Unconventional Alternatives to High-Priced Hotels

By Lee Bellinger / January 3, 2014
  • These smart vacation alternatives can save you money and enrich your life.
  • Here are top savvy smart planning tactics that offer value and fun.

Vacationing isn’t cheap, and lodging is one of a traveler’s biggest – and sometimes most regrettable – expenses. Prices for hotel rooms vary greatly, of course. But for nice digs located conveniently near a popular destination, you could face rates that are downright inhospitable.

As a savvy traveler, you can save on lodging costs in a number of ways – some conventional, some unconventional – without giving up any of the comforts and amenities you want. Let’s first look at some unconventional ways to nab a good night’s sleep while traveling, because you may never have even considered them.

Thanks in large part to the Internet, a growing underground economy of individuals renting out their apartments, homes, and vacation homes gives you more vacation options. As well as the opportunity to save big money and enjoy unique accommodations. Through some web sites, you can book a well-reviewed room or entire house for as few as 2 nights, right online just like a hotel.

If you have space to accommodate guests in your house or in a separate property, you can offer it up as a shortterm rental and generate some cash flow – when you want and on the terms you choose.

Take These Steps to Avoid
Risky Travel “Deals”

Yes, there are risks both to offering rooms and to staying in rooms offered by others. There are risks to staying in hotels, too! Anybody who has done much traveling has a horror story or two to tell about bad hotel experiences (rude staff, overcharges, bedbugs, noise, odors, theft of belongings, etc.)

You can limit your risk to no more than that of a hotel stay by booking only with one of the major short-term rental web sites (not via Craigslist or classified ads). These sites contain customer reviews so that you can gauge who is reputable. Don’t book with people who have no reviews or only a few very recent reviews. A long and deep track record ensures that whoever you may be dealing with is for real.

Market-derived reputational safeguards have proven to be effective – far more so than top-down regulation ever could be. Yet in some parts of the country, governments are moving to stamp out these hotel alternatives, supposedly in the name of “safety.”

As Fox Business Network’s John Stossel reported, “New York [state] recently passed a law making it very difficult for people to offer short-term rentals via popular websites like Airbnb and Roomorama, which connect room-owners and room-renters. I could be fined $25,000 if I rent to tourists through those services.”

Roomorama co-founder Jia En Teo suggests a devious motivation for why some politicians have gone on the attack: “Short-term rentals have been growing in popularity…that has posed competition to hotels.”

Pay Less, Sleep Better

Hotels remain convenient options for people on the go. Don’t rule them out – but do rule out paying full price for a room (unless you’re really in a pinch). How much you pay to stay at a hotel depends on a number of factors. The hotel’s location is one of the most important. New York City is one of the priciest places in the world. You will pay a huge premium to stay in the most desirable parts of the city (i.e., Central Park). Stay just a few blocks farther out and your rate on a nearly identical room might be half the cost.

Stay in a an unglamorous city, and enjoy greater luxury at bargain rates. America is full of vibrant cities with great historical, cultural, and natural attractions that most tourists overlook. Hotels in these underappreciated big cities (such as Houston, Portland, Cleveland, and Atlanta) mainly serve business travelers and thus often offer discounted weekend rates.

Another way to save big money on a hotel stay is to check in during a seasonally slow time. To get the best rates, you’ll want to avoid popular vacation travel periods around Christmas and spring break. People like to vacation up north during the summer and down south during the winter. Hotels adjust their rates accordingly.

Hotels that cater to summer vacationers often drop their rates like a stone in September as millions of students and teachers head back to class. September can still be pleasantly warm in most of the country, making this a potentially ideal time to book a vacation at a “summer” destination.

Bargaining for the Best Hotel Deals Online Is Now Much Easier – Here’s How

It’s easy to search for hotel rooms online. All the major chains and even many independent hotels and B&Bs now let you book directly on their web sites. Plus, sites such as hotels.com allow you to search for and book rooms among thousands of properties.

To peruse deals on some of the best independent and lesser known hotels around the world, point your browser to tablethotels.com. Through this site, you can often find last-minute deals on rooms at lower prices than hotels are willing to offer through their own web sites.

The best deals online often come in packages – meaning booking a hotel room along with a flight and perhaps a car rental at the same time. Major travel sites such as orbitz.com and travelocity.com offer discounts (but limited customer service) when you book a flight together with a hotel.

Beat Hotels at Their Secret
Price Games Every Time

Many hotels will put up blocks of rooms on the web site priceline.com at “secret” prices lower than they will ever reveal publicly. The hotels will tell Priceline their absolute rock-bottom rates. Priceline customers will be shown the regular rates but not the discounted rates. Customers name a price they are willing to pay for a particular area and hotel star-rating and are then either booked at that price or notified their bid was too low.

For truly last-minute deals, you can actually show up at the hotel, sit in the lobby, and go online from your mobile device and search for a room. Online sites may have rooms available even in “sold out” hotels. We’ve heard of travelers being turned away at the front desk of a hotel with a “no vacancy” sign, only to go online from the lobby and return to the same desk clerk five minutes later with a confirmation number in hand. The larger the hotel, the more likely this strategy is to work. You can also use this technique to bargain with the hotel. Simply show the clerk the rate you found online and ask them to meet or beat it.

Old-School Still Works, Too: Saving through Negotiation and Travel Agents

The downside to Priceline is that you can’t name a price on a particular hotel. The price you name may be accepted by any hotel that meets your criteria.

If you know which hotel you want to stay in but aren’t satisfied with the rates listed online or elsewhere, you might try calling the reservations department and asking for a discount. Hotels have a range of rates for any given room. Explain that the rate quoted is too much and ask if a “corporate” or “convention” or “senior citizen” or other special rate might apply.

How willing the hotel will be to lower its regular rate for you will depend largely on how full it is. A hotel that is in a very slow period might be willing to give you a room at a hugely discounted “employee” rate.

Even in this Internet age, travel agents (i.e., actual, real people) can be helpful. Searching online is time consuming. An experienced agent can quickly find deals and has connections that you don’t. The less you know about a destination, the more sense it may make to let a travel agent take care of the nitty-gritty for you. Vacation packages sold by travel agents that include flight, hotel, and some tours/entertainment take all the hassle out and can score you big savings compared to what each component would cost individually.

In addition, there’s a huge glut of new and nearly new RVs sitting on lots all over the country. An RV rental can make for a frugal and adventurous vacation. For a truly cheap travel option, consider truck camping. A good used camper shell for a pickup truck can be had for as little as $100. Add $75 for professional waterproof installation, and take advantage of supercheap campground travel. Even in posh resort towns, campground sites can go for as little as $30 a night or even less.


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