It’s no secret that hotel room rates are rising -- prices shot up five percent in the first six months of 2014 compared to the same period in 2013. The good news is that there are still a few tried-and-true ways to lower the costs.1. Stay longer.
2. Purchase your stay in advance.
As they say, the early bird catches the worm. Many hotels try to entice guests to make reservations (and pre-pay) weeks ahead of their check-in date with a discounted "advanced purchase rate." These are typically offered for bookings at least two weeks in advance. They may be highlighted on a hotel’s Deals or Specials sections -- or simply show up as an option when you plug in your dates in online booking systems. An example is Courtyard calls its offer Book Early, Save Big deal, giving a 20 percent discount on weekend rates when you book and pay at least 14 days in advance.
3. Volunteer to switch rooms.
Many of us book our hotels online these days because it's convenient. The one drawback is that if a cheaper room isn't available for your entire lengthy stay, you'll likely be presented with a more expensive option that is. Say, for example, that you're looking to book a hotel for a five-night stay one Tuesday through Sunday. The hotel you're booking has a standard room for $200 a night for all days except Friday and Saturday, when those standard rooms are sold out. For those two nights, only $300 executive rooms are still available. Your search results might only offer you the executive room, which means your stay would cost $1,500. But if you're willing to move and book the cheapest room for each night, you'd only pay $1,200. Unfortunately, you won't be able to see this online -- you'll likely have to call the hotel and speak with a reservation agent to find out if booking different rooms for one stay would help you save.
4. On the weekends, stay at a business hotel.
In a classic supply and demand model, hotels take advantage of travelers who are in town for business during the week and charge higher rates. When the suits are gone over the weekend, the hotels who largely get their revenue from business travelers are likely to lower rates on weekends to tempt leisure travelers.
5. On the weeknights, stay at leisure hotels.
On the flip side, leisure hotels -- resorts, inns, and the like -- get most of their business from the weekend, when most people travel for leisure. If your schedule is flexible, try booking your stay during the week for lower rates.
6. Stay during the low season.
Again, hotels advertise lower rates during shoulder season, when there isn’t a huge demand for hotel rooms. Warm weather destinations, for example, tend to be more expensive in the winter, particularly from northern regions; when it's cold there, everyone's looking for more sun. During the summer, rates do fall -- but summer is busy generally, so it's still good to plan ahead. Late spring and fall would be good bets. On the other hand, ski resorts are cheaper during the summer, when snow bunnies aren't flocking there for the slopes. In some tropical regions, low season are dictated by heavy rains. It all depends on the location.
7. In the Caribbean, stay during hurricane season.
This region is such a popular spot that it deserves its own call-out here. In the Caribbean, hurricane season typically starts with lighter rain in June and picks up in August or September through November. Many prefer not to travel during this time for fear of less outdoor time and flight delays -- but some areas are more vulnerable than others, and low demand means incredible rewards. Some hotels even offer "hurricane guarantees" offering refunds or rebookings should a storm interrupt your vacation. The Westin Dawn Beach Resort and Spa, St. Maarten, for example, will rebook you within one calendar year if a hurricane lands on the island during your stay.
8. Visit when the kids go back to school.
For some resort-heavy destinations, high season and high rates coincide with summer vacation and other school breaks. Walt Disney World is a good example: rates for a standard room at Disney’s Coronado Springs this year are $258 a night from Christmas Eve to December 31. In the new year, they drop down to just $167 on January 4 -- just in time for when kiddos resume classes. If you love a good amusement park or popular family-friendly spot, best to check the holiday calendar.
9. Join a hotel loyalty program
It’s free to join hotel loyalty programs, which all reward guests with free rooms or nights once they reach a certain number of points. Some general booking sites like Expedia and Orbitz also have their own programs for "brand-agnostic" guests who don't always stick the the same hotel chain or group. Of course, you’ll have to stay a few times before you reap the benefits, so this strategy will take a little patience.