One of the most important things about traveling is finding cost effective travel accommodation or hotels (next to finding cheap flight tickets). Travel accommodation can get very expensive quick, especially if you’re booking hotels.
This is part of my series 101 Travel Tips & Hacks to help you travel more for less.
Below, I’ll show you exactly how I find the best deals to lower your costs on travel accommodation and hotels.
(my 4 star hotel in Kuala Lumpur under construction but $30/night)
I’m going to start with hotels. Although hotels aren’t usually cheap, it’s certainly a standard of choice for most travelers as it offers comfort and amenities travelers tend to look for.
Hotel prices vary widely in different cities and in different seasons. I’ve seen hotels shoot up prices 50-100% due to large events.
But I’ve also seen hotels cut their prices by over 60% due to remodeling or construction.
1. Gauge Hotel Costs before Your Trip
Always try get an idea of how much hotels cost in the area and during your travel dates before you book your flight, especially if you’re flexible with travel dates. Special events may cause hotel prices to soar over 500% like what happened with the 2017 Solar Eclipse event.
Hotels that normally cost less than $100 jumped to over $500/night that week! That’s an extreme example but I’ve seen prices jump 100-200% easily due to other large events or conferences.
If possible, you want to avoid any dates with really expensive rates. This is easily do-able by doing a really quick search before you book anything else.
I usually start with Priceline or just Google hotels in the location you’re traveling to get a gauge of approximate prices of hotels.
(Google’s nice quick, hotel search)
If all looks fine, then you can proceed to find the best deal!
2. Try an Express Deal
Priceline’s Express Deals are quite awesome actually. Although they won’t tell you exactly which hotel you’ll get until you book, you can still know the guest rating, amenities, general location, and even bed choice before you book.
You can also bid on hotels but I normally stay away from bidding since you’re unable to control a number of factors such as the ones listed above.
And for hotels, things like bed choice, free parking, location, etc. are all really important to make your travels as smooth as possible.
I wouldn’t be overly concerned with finding the best possible price, honestly. If you find a good hotel with good user ratings at a price you feel good about, I’d say save the time and just go with it.
Also, a lot of hotels these days have pretty flexible cancellation policies. If you’re able to find one with a good cancellation policy up to a few days before your actual travel date, book it! You can always cancel later if you do end up finding a better deal.
3. Find a Modest Hotel with High Customer Reviews
If you are budget conscious, 3.5 star hotels is usually the highest you should go. A lot of 4+ star hotels have a lot of extra costs such as parking fees, resort fees, maintenance fees, etc. Since the fees are per day, those expenses can really add up quick if you’re paying $30-100 extra per night.
The upside to expensive hotels is the opportunity to potentially network with other guests. Or if you’re using points or your anniversary free night, it wouldn’t hurt to try a super expensive hotel!
But normally if you’re on a budget, 3.5 stars is the highest you should go.
The most important thing is always looking at Customer Reviews as it gives you the best picture of what the hotel is actually like.
There are a ton of 4-5 star expensive hotels that got average reviews from Customers. And then there are a lot of 2-3 star inexpensive hotels that got stellar reviews from customers.
Almost every hotel booking site will have actual customer ratings. Anything below 7 (out of 10), I would not consider booking. 8-10 is what I would stick with.
Although this may sound like common sense, it actually took me a lot of bad experiences to learn this myself… that customer ratings are extremely important to find a comfortable, clean, and safe stay.
4. Be Keen on Hotel Location
Always take into account the location of the hotel. Particularly overseas, some locations that are hard to get to will add significant costs if you need to take a cab there.
I’ve stayed at hotels where it was over 30 minutes drive away from where I needed to be. While it may save you some money, the hassle may not be worth your time.
This is even more important when traveling internationally.
One time in Rome, I stayed about 30 minutes away from the City Centre. When I was done exploring, it was already dark so I had to take the first cab I could find. I ended up paying 40 euros for the ride and then getting scammed twice when he dropped one of my bills and demanded I didn’t pay enough. That cab ride alone was more expensive than the hotel I booked.
I generally try and find hotel within 30 minutes of where I’ll mostly be. Anything beyond that, you want to avoid if possible.
5. Check Hotel Amenities
Hotel Amenities actually make a big difference. If you normally eat breakfast, a free breakfast saves you money and hassle.
Free parking saves money as opposed to paying up to $20/day.
Gyms (if you want to get some exercise in each day) will save you money.
Free wifi will save you money as opposed to paying for it.
Pictured: Free & Included Breakfast buffet in Hanoi. Breakfast buffets are very common in Asia.
On the flip side of Hotel Amenities, know that there are also amenities that may not be cost effective.
