12 Tips for Knocking Dollars Off a High-End Hotel Booking

Don't be the sucker in the elevator who paid the rack rate.

As the busy holiday travel season approaches with millions of people on the move, hotel room rates tend to shoot through the roof. But just because hotels are charging more doesn’t mean that you have to pay more. There are plenty of ways to save money on hotel stays, if you just know where to look and how to book. Here are tips to help you hang onto your cash on hotel reservations both in the coming weeks and year round.

1.  Remain loyal.

Most of the major hotel chains with big loyalty programs offer discounted rates for people who are members of their clubs. While these don’t represent huge savings, they can be anywhere from five to 20 percent off regular rates in some cases. Even better, hotels will email you to let you know about new specials that come up so you can be prepared when it’s time to book. If you do want to take advantage of some of these rates, just be sure to log into your account before searching and booking so that the appropriate rates pull up in the search.

2.  Try weekdays and wintertime.

It might go without saying, but if you want the lowest hotel rates, stay when a hotel is less likely to be busy. For properties in city centers where business travel is big, aim for weekend days when rooms tend to go empty. For sunny leisure destinations, travel in the off-season like late fall, winter and early spring. In some cases rooms can go for less than half the price of peak times.

3.  Look for best-rate guarantees.

Most hotels and online travel agency sites like Expedia now offer a best rate guarantee. That means if you find a lower rate than the one you booked for the same room and same dates within a certain time frame of making your booking, you can submit proof of it to the hotel or site and they will match the price. Many even go beyond that and offer bonuses and credits as compensation. Starwood, for example, will honor the lower rate and also give you a 20 percent discount or 2,000 bonus Starpoints if you find a lower, verifiable rate within 24 hours of booking. Expedia gives you two days to find a lower rate, and refunds you the difference plus a $50 travel coupon for future travel.

4.  Look for corporate discounts.

If you work for a major corporation, or even just freelance for one, it’s worth asking the company’s travel planners if there are special booking codes at the various large hotel chains. Many large corporations, such as IBM or Ford, make deals with hotel groups, such as Hilton or Hyatt, so that their employees get preferential rates when booking there. These preferential rates can include significant savings, though sometimes these discounts are reserved for higher room categories, such as suites or those with club-lounge access. These rates also tend to be cancellable up to the last minute, unlike general prepaid rates.

5.  Make use of credit card discounts.

While top-shelf rewards credit cards like the Citi Prestige and the Platinum Card from American Express levy huge annual fees of $450 each, they also offer cardholders hotel-specific perks that can include enormous discounts. The Citi Prestige will refund you the value of the fourth night of any hotel stay (of four nights or longer) that you book through their concierge service. This fourth-night-free benefit can equate to hundreds of dollars of savings on a single booking. The Platinum Card from Amex, meanwhile, works with a whole portfolio program of partner properties called Fine Hotels & Resorts. When a cardholder books a stay through FHR, they’re eligible for benefits that might include third- or fourth-night-free discounts, on-property dining or spa credits, room upgrades, and more depending on the stay booked. You don’t have to go so high-end to get some value, though. Visa Signature Hotels (and there are dozens of Visa Signature cards out there) gives cardholders value-added perks like free parking, Wi-Fi and free breakfast on certain bookings.

6.  Get a hotel-brand credit card.

Just as many airlines have credit cards that allow you to earn miles for your spending, several hotel groups also have co-branded cards, including Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton and Starwood, among others. In turn, some of those cards offer annual perks that might include a free night or two at properties around the world. The IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card from Chase, for example, gives cardholders an annual free night at any IHG hotel (which includes chains such as Intercontinental, Hotel Indigo, and Holiday Inn) around the world. That can be worth hundreds of dollars, which is a great deal considering the card’s annual fee is just $49.

7.  Check specials and packages.

Although many hotels’ reservations systems automatically load all room packages and discounts eligible for your stay when you search dates, it never hurts to look at the hotel website’s specials and packages page to see if there are any with rate codes you might have to enter manually in a field in the booking system. (That’s how this writer recently discovered a third-night-free package at Waldorf Astoria properties that was not loading when he searched the individual property I was looking for — for a savings of about $220.)

8.  Make separate reservations.

Sometimes if you’re booking multi-night stays, you’ll notice that rooms are more expensive than they appear to be when looking day-by-day on a rate calendar. There are a couple reasons for that. While hotels will often charge different rates for different nights on a single reservation, reservations systems also put guests in the same room for all four nights. So if only one type of room is available for all the nights of your stay and it’s more expensive than other room categories, that’s the room the system will give you. However, if you notice that rates on some rooms that aren’t available for all the nights of your stay are much lower and you’re flexible about moving rooms, it might be worth making separate reservations to score the lowest rate each night of your stay. A lot of times, hotels will then try to help you out by giving you the same room for your stay when you check in so you might not end up having to move anyway.

9.  Buy in bundles.

Many airlines, such as American Airlines (AA Vacations) and British Airways, as well online travel agencies like Orbitz, offer packages that include flights, hotels, and more. In some cases, the rates for the combined travel arrangements can be even cheaper than booking a single component like the flight or the hotel alone. And if you do manage to score a cheaper hotel rate by bundling in an airfare, you don’t even have to take the flights you purchase if you don’t want to.

10.  Don't forget the A's.

Hotel loyalty programs are one type of club, but not the only ones that matter when it comes to saving on hotel bookings. If you’re one of the tens of millions of people who belong to AAA or AARP, you can often reap great money-saving benefits on hotel bookings. AAA rates tend to be both cheaper and more flexible than rates booked by non-members, while AARP (which anyone can join as an Associate Member for $16 per year, regardless of age, and still enjoy travel discounts) offers sometimes-tremendous savings at hotels.

11 .  Use foreign sites.

Just as airlines price out airfares differently for different markets, sometimes hotel booking sites and online travel agencies display different (i.e. cheaper!) prices according to the country in which you’re located at the time you make your booking. This feels a little bit like skirting the rules, but it’s not illegal. And who’s to say you weren’t in Sri Lanka when making that hotel booking for Santa Fe?

12.  Fly solo.

If you’re traveling alone, remember to change the room occupancy field on hotel booking sites to just one person instead of the standard two that populates there because you can sometimes get a lower rate, especially on bookings that include extras like breakfast.

Though hotel rates are on the rise, there are plenty of ways to save if you’re savvy and willing to put in a little extra effort.

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