Saving — and Making– Money on Travel Accommodations

Upgrade Your Travel
Accommodations without Paying Up

Air travel is one area of the economy that hasn’t improved over the past 40 years. In some ways, it’s gotten worse. Security is more of an ordeal. Food service has become virtually non-existent. And the supersonic Concorde jet has been retired, meaning we all reach our destinations at pre-1970s standards for flight speeds.

Hotels and motels haven’t fundamentally changed much, either. Except for the price you pay. The “6” in Motel 6 used to refer to the cost of a room. Of course, it’s not Motel 6’s fault that inflation has pushed the costs of doing business up multiples of where they were when the chain started.

Unlike with domestic airlines, where service standards and amenities vary little between brands, there’s more than a dime’s worth of difference between high-end and low-end hotel chains. And today when it comes to lodging, you now have more options than you used to – including the ability to obtain high-end or home-like accommodations at discount prices.

Unconventional Travel Stays for Every Budget

You need not limit your lodging options to conventional hotel and motel rooms. Thanks to the Internet, it’s now just as easy to book an entire home, a fully equipped apartment, a bed and breakfast, a private room, a