Laundry Service, for example, is usually NOT cost effective unless there is a self-service coin laundry at the hotel. It’s a lot cheaper to get your clothes washed and dried at a nearby coin laundry.
Valet Service is normally NOT free and can cost quite a bit if you factor in gratuity.
On Hotel Aggregators, they’ll often give you a quick bird-eye view of what’s included with your stay. Be sure to pay attention to it!
6. Book a Flight+Hotel Package
If you’re looking to travel somewhere and you don’t want to deal with the hassle of booking flights, hotels, and transportation separately, deal packages are actually great deals!
This is especially true if you don’t have a large inventory of points and if you absolutely want to stay at a hotel (instead of an Airbnb).
Usually deal packages will provide high rating hotels at a discounted price and booking your flight with it will save you money than if you were to book separately.
The only thing you usually want to be careful of is be weary of flight schedules and times. A lot of times, the cheapest option will have bad flight times with either long layovers or red-eye flights.
And if you want a better flight option, often there will be additional charges.
As always, be sure to also just double check hotel reviews before you book.
This is just an easier, less complicated way to book your travels while saving you a bit of money. Though it may not always be an option (particularly if you’re looking to book multi-city itineraries or if you only hotels on certain dates). It’s a good option, however, for a simple vacation.
7. Use Credit Card Points
Credit Card points also have awesome redemption value for hotels. SPG, Hilton, IHG, & Marriott are just a few hotels you can transfer Credit Card points to redeem for hotel night stays. The more luxurious and costly the hotel, the more likely your points value will go up.
If you sign up initially for a Credit Card specifically for a hotel, you’ll usually get a pretty generous bonus that can get you up to 5 nights for free once you reach a minimum spend for 3 months.
Although there’s usually an annual fee attached, a number of Hotel Credit Cards have something called a free anniversary night where you get a free night at one of their hotels each year.
That easily makes up for the annual fee if you plan on staying at a hotel just one night out of the year! And even if for some reason, you don’t travel at all, you can always do a mini staycation close to home.
Hotel Credit Card Points are great for anytime use. It’s not as effective for emergency use (as with airline points) since availability often is somewhat limited.
However, you can get some incredible rates with points.
I’ve stayed in hotels for virtually free on several occasions. Here’s an example on my really cheap travel accommodation in San Antonio at a SPG hotel for just 7,000 points!
Okay, you’re probably wondering when I’m going to get off the topic of hotels… There’s just so much to cover just for finding great deals on accommodation with hotels.
For those looking to find alternatives to hotels,
8. Try Airbnb
I’ve stayed in plenty of Airbnbs and they’ve all been very pleasant. Considering you can check reviews, it’s easier these days to find a great host at an excellent price. Often, you’ll also get a more “local” experience over staying at a hotel.
Pictured is a private room I booked near NYC for $25 a night. You can read more about my trip to NYC here.
Similar strategies apply to Airbnb as hotels actually. Although you may not be looking for amenities, you should still check parking availability, location, any clean-up fees, etc.
I find that a lot of Airbnbs also have decent cancellation policies that are laid out before you book.
The important thing is to check reviews from other travelers to get a better idea of what the place is like.
9. Consider a Hostel
Staying in a hostel is one of the cheapest ways you can travel. Though you’ll likely be sharing rooms with other people, you’ll inevitably meet a lot of strangers along the way. But that’s part of the fun of traveling! Just do your due diligence in checking reviews and use reliable sources like www.hostelworld.com
In Europe, I met a lot of other travelers in hostels. They also became great business connections that I have now from all over the world.
10. Consider a Work Away
If you’re planning to travel more long-term and want to get free accommodations, you can consider a work away where you volunteer to help with various tasks (e.g. teaching English, helping with chores) to get free accommodations wherever you’re traveling to.
Considering accommodations are usually around $40-50/day you can easily save over $1000/month this way. Again, just do your due diligence and use reliable sources like www.workaway.info
11. Stay a Night at the Airport
This sounds a bit insane but if you’ve never slept at an airport, you need to try it just once. You can donate the $80 you save to me! But really, sleeping at airports is awesome. Though not the most comfortable, it’s quite adventurous and you’ll be able to relate better to almost every traveler out there.
Note I would NOT recommend doing it more than two days in a row. I’ve stayed overnight at airports around the world including in Tel Aviv, London, Bangkok, Singapore, and more.
Picture is a photo of my sister sleeping at Denver Airport from our trip to Yellowstone National Park.
There you have it, some of the tops ways I’ve used to book cheap travel accommodation.
What about you? What cheap travel accommodation tips do you have to find the best deals and save money?