En español | Hidden fees and fluctuating prices can make it difficult (and frustrating) to find an affordable hotel room. Whatever your destination or budget, these simple strategies can help.
1. Use a short-notice booking app or website.
Hotels would rather offer bargain rates than have empty beds, so if your itinerary is flexible or you’re booking at the last minute, use an app like HotelTonight (which also has a website) or One Night to score serious savings. HotelTonight lets you choose from unclaimed rooms in more than 40 countries, which you can book that day or up to a week — sometimes even 100 days in advance — depending on the city. Need a room on short notice? One Night offers discounted same-night stays in select hotels across the country, starting at 3 p.m. daily.
2. Take advantage of rewards.
According to Bankrate, an estimated 31 percent of credit cardholders have never redeemed their points — leaving a lot of potential travel savings untouched. Check to see if your credit card rewards program offers discounts on lodging or other hotel perks, like late checkouts or spa activities. And if you’re part of an organization that offers discounted hotel stays (including AARP and AAA), take advantage of membership savings. You usually can get a discount of about 10 percent.
3. Avoid the middlemen.
Sites such as KAYAK, Google Hotels and Momondo can help you compare hotel deals side-by-side, but many hotels now offer a low-price guarantee for booking directly through their website. If you find a lower rate on another site, ask the hotel to match it. And hotels generally only grant loyalty points for direct bookings — so if you’re a hotel rewards member, it pays to avoid third parties.
Booking direct also helps you avoid the pitfalls of blind booking sites such as Hotwire and Priceline, which offer steep initial discounts but come with potentially serious setbacks. You won’t know where you’re staying until after you pay, for one, and special requests (such as a late check-in or non-smoking room) may not be guaranteed.
4. Plan ahead and find any hidden fees.
Just as you can set up fare alerts for airline tickets, you can do the same for hotels on the site HotelsCombined or with the app Hopper, which analyzes prices to tell you whether to book now or wait for a better discount. Also look for 15 to 20 percent discounts from both hotels and booking sites for non-refundable rooms booked in advance. But no matter how you book, don’t commit until you know exactly what’s included. WiFi? Breakfast? Taxes? The cost of extras and hidden fees can add up quickly.
5. Time it right.
If you can plan your trip for the off-peak or “shoulder” season (like a beach town in the fall), you’ll enjoy lower hotel prices, and maybe even savings on airfare. This also applies to the days of the week you decide to visit: City hotels that cater to business travelers may have better prices on the weekends, while resort destinations geared to weekend stays may be more affordable during the week.
As for when to book: Friday is probably your best bet. Expedia’s 2019 Travel Pricing Outlook found that average daily rates are lowest on Fridays (and highest on Sundays), while a 2018 KAYAK report showed that rates for hotels at home and abroad peaked Monday through Wednesday before falling on Friday and Saturday.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on March 21, 2019. It has been updated with the AARP Top Tips video.