How to Get a Great Deal: Accommodation
Travel costs money (shocker!) and recently it seems it’s only getting more expensive. Figuring out how to get a great deal on accommodation can be tricky. But if you find one, you’ll be able to save yourself a lot of money. In my travel budget, hotel stays usually cost me the most, so finding ways to save (without getting stuck with a bad room!) is critical.
Too many options and no great deals!
If you’re going to a big city – think, Toronto, Paris, Rome – there are way, way too many choices. So we have to find a way to narrow them down. If you’re heading rural – I recently spent a night on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia – there are fewer choices and sometimes better deals (though not always).
So how can you choose where to look? How do you know what you want? Short term rental? Self-catering? Cabin in the woods? Apartment-style? Boutique hotel? Inn? Conference centre? Argh.
And then the dreaded question … can I use points?
So let’s narrow it down!
Step 1: Points Check for Accommodation
I collect Marriott Bonvoy points, which work at Marriott, Sheraton, and other hotels in that chain. Once I know where I’m going – and the dates! – I’ll look on their website first to see if there are any hotels in the area where I can use my points. In big, popular cities, hotels will take more points than in smaller, less touristy places.
Other rewards programs, like Air Miles, Aeroplan, and Visa have hotel options too. Some are easier to use than others, so I’ll usually spend a bulk of my accommodation search looking at the various choices to use points. Watch out for taxes and fees that might come with them!
Step 2 (or… Step 1 if you don’t have dates): AirBnB
AirBnB is step 2 except if you don’t have set dates. If you know generally when you want to go, but not specific dates, check AirBnB and use the “I’m flexible” feature to choose a more general time period. This will sometimes show a cheaper option than dates you would have put in otherwise. Then, filter the search to only include ‘Superhosts’, which will only show results that already have lots of positive reviews. You can always go back later and remove this filter if you don’t find what you’re looking for. If you want the ‘whole place to yourself’ you’ll want to toggle that option on as well in the filters – otherwise you’ll see super great deals that involve sharing a tiny Paris flat with a guy named Fred and sleeping on his pull out couch (a fine option if that’s your thing!).
And lastly, do not forget to set the nightly or weekly price maximum. Looking at places outside of your price range is a fantastic way to make sure you go off budget. Stick to the amount you set and don’t have a wandering eye. (If you need help setting a budget, try this free travel budget template.)
Tip: If you can, book a week or a month when going through AirBnB. Hosts will often offer significant discounts for longer stays. A condo in Naples went from $138/night for three nights, to $117/night for 30 nights- a $619 discount. Obviously, this isn’t going to work for everyone. But if you’re planning a longer trip, see if you can book a month in one place for a deep discount, and then splurge on the odd hotel stay during the month.
Step 3: VRBO
VRBO is similar to AirBnb, but generally less well used, so sometimes you’ll get different options or a better deal. They don’t have the flexible timing option though, so you’ll have to know your travel dates before searching here.
Step 4: Booking.com
Ideally, a good option will have come out of the last three steps – either using points, or a short-term rental. But if that’s not working, then head to Booking.com. Booking.com is similar to other sites like Expedia, that take lots of hotel and accommodation options and show them to you in one place. It also has a budget option, so make sure to cap off at your max budget when searching – and then you won’t be tempted! You can also filter for things like included breakfasts (always a better deal!) and free cancelation. You might pay more on a per night basis, but if your room includes breakfast for two or three people, that extra savings can turn a pricier stay into a great deal on accommodation. Note: Booking.com shows the price for the total amount of your stay for each hotel – not the nightly rate.
I like sites like this because I can see all my options at once.
Tip: Once you’ve found a couple of places you like, check out the same hotels on their own websites, or call them if you are able to. If you say you’d like to book through them directly, they’ll often try to match or beat the rate on Booking.com. When you book through a third-party site like Booking.com or Expedia, the hotel has to pay fees to the site. If you book directly through the hotel, they save money – and sometimes they’ll help you save money too.
What if this still doesn’t work?
Sometimes not only can I not get a good deal, I can’t get any deal! If all the options I’ve listed haven’t worked, I’ll usually do one of two things. Either I have some flexibility with my dates, so I can switch up my travel time. Going mid-week generally gets better options than on the weekend. If I’m going to stay in a major city, I’ll do that during the week, and stay more rurally on weekends or holidays.
If you don’t have any date flexibility, then I’m back to Google to find out what else might be available. You can also check out smaller communities around where you want to be, in the hopes of finding something there.
Surely it would be easier just to pick the hotel you want to go to and book it?
Of course it would! But that’s usually the most costly way to do it. I’d like to go to Toronto and stay at the newly opened W Hotel, but when I find out the lowest price is $571 a night… I’m back to the drawing board anyway! Be strategic. Get the nicest place you can for the least amount of money, and then splurge when it really matters. Figuring out how to get a great deal on accommodation is a tricky business, but can save you big in the long run.