Raise your hand if you've ever spent hours looking at hotel prices. With every click and search your brain mocks you a little bit more. There's a better deal out there, you're just not searching hard enough, it tells you. In a moment of desperation and exhaustion you click on an offer and book a room. Minutes later you have buyers remorse. Such a vicious cycle. Okay. Put your hand down. Let us work through this issue. And no, the answer isn't Priceline.
The trick to finding the perfect hotel room is knowing your travel goal. We'll book a quick one nighter in a much different fashion than we would a family vacation. What are your needs for this trip? Are you looking for a place to sleep or a place to be entertained? What is your budget? Are you more concerned with price or amenities? Do you have status with a hotel to keep or are you a free agent?
You Need a Place to Sleep
This is a pretty common scenario for us. Maybe we are traveling and we're going to have a night in a hotel for business or maybe we just need a night at a hotel to avoid sleeping at our parents house during a visit (sorry mom). You're not planning to spend a ton of time at the hotel. You just want a clean and quiet place to sleep. For this type of stay, we're going to recommend Hotels.com. Why? Because every 10th night you stay through hotels.com is free. If you have to make random one off nightly stays, this is a nice perk. It's an added bonus if your rooms are being comped through work and you can use that 10th free night for personal use.
If your trip is last minute, check out Hotel Tonight. Hotel Tonight works with local hotels to fill their unsold inventory last minute. If you're booking less than 7 days out, there can be some great bargains, especially on higher end hotels. We've gotten on planes and landed in a city and booked for the same night and saved hundreds of dollars. The discounts go down drastically as you get into more entry level hotels.
Budget is Your Biggest Concern
If budget is driving your booking, Priceline might actually be the answer, but not for the reasons you might think. If you use Ebates, they regularly run an offer for 7%-14% cash back on bookings made with Priceline, Hotwire, Expedia, etc
If you don't want to use a travel portal, a service like Priceline is still a good place to start your search. Compare prices and see what hotel fits your budget. From there, go directly to the hotel site and make the booking. Most major hotel chains will guarantee that their prices are the lowest available online, and they tend to offer additional perks for direct booking. Hilton, for example, will give you a 25% discount if a lower price is found within 24 hours of making your booking directly with Hilton. This excludes any non-public offers or the name your own price features on some of the aggregator sites.
Even if you don't want to create a new account at a cash back service like Ebates, we'd encourage you to go through an airline portal. For example, if you typically fly with American, use their shopping portal to get to Hilton.com. You'll get Hilton's price guarantee since you are booking direct and American Airlines will give you 2 miles per dollar spent with Hilton. Double dip, yo.
Luxury and Amenities Are Top Priority
If you're looking to get a deal on a luxury hotel, you have a few options. The first is to chase status. If you remain brand loyal, major hotel chains will reward that loyalty with added perks every time you stay. The number of nights you need to stay generally ranges from 15-30 for those perks to be of value (room upgrades, free breakfast, late check out, upgraded internet, etc.). The short cut is to sign up for the hotel's credit card, which is likely to grant instant status.
Another option is non-cobranded luxury credit cards. This could include the AmEx Platinum, which can allow users to get middle tier status with SPG, Marriott, and Hiltion. The Citi Prestige won't give you any instant status matches, but it will allow you to get any 4th consecutive night free when you book your hotel through Citi Travel. This could help you stay at a higher end hotel at a reduced price. For example, if a hotel has a nightly rate of $300 and you stay for four nights, you'll end up paying $900, or $225 a night. Win!
Bonus nights are a nice way to help keep a budget balanced when you travel. Regardless of which route you take above, make sure you are signed up for hotel loyalty programs. Even if you don't think you will accrue enough points to get a rewards night when you book, your circumstances may change. It never hurts to accrue points. You can always add to your balance throughout the year by using the a shopping portal operated by a hotel. If you're shopping online and not getting points every check out, you are not shopping smarter. CashBackMonitor is your best friend. Never forget it. Also, don't overlook new customer bonuses on those co-brand credit cards. If you find yourself falling in love with a hotel chain, hotel cards can be an easy way to pick up a couple of award nights. They can also be a good way to accrue points throughout the year just through normal shopping.
Just remember that you don't have to be a road warrior staying at hotels 60 nights a year to earn award nights. The opportunities are out there. Shop smarter! Travel cheaper.