You may remember from my post last week (San Francisco for less than $100/day) that my husband and I were able to stay in San Francisco for free. While this is a rarity, it is not too difficult to find low cost accommodations (Under $75/night), making travel more affordable. However, it can take time and effort. So ask yourself: Do I have more time or money? If the answer is “time”, then read on to find my tried and true suggestions for finding low cost accommodations.
Tip one: Timing is everything.
If you want to save money on your stay, you can’t try and book during the busy season. You won’t be able to find a discount. If you travel off-season you are going to get a lower cost stay, and find it far faster.
So when should you travel for the best prices? Truthfully, the time of year to go depends on where you are visiting. For example, if visiting Europe, go during the winter. But if you are visiting the Caribbean go during the summer.
Try going at the very end or very beginning of a season so you can cash in on the good weather, without the high price tags. Our trip to San Francisco was just a few weeks after the typical “nicest weather” time of year for San Francisco. We got great weather, and far fewer tourists.
If you don’t want to compromise the time of year, try midweek instead of weekend. Or if it is a “business city” go on the weekends, when most of the hotel guests are no longer in town. Basically, look at your destination and figure out when the fewest amount of visitors will be there, that is when hotels will give you the best deals as they try to fill their rooms.
Tip two: Combine, combine, combine.
Another great way to get low cost accommodations is to combine with flights. We stayed in Texas once for a week and only paid about $25 a person more for flights plus hotel then we would have paid just for the flight. That was for 4 nights, which meant that for $50, the two of us got a hotel for 4 nights.
This is not always the case, but sometimes it can mean huge savings. One thing to note, we did not have a very high quality hotel at that price, you get what you pay for, but since we were not ever at the hotel except to sleep, and we didn’t have our kids, it worked for us.
Tip three: Do your research.
Also, look for a promotional code. This may sound obvious, but too many people neglect to do this. You can also call the hotel directly and say, “I saw online I could book this room for this price, do you offer any further discounts?” Specify what you are willing to pay, often they will work with you.
Tip four: Don’t always stay in chains.
While chain hotels can offer great prices, look for smaller, local places. Try contacting the chamber of commerce or visitor’s bureau to see what they suggest. They often offer discounts for local bed and breakfasts that do not have the same internet presence as a chain, but want your business.
When you call the chamber of commerce of visitor’s bureau, you can also request a free visitor’s guide, which can help you save money on your trip. These guides typically include coupons or online promotional codes for attractions, restaurants, and lodging. For example, we stopped by the California Tourism Office on Pier 39, and got a coupon book, it included things like free parking, discounts on dining, and even a few freebies like appetizers.
Another option that is a little out of the box is to try something like couch surfing or hostels. Visit Hostels.com to see if the place you want to visit offers this option. Some hostels even offer airport pick up which can help you save even more because you won’t have to pay for a cab. A word of warning: If using this option, be careful!
How about camping? Most campgrounds these days have a lot of amenities. This can include showers, pools, playgrounds, and more, and cost WAY less than a hotel. If you are traveling with kids, a hostel is not a great idea, but a campground could offer a lot of excitement.
Tip five: Use your memberships.
Membership discounts are a great way to save. One way to get a better price is to see if you have any memberships that can help you score a deal, such as AAA or AARP, military discounts, previous stay discounts. It never hurts to ask for a discount. This will generally save you 10-15% off the posted prices, and most of the time it is with a membership you already have.
Tip six: Use reward points.
Join a rewards program or consider a hotel credit card offer. I am not a fan of credit cards, and so this is not an option I use, but many cards offer things like double points, extra points when you open the card, and fast and easy ways for earning free hotel stays.
Tip seven: Go for the extras.
Consider higher cost places with extras. If the hotel costs a little more but offers a free breakfast, free laundry service, or free parking it may actually be a better “deal.” Is parking included? Do they offer an airport shuttle? What perks are there?
We were visiting Disneyland and the hotel we chose had a free hot breakfast in the morning. It was awesome with pancakes, eggs, bacon, cereal, juice, and more. They also offered fresh fruits and pastries, and encouraged guests to take an apple or two with them. This not only saved us from taking the kids out to eat before a long day at Disneyland, but we were able to skip buying expensive park snacks by bringing the fruit and donuts from the hotel.
Tip eight: Group discount sites
Sites like Groupon and LivingSocial often offer travel deals. They are able to offer deep discounts because they are “group” buying the offer. This means you could save as much as 50% on a stay. There are usually restrictions, and specific travel dates, but if you are flexible, these can be great savings tools.
Tip nine: Go further out.
Stay a little further away from the hot spots. For example, instead of staying in Manhattan, consider staying in Jersey. Just be sure to factor in the cost of train rides, etc. to determine if it is actually a savings. It is always going to cost more to stay in the heart of a city than the outskirts.
When we visited Rome, we stayed just outside the city, it was a short and cheap bus ride (5 minutes and about 1 Euro) to get to some of the big attractions, like Trevi Fountains, but cost about half what a hotel on the same block would have been. This allowed us to see everything, and still eat our fill of gelato and pasta.
Tip ten: Stay in someone’s home.
Read Rick Steve’s advice for house swapping here.
Our family used VRBO.com once, and it was not a very pleasant experience. We did save a lot of money, but unfortunately the ad was misleading. The apartment was advertised as a separate living quarters, but it was actually attached to the home, and the only access to it was through the home of the person renting it. There were other factors that played a role in how uncomfortable it was, so I would say that if you go this route, read comments and reviews carefully, and ask lots of questions before committing.
Of course, you can always stay with friends or family. This can be a very pleasant experience, as long as you set expectations up front so that there are not hurt feelings or stepping on of toes. Only you can decide if the cost savings are worth it. I know for us, it has almost always been a good experience.
Tip eleven: Use a timeshare
Lots of people own them, and often are willing to let other people use them. You can rent a timeshare from someone else, or use it with them. I know our timeshare offers a thing called “bonus time” where you can book available condos within 14 days of travel at a low cost per credit. Our friends and family often use this option which saves them over a traditional hotel, and provides a kitchen, laundry, etc. saving additional money during the trip.
What do you do to save on hotel stays? Tell us in the comments, or share on Facebook.
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