Today I would like to talk about how to get the best hotel deal for a budget-traveller. Stay with me, folks – you’ll be glad you did.
I mean how many hotels do you think Shatner actually has to negotiate with...? I'm just sayin'
Resources like Priceline, Expedia, and yes, even Kayak are great for a starting point. But what I’ve found through months of tour is that these sites are just resources – do not book your hotel from them. Pete and repeat – Do not book your hotel rooms from Priceline/Expedia/Kayak.
Don’t get me wrong. I use them myself – but only to search for the amenities and price range I desire. When I decide which hotel works best for me, I contact the hotel directly. Here’s why:
First of all, I’m a member of AAA. AAA membership has many benefits and one of the best is discounted hotel rates. Every hotel that I have stayed at during the tour has been at least ten dollars cheaper than the priceline/expedia/kayak advertised rates.
Not a AAA member?* There is still hope.
I tour during the school year (shocking, I know) – and much of my time on the road is during the off-season for tourists. Many of these hotels we are staying at are never at capacity. The parking lot is empty, save for the few semis and the employee’s car and even several hotels have had us as the only guests. Maybe it’s the towns we’re in (rural communities for the most part, speckled with the occasional Cincinnati or Knoxville) or maybe it’s the recession. Still, with empty rooms – hotels are desperate to have you. Like Fräulein Schneider sings in Cabaret:
As long as the room gets let, the fifty that I will get
is fifty more that I had yesterday.
Another thing to remember: the taxes on hotel rooms are too damn high. I've found it to be almost 15% in some states.
Even without AAA, hotels were willing to negotiate with us. “Gee, Comfort Inn, we really like your hotel here – we would like to stay all week since we’re in the area until next Tuesday – but unfortunately our budget is only X. I know it’s a long shot, but is there anyway we can work together to make something work?” and “Thank you so much for working with us. We’ll be sure to send a great review on the comment card.” Those phrases are our best friends. They allow us to stay at places that would be outside of our budget. Even if it’s only ten dollars, that can make a world of difference.
For frequent travelers, like myself, start earning rewards points by signing up for brand loyalty rewards. My personal two favorites are the Choice Hotels and Best Western programs, but find something that works for you. Choice Hotels have lost of options for varying budgets, and they have been helpful and kind in all of our stays. Best Western has been great to work with, so we also use them. Andy and I also tend to stay at Super 8s here and there, when necessity calls. We’ve had some sketchy ones though (including one last night that had a water heater problem), so do your research. If they aren’t up to standard, don’t be afraid to say so as soon as you see the room. If nothing else, they usually will refund your money and you can find something more suitable. Red Roof has a rewards program too (though they are typically out of our price range).
But the best advice? Don’t be a jerk. I know the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but these people have lives and are working long hours to make ends meet. Befriend the front desk. Be polite to housekeeping. Let them know how much you appreciate them. They’ll appreciate your business too.
I’m reminded of the staff at Red Roof Inn at Knoxville-Papermill Rd. The front desk clerk, Jeff, was fantastic. We would walk in the door and he would welcome us back home. It didn’t take him long to learn our names. Soon he was hooking us up with rooms near the workout center and coupons for things to do in Knoxville. On our last week in Knoxville, he gave us a generously discounted rate. I tweeted Red Roof corporate to tell them how much I enjoyed our stay there and how the staff really took care of us. I hope Jeff got at least a certificate out of it – he was freaking awesome. Jeff – this one’s for you.
So to review, here’s the plan:
- Use Kayak to find the perfect hotel room.
- Go to the hotel’s website and see what the listed rates (including discounts like AAA) are there.
- If that meets your budget, awesome – if not, call or visit the hotel directly and see if they can work with your budget.
- Check in like rock stars.
We’re currently staying in a Choice Hotel in Cincinnati. Amenities that we prefer are mini-fridge/microwaves, fitness centers, and continental breakfasts – so we put our wish list on Kayak, let them know that our budget is 70, and then look at the maps. We found this place which advertised all of our needs, plus a business center. Kayak’s rate was listed as $65/night (this rate does not include taxes). When we went to the website, I saw that the AAA discount put us at $58 and some change (again, without taxes) so we’re still over budget. So I called reservations. I told my friendly call-center employee we had AAA and before I even tried to negotiate the clerk quoted me an even lower discounted rate of $42. Now I’m under budget and they have our business, everybody wins.
* Footnote: AAA is widely pronounced as “Triple A” – hence the article use of ‘a AAA member’ instead of ‘an AAA member’ – Andy says if you have a problem with it to take it up with him. Take a helmet: He’s a master of English and will kick your butt.