimming pools and Jacuzzis. Try hihostels.com for help.