How to cut hotel costs

08/02/2014 12:00 AM

07/30/2014 2:13 PM

This is the time of year when lots of people, including me, head out for summer vacation. And here are some ways you can save:

• Request an upgrade. When you get to the hotel, it never hurts to ask for a free upgrade. Your chances are better if it’s a special occasion, like an anniversary, in which case you might want to call in advance. Otherwise, just ask when you check in, and flash your most ingratiating smile when you do it. If the hotel’s fairly empty, you’ll probably get one.
• Change rooms. If you walk in and realize with dismay that your room faces the parking lot or the trash bin, there’s nothing wrong with politely asking for another room, which they should give you unless the hotel is jammed. There’s nothing more delightful than being awakened at 6 a.m. on vacation by the trash truck. Or realizing that the lock on your sliding door doesn’t work.
• Look for discounts. Belong to the Auto Club, a retired person’s organization, or another large association of some kind? Find out if there’s a discount you can tap into. But don’t assume that a discounted rate you find, from AARP for example, will always be the cheapest. Keep looking because you might find a better deal.
• Book last minute. If you can be flexible, you can save. Call up the hotel and see if they’ll give you a deal. Or, just go to Hotwire.com at the last minute — use their smartphone app — and look for a hidden-name hotel where you want to be. I always look for four stars and a minimum of 80 percent good reviews when I’m booking a hotel with no name on Hotwire. You can save plenty by doing this, because the hotel doesn’t want the room to sit empty, but they also don’t want the entire world to know they’re offering deals. Note that the non-hidden-name hotels listed on Hotwire usually aren’t that cheap.
• Bring the pooch for free. Motel 6 allows dogs for no additional fees, which can save you plenty. Last year I stayed with my dog in a room that was cheaper than the pet fee would have been at another property. If you book online in advance, sometimes you can get a special rate. Use the app if you’re on the road.
• Join the club. Before you stay at a chain hotel, hurry up and join its loyalty club. You’ll probably get free Wi-Fi and other benefits, that could include a free upgrade. Hotel clerks also are more likely to treat you well, since they’ll assume you’re a repeat guest. If it’s a hotel with a casino, join the hotel’s players’ club for extra perks that may include easier check-in or upgrades.
• Get charged. If you get to the hotel and realize you forgot your phone charger, rather than buy a new one ask at the desk. They’ll probably open a “lost and found” cabinet and give you one of the many chargers previous guests left behind.
• Brush up. If you forgot your toothbrush or similar toiletries, ask the front desk. They may have some they give away to forgetful guests. A few budget hotels even have vending machines for these items. I like to buy a couple of spares at the dollar store before I travel.
• Priceline it. If you’re not scared to bid on Priceline, then go for it. Only the “name your own price” engine is a good deal, by the way. The regular-price rates aren’t necessarily any better than the hotel itself. Bid low and see what happens — you might get it. Just remember that they will charge your credit card if they accept your bid, but not if they reject it.
• Watch the extras. Extra charges such as parking, resort fees and even the price of a soda or morning coffee can really drive up the cost of the hotel, so make sure you factor those in when you’re comparing one to another. I paid a bit more for the Holiday Inn in Niagara Falls, Ontario, last summer, but both parking and Wi-Fi were free and there were no resort fees, which saved over the other locations. And a hotel that offers a hot breakfast can really save you a few bucks.
• Make it yourself. After I paid $18 for the world’s smallest pot of coffee from room service at the Fairmont in New Orleans, I started traveling with my own tiny coffee maker, which can also make tea, hot soup and water for instant oatmeal. This may be carrying things a bit too far, but the self-proclaimed America’s Cheapest Family brings a slow cooker on road trips and cooks a meal in their hotel room while they’re out during the day, so it’s ready when they get back.

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