Some of my earliest memories are from family vacations spent in Miami or Daytona Beach. I still remember the excitement of pulling into the motel and knowing that we would have a week or two of fun in the sun. I don’t remember many details about our motels, but I do know they were on the beach, had a swimming pool and usually a room for kids to make craft projects or paint plaster figures. I also know that we always had a kitchen, and my mother would cook most of our meals.
Fast forward a few decades and I am still blissfully happy when staying in a nice hotel. Most people may comment that they “could live here” when they walk into a resort hotel, I mean it. My entire family knows that I would be perfectly happy living in a hotel 24/7. I am picky about where I stay, and I love to get a great deal. I find that as my travel habits change, what I look for in a hotel has changed also. While I still love to stay in a fabulous 4 or 5 star hotel (at a great price), I am often picking the less expensive hotel with free parking, internet and breakfast. I’m starting to resent the high prices and the hidden charges that some of the larger hotels are dishing out. Why should I pay a resort fee if I’m paying for a room at the resort? If my room is costing $200 a night, how dare they charge me another $25 a night to put my car in their parking lot. If I can use my laptop free at a Fairfield Inn…how dare you charge me $14 a day to use it at a Renaissance.
I love making travel arrangements. I do it for my family, and for friends. I love the research, the quest for the best hotel at the best price and the planning before the trip. I have some suggestions that have worked for me over the years.
1) Most hotel chains have reward programs. Go to the websites and join for any hotel chain you might ever use. It is free. A reward number will almost always get you something. You might get a better view, a treat in your room when you check in or possibly a room when the hotel is supposedly sold out. You will also earn points when you stay towards free future stays.
2) If possible, look up the hotel rate online and then CALL THE HOTEL DIRECTLY to ask about best available rates. If you just ask for a room, you won’t get the best deal. Even when they tell me price, I will ask for a special that includes breakfast or some other benefit. It is worth the price of the phone call, as sometimes the hotels know about specials that they don’t have through the 800 number. Looking it up online ahead of time gives you something to bargain with.
3) If you can play with your dates a little bit, you may save yourself quite a bit of money. This spring we planned a trip to Michigan. We actually wanted to go the 2nd week of June. The room was going to be $279 a night. We bumped our trip up to the last days of May and first 3 days of June, beating the summer “season”. We got our room for $99 a night. It was the same exact suite that would have cost us $180 more a night 10 days later. It made our trip possible because we were flexible with the dates.
4) If you remember nothing else from this post, remember the word UPGRADE. When you check into a hotel, always ask if you can be upgraded. Many times it is possible. I have stayed in $700 suites for the price of a regular hotel room. You just never know, and I find the nicer you are to the person at the front desk, the nicer they may be to you.
5) I never make reservations without checking 2 websites. My favorite site relating to travel is Tripadvisor.com. I read the reviews of any hotel I’m thinking of booking, before I make a reservation. If I see words such as dirty, bugs, old, poor service…I know that I need to look elsewhere. Another great website is Travelzoo.com. They offer some wonderful deals at nice hotels, if you happen to catch them at the right time. One word of advice, if you find a deal on Travelzoo, make sure to check the hotel on Tripadvisor. Sometimes, there is a reason the hotel is offering cheap rooms.
6) I have a friend who has had some success with Priceline.com. She has stayed at several expensive Marriott properties for around $50 a night. But, when you bid on Priceline, you don’t know what hotel you are getting until you are already locked in. You also have no way to cancel and get your money back if your trip falls through. I believe you can buy insurance to cover that problem for an extra fee. I like to know where I’m staying, so I don’t use this service. Remember, I said I was picky!
It really doesn’t matter if you are staying at a 5 star Ritz Carlton, or a 3 star Holiday Inn Express, there are deals to find. With a bit of prep work, you may save yourself quite a bit of money, get a few freebies thrown in and be able to really enjoy your trip.