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To get a good deal on a hotel, it pays to plan ahead. That’s the advice from Bob Diener, founder of getaroom.com, who spoke to me with his perspective on scoring steep discounts this summer travel season. Naturally, Diener wants to steer folks to his site, but his insider tips offer useful insight into the entire hotel industry. Here goes:
Purchase in advance. “Hotels have embraced this now,” Diener says. “They don’t want to panic at the last minute with low occupancy and have to slash rates, so they’re offering much better deals if you book 14 or 21 days in advance.” This is especially true in major cities and tourist destinations, where it can be harder to nail down last-minute specials.
Be flexible with properties. Boutique hotels, condos, vacation rentals and apartment-hotels (apartment buildings converted to hotels) can offer more space and better values, especially if they have kitchens, than standard hotel rooms. HomeAway is one place to start your search for those properties.
Double check that you’re not paying extra for the kids. You’ll pay plenty as it is — in lost sleep — when you hear them kicking each other in the second queen bed.
Toggle with dates when you’re entering your information with an online travel agent. See what happens to the rate when you add a third night, either before or after you want to be there. You could end up getting that third night free, especially if you include a Sunday night stay.
When in Rome, or London, or anywhere else, book in dollars instead of Euros, unless you want a currency exchange surprise. Also, be aware that European hotel rating systems are different than American rating systems. “A three-star British is like a one-star hotel in the U.S.,” Diener says.
You could pay more for packages, except if you’re going to Mexico or the Caribbean. For those staying stateside, you’ll probably get a better deal booking hotel and airfare separately. Because packages are usually calculated per person, you could end up paying more for the hotel portion.
Getaroom’s competitive advantage: In many cases, you can book and then cancel with no fee. The site offers “flash sales,” kind of like Groupon, when you’ll have a limited time period for booking a room, but you can pick your dates and there’s no disadvantage if you change your mind. They also have unpublished rates, but customers have to call to get them. “We have a phenomenal call center,” Diener says, and I have to agree with him, at least based on a six-minute conversation I had with a representative. We talked about Boston during Boston Marathon weekend in April of 2012, and she told me of one hotel that she could lock in for $253.44 per night versus $319 that was published. She was pretty darn helpful — and there was no hold time. (By: Stacey L. Bradford and Sarah Lorge Butler)
Stacey L. Bradford covers personal finance with a focus on issues that affect families. Her first book, The Wall Street Journal Financial Guidebook for New Parents, hit shelves in June 2009. She was previously an associate editor at SmartMoney.com for more than 10 years. Sarah Lorge Butler is a freelance writer living near Allentown, Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared in Runner’s World, The New York Times, Women’s Health, Redbook, and American Baby. As a mother of two young children and her family’s primary wage-spender, she closely tracks expenses ranging from daycare to the weekly grocery bill to what the Tooth Fairy pays.