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Cheap Hotel Deals - Lessons Learned

We are always looking for cheap hotel deals when we travel. Unfortunately, we also like to leave things open and flexible, so we don;t often make reservations. This can be a mistake at times, as we learned on a recent trip to San Francisco.

Now you might think this is naive, but it didn't occur to me that the Fourth of July was a big deal in San Francisco. When we arrived on the Second, a Wednesday, we were able to get a nice room for about $70 per night - not bad for San Francisco. But that was good for only two nights. After that they were booked up. If a room did open up, it would be at east $200 per night, we were told.

It was time to shop around. Fortunately, we had picked up a couple of those hotel coupon books, which had some great deals in it. Unfortunately, they never honor the coupons when they are busy or it is a holiday, or a weekend. Rooms that were $49 in the booklet were actually around $200, plus about $20 in taxes. But those were booked up in any case. It was time to leave town and explore the northern coast.

There were no rooms available at any price along the coast, so after enjoying a couple beaches, we headed inland. Forty miles north of San Francisco we found a nice room for $110 including taxes. Though we never pay that much for a room, at this point it seemed cheap, and it did come with a nice breakfast.

When we checked Santa Cruz, we found that yes, the hotel I called would honor the $39 price - on Sunday. Saturday's price would be $222 with taxes. You read that right. A difference of a day and the price was more than five times as high.

Then we noticed that unlike in San Francisco and Santa Cruz, where rooms were more on the weekend, in San Jose they were less. The cheap hotel deals were good for the weekend, and extra charges applied during the week. Unfortunately,we also found that a good deal isn't always so good. We had to ask for our money back after seeing one room.

Cheap Hotel Lessons

Here are some of the things we have learned on this and other trips about getting the best hotel deals.

1. Use the coupon books. You can also search "hotel coupons" online and print out coupons. In general the hotels honor these if they are not too full, and according to any other terms that are stated on the coupon. They can save you a lot of money in some cases.

2. Be aware of whether your destination is a tourist area or business area. This determines whether the best deals will be on the weekends or weekdays. You may want to adjust your travel dates accordingly if you can. It can cost more than three times as much to be there during peak times.

3. Make reservations if you are sure where you will be staying. You might do this for the first night only, to buy time to look around for better deals. Then, as you decide where you will be going, you can call ahead and reserve rooms as you go.

4. Negotiate. This doesn't work in a busy area where rooms are filling up, but if you see that a hotel is half empty at five in the evening, ask for any discounts you can get. We received a corporate discount for paying with our business card.

5. Ask to see a room. A good deal may not be so good if the room is dirty or too small or otherwise uncomfortable.

6. Pick the right times and go with the flow. So far, it isn't possible to get the best cheap hotel deals online. Many simply have no internet presence yet. If you look online, for example, you probably can't find rooms in San Francisco for under $100. But there are in fact a dozen that have deals for under $70 in coupon books - and during weekdays. In other words, if you research a little and go at the right time (weekdays, weekends, off-season) you may find the cheapest rooms once you get there.

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