Accommodation is often the most expensive part of a vacation. Even “cheap” hotels can cost $150 or more a night. Here’s how to save some money on accommodation when you’re traveling.
Consider Different Accommodation Options
There are lots of different accommodation options, especially in cities. Be open to staying in a hotel, motel, bed and breakfast, Airbnb, or even a hostel.
Every city and country has different economic pressures. For example, hotels in Ireland tend to be quite expensive. Also, because the Airbnb market is regulated, there are rarely dramatic savings to be had there. The best options, especially for budget travelers, are hostels and B&Bs. Beds in a hostel dorm room go for as little as $20 a night; B&Bs can be had for under $100, even in Dublin. In other countries, the pressures are different, so the best accommodation options are too. Check them all.
Use Comparison Sites—And Check the Hotel’s Site
The quickest way to get an instant overview of what accommodation is available and at what price are to use comparison sites. I like Booking.com, Kayak, and Expedia for hotels, motels, and guesthouses, and HostelWorld for hostels. Obviously, Airbnb is the only option for Airbnbs.
Once you’ve found somewhere to stay, make sure to check the price on the hotel or hostel’s own website. While there won’t always be a saving, sometimes there is. You might also get a discount for longer stays through the hotel’s website that aren’t on offer on comparison sites.
One thing to watch for on comparison sites is hidden fees. A lot of hotels charge a resort fee or taxes that aren’t listed on comparison sites. I’ve been hit with an extra ~$50 in taxes and charges before, even after thinking I’d paid in full online in advance.
Check Transport Links
While staying in the center of the city can be awesome, it’s often super expensive. Before booking a hotel, check the transport links in the city. If there’s a really good metro or subway—like in New York, London, and Paris—then you can get away with staying a little bit farther out. You can easily save a few hundred dollars over a week if you don’t mind commuting for 30 minutes each day.
This tip is also handy if you’re renting a car anyway and are planning to drive around an area or country. Why not stay in small random locations away from the tourist sites and drive to them during the day, before heading to your next small random hotel.
One side benefit of this is you can actually end up staying in interesting, more authentic areas. Brooklyn has a better vibe than Midtown.
Mix and Match Your Accommodations
Just because you’re staying in a $300/night hotel for some of your trip, doesn’t mean your accommodation budget for a week needs to be $1800. You can mix and match. If you want to stay in an upmarket hotel for one or two nights, offset it with an Airbnb that’s a little bit farther out for a few nights. That way, you get the best of both worlds.
Like with most things, the more flexible you’re prepared to be, the more options you’ll have and the more money you’re likely to save. One of my favorite ways to save money on accommodation is not to book it until the last minute.
Unlike airfares, hotel prices often come down as your vacation gets closer. Hotels cost pretty much the same amount to run if they’re 95% occupied or if they’re 40% occupied. The electricity, heating, and staff bills just don’t change enough to offset the total cost of the property. This means that any hotels that have excess inventory in the next few days will often pass it off to third-party sellers. Something is better than nothing, right?
While you’ll find some of these deals popping up on Booking.com and other aggregators, I find the dedicated sites generally give better deals. The two best are HotelTonight and Hotwire. HotelTonight is a fairly normal aggregator that just specializes on booking hotels for the next few days. Hotwire is a bit more interesting.
With Hotwire, you don’t book a specific hotel. You book a certain quality of hotel—say, 4-star or 5-star—in a certain area—downtown, the business district, etc.—with a serious discount. You only find out which specific hotel you’re staying in after you book.
If you don’t mind not knowing exactly where you’re staying, Hotwire can get you some serious deals. 40-50% discounts are far from unusual.
I’ve had a lot of success with this method and regularly don’t book accommodation until I arrive at my destination. The only thing you have to watch for is major events. If there’s a big conference, game, or other things going on, hotels might sell out, in which case you’ll have to pay whatever the person selling the last bed in the inn is asking.
Like airlines, hotels—and even booking sites—have loyalty programs. If you travel a lot, one of the best ways to get discounts, and other perks like free nights or upgrades, is just to stay loyal to the one chain. If you normally stay with Hilton for work, stick with them for your personal trips, and you’ll rack up a lot more points and benefits. While it’s not likely to be the cheapest option for every trip, in the long run, your loyalty will be rewarded.
Accommodation is a huge fixed cost for most travelers. While it’s rarely cheap, the strategies above can save you quite a bit of money—just remember to try them every trip.