Euros, francs, kroners, pounds — no matter what currency you’re dealing with, you’ll need less of it this summer for lodgings if you follow these simple rules.
Take the path less taken
When choosing your destination, bear in mind that hotels are always cheaper in some places than others. Eastern Europe is the obvious example, and the further off the beaten path the better. But if a vacation in the Albanian hinterland isn’t your idea of fun, don’t panic. Even mainstream countries have relatively “undiscovered” pockets where accommodation costs are lower. Languedoc and Liguria for instance, are economical alternatives to Provence and Tuscany.
Timing is everything
Visiting off season is a surefire way to save. During Europe’s low period (roughly mid-October to Easter, with a brief interruption over the Christmas holidays), tourist-class rooms are more readily available. Très chic ones, meanwhile, are more affordable. Some high-end hoteliers dispense with budget-busting extras like mandatory meal plans or minimum-stay requirements; others take the direct approach, dropping prices as much as 30-50%.
Business hotels aren’t always busy
Even in high season you can find off-peak deals if you know where to look. Summer and weekends year-round are prime times for vacationers, but not for business travelers. So hotels in commercial or administrative centers (say Geneva or Berlin) lower their rates to fill rooms vacated by suit-wearing patrons. If you’ve racked up reward points using business hotels for work-related trips back home, this is also the ideal time to use them: reduced competition makes it easier to snag a free bed.
Early birds get the worm
Not surprisingly, when you book is just as important as when you go. Last-minute deals sound tempting and, fact is, they might be just the ticket for travellers with flexible schedules. Yet the general rule for the rest of us is “the earlier you act, the better the hotel rate will be.” Best Western, for one, chops 15-30% off the rack rate at participating hotels in about three dozen European countries for travellers reserving online at least three weeks in advance.
You better shop around
Chances are you already comparison shop for accommodations. But if you rely exclusively on Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity, it’s time to visit newcomer www.kayak.com. This aggregator scans 120-plus travel sites, including European-based agencies; then links you to the appropriate booking addresses. Since official hotel websites are included in the mix, you can reserve directly and avoid middleman fees and accessing unadvertised specials.
While hotel hunting, check both intercontinental budget chains and established European ones like Etap (etaphotel.com) and Ibis (ibishotel.com). Unless you’re claustrophobic, you might also consider new brands like Yotel and easyHotel (www.easyhotel.com). The former, opening this spring in Heathrow and Gatwick, offers capsule-style overnight stays starting at £40; the latter has Lilliputian rooms in central London from £30.
Little things mean a lot
However you proceed, you must read room descriptions carefully because hotel extras are molto expensive — and we’re not just talking phone calls and mini-bar purchases. Take the Holiday Inn in Florence. In July, it charges €133 for a standard double booked three days ahead. Reserve the same room with “breakfast included” and the rate jumps to €163. Sure, breakfast is important, but there’s no need to pay the equivalent of $40 for it in a city filled with budget-friendly cafés!
When doing the math, take value-added bonuses into account, too. Hotels participating in Stockholm (www.destination-stockholm.com) and Copenhagen’s à la Carte programs (www.copenhagen-hotels.se), for example, toss in valuable sightseeing passes that cover top attractions and tours. In Innsbruck, hotel guests are automatically issued a Club Innsbruck card good for free guided hikes and cut-rate ski passes.
Bed, board, and beyond
Finally, remember that standard hotels aren’t your only option. For stays of a week or more, try a vacation rental. For shorter trips, consider home-y variations on the B&B theme: like Italian pensiones, French chambres d’hôtes, and German gasthofs. Rather than wandering around your destination hoping to locate one, save time and shoe leather by looking online at www.bedandbreakfast.com or www.bedandbreakfastineurope.com.
For more tips on finding the best hotels for your budget:
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