Travel insiders spill the beans.
Sleep on this.
Many people think that booking your hotel through third-party reservation engines, like Orbitz and Kayak, is the best way to save money, but that’s not always the case. While travelers can sometimes score discounts doing this instead of going straight to the hotel to book their room, the sites typically won’t save you much and they won’t save you all that often, new research shows.
Stats released in July from financial firm Piper Jaffray, which tracked room rates for four of the biggest hotel chains — InterContinental, Marriott, Hilton, and Wyndham — found that in just one in five cases were these third-party sites cheaper (usually they were the same as going right to the hotel site) and when they were cheaper it was only by about 4%. Plus, when you book through third-party sites, you might not get all of the benefits of booking right through the hotel — like more flexible cancellation policies, for instance.
And while these small savings are proof that travelers can benefit in certain situations simply by doing their homework prior to booking a hotel online. Moneyish consulted the experts to learn how lazy travelers can score great hotel deals without expending much time or effort.
1. Time it right. Travel writer Adam Erace says that, to enjoy luxe properties without maxing out your credit card, book during the off-season. “Understanding an area’s high, low, and shoulder seasons can unlock huge savings,” Erace tells Moneyish. He uses an example of an upscale hotel in Bermuda, which can charge an average rate of $950 per night in the summer months, but $450 — more than a 50% savings — in October, an off-peak time. To figure out what a location’s seasonal and off-seasonal periods are, play around with online booking calendars to determine when rates dip, and research when most tourists visit. If it’s a beach you’re after, chances are traffic will peak during summer months and winter or spring breaks; but, if it’s a cold-weather or skiing destination, prepare for higher rates during times of the year when snow is coming down.
2. Look for special packages on hotel websites. A great incentive for extending your stay at a top property can be a bonus night, as in “stay three nights, get a fourth night free.” Erace says: “Hotels list these deals right on their websites, so always check the special packages section or booking results page.” A few other tips he advises: Marriott and Starwood Hotels offer fifth-night free benefits when you use points to book the first four consecutive nights, and credit cards like the Citi Prestige Card will throw in an automatic fourth night free at any hotel worldwide when you use their booking system.
3. Beware the fine print. Although booking websites have their merits, Erace and others caution that they can lock you in with tantalizing non-refundable rates. Lisa Niver, a travel writer and contributor to USA TODAY‘s 10best column, tells Moneyish: “A lot of times there’s a secret deal price and that price is non-refundable. If your dates change, this can get you into trouble… [and] you can’t dispute the charge and get the money back,” even if you booked with a credit card. So, avoid too-good-to-be-true rates unless you are sure you won’t have to alter your travel dates later.
4. Use a booking engine — but not just for booking. Niver also suggests using features like Booking.com’s Map function, which shows you where hotels are located in a particular place. Once you’ve found the one that best suits where you want to be, look into booking directly with the hotel to see if they offer a better price.
5. Sign up for loyalty programs. These programs are a no-fuss way to rack up points and perks at leading hotel chains worldwide. Niver says bonuses include luxurious amenities like club floor access, and of course, these programs also help you build up a cache of money-saving points (which you can use to splurge on a dream vacation).
- Reed Alexander