Now is the time to start looking for somewhere to stay over the holidays if your family or friends can't put you up or their guest room is not an option. Book a cheap hotel for the holidays now, while prices are still low enough to make Rudolph the Reindeer smile. And the same principle is true for those who are looking for a little holiday treat, a romantic stay in an upscale hotel somewhere snowy.
1. Start Your Search Now
The early bird catches the best deals! Start looking now, but don't just go ahead with a booking and forget all about it. While the deposit is still refundable, contact the hotel about four to six weeks before the holidays and enquire about special promotional rates. Should they have one that's cheaper, transfer your booking to that deal. Cancel and book afresh via automated services such as DreamCheaper and Tingo to make it even easier.
2. Don't Rely on Last Minute Deals
Frugal travelers know only too well, the best room rates are on offer when occupancy rates are low. So you may be tempted to rely on discount-rate sites where room rates are kept low for last minute, on the day bookings. Beware! These sites cater for business travelers and backpackers, not folks hoping to stay in a particular part of a city or town to visit their families over the holidays. If you leave it until the proverbial last minute, you may find no room left at the inn!
3. Make a Solid Booking
If you know your plans are unlikely to change, contact the hotel you've booked in and lock in a price around three weeks before your stay by paying in advance - some hotels may give travelers between 15 percent to 30 percent off their original rate, although the booking can't be cancelled or altered.
4. Avoid Using Aggregators
It's tempting to go to sites like Expedia, Priceline or similar aggregators promoting great deals, but it should be noted they can do so because they buy rooms in bulk at a discount and sell those rooms cheap, without necessarily offering rooms travelers will be comfortable in or enjoy their stay. You may find yourself in a soulless hotel with a room right next door to a noisy elevator or bar. Also, booking your hotel for the holidays this way is unlikely to allow you to negotiate an even better rate three weeks before the holidays start.
5. Negotiate with Hotels Directly
Instead of using aggregators, look up websites of hotels you might like to stay in and call them directly. Quote the best price you spotted online and if the hotel of your choice won't match or beat that price, try a different hotel. Many will be ready to negotiate, though. For hotels that belong to a large chain, you should call the central 1-800 number first, because these lines are answered by corporate employees with more power to make decisions over room rates that employees of a franchise have. For the greater part, calling independent local hotel usually bears better results, as their managers are usually more flexible - and you know, your hotel booking for the holidays is going to be solid, because you booked directly, not via a "middle-man". You might even find the manager will offer you upgrades or better amenities, if you pay three weeks in advance.
6. Don't Be Dazzled by Stars
The four or five-star hotel you thought would provide you with great creature comforts and luxury could well turn out to be little more than a 3-star place, because the star-rating system is not standardized. Having said that, disregard 1 and 2-star options if you want to be comfortable, but don't ignore 3-star hotels where often, independent hotels have better reviews, lower prices and better amenities than 4- and 5-star hotels offer.
7. Join Hotel Loyalty Programs
What may appear to be cheap at first glance can turn out to be quite expensive, when adding costs for internet and telephone usage, breakfast, gym and daily newspapers. Joining a hotel loyalty program helps frugal travelers to get cheap hotel rooms with great amenities and services that are free. At the Club Carlson for example, which includes the Country Inn and Suites, Radisson, Park Plaza and Park Inn brands, members have free internet usage. At Cheapism, frugal travelers can find the entry-level perks offered with various hotel loyalty programs offered by other groups, such as the Marriott, Hyatt or Hilton.
8. Beware of Add-ons
Always read the fine print: enrolling in loyalty programs may entitle travelers to free Wi-Fi, but the original cost for this usage may well be hidden in other prices, such as car parking, breakfast or a resort fee if the hotel is part of a popular tourist area. It's not a good idea to book before having scrutinized the potential add-ons first.
9. Make Use of Other Membership Discounts
It's not just hotel loyalty programs that will bag frugal travelers a great rate and enable them to book cheap hotels for Christmas. Membership discounts from associations like the AARP or AAA for example can make all the difference. Active-duty military personnel are often entitled to up to 25 percent of discounts at large chains and smaller hotels. Family members or friends working at hotels or for airlines may also have access to discount codes. It may be the holiday season, but hotel staff are still permitted to give discounts on the spot, if that clinches the deal and fills a room. Ask with a smile and a polite enquiry and hotel staff may give discounts.
Are you traveling for the holidays? Staying at home or a hotel?