If you're the type of traveler who just wants a decent place to hang your hat and you don't want to spend a fortune to do it, here are seven ways to save on your next hotel room:
Hotel rates are based on supply and demand, so be aware of peak periods. If your destination's high season is from December through April and you're trying to book near the end of April, you might find considerable savings if you change your travel dates by a week or two. Also, keep in mind that at many properties you'll be charged peak-season rates for your entire stay even if you straddle the dates between peak and nonpeak seasons. So ask when rates go down.
Use your frequent-flier miles
If you have a credit card that allows you to earn frequent-flier miles for purchases, contact the company (or visit its Web site) and ask about hotel deals or promotions during the time you'll be traveling. Also check with any airlines for which you have frequent-flier miles. Web sites such as WebFlyer.com track current promotions and offer tips about maximizing your miles.
Check hotel web sites
The large travel-booking Web sites often sell rooms from consolidators who have bought up empty hotel rooms. But the major hotel chains also offer last-minute discounts, and because they're not paying the middleman (the consolidators), they sometimes have better deals than the travel sites.
Don't be afraid to haggle
Most people are so intimidated by know-it-all hotel desk clerks that they don't try bargaining for a better deal. But negotiating for a better deal is often worth the trouble, because most hotel general managers would prefer having a customer paying a lower-than-usual rate to no customer at all. And if you find something on your hotel bill that you feel is unfair – such as an outrageously high phone charge – don't be afraid to complain about this either. To keep your goodwill, hotels will often reduce or eliminate such charges.
Look for weekend deals at business hotels
High-end chain properties that cater to businesspeople are often busy only on weekdays. To fill up rooms on weekends, such hotels often drop their rates dramatically on weekends. Because many of these places are in leisure destinations such as San Diego, Palm Springs, and Miami, they're worth considering even if you're not traveling on business.
Make an online bid
Depending on the destination, you can save 30 percent or more off a hotel's regular rates by using bidding sites such as Priceline or Hotwire. You choose one or more levels of quality (e.g., two-star or three-star properties) and one or more neighborhoods or cities and then make your bid. You'll know within minutes if it was accepted (by which time your credit card will have already been charged). One strategy that experienced bidders employ is to target areas on the fringes of popular destinations such as the California Wine Country and Orlando. You can often get a good deal by doing this and still wind up fairly well situated.
Avoid hidden costs
Pricey little extras that hotels never mention can significantly increase the cost of your stay. Don't let this happen. Find out about resort fees, fees for parking, Internet use, safe-deposit boxes and fitness centers before you agree to stay. And don't touch the hotel's phone unless you absolutely have to – the rates at many large properties can be more than $2 a minute even inside the United States. Also, don't book yourself into a hotel that has amenities, such as business centers or in-room fax machines, you don't need, because the cost of providing them is factored into your room rate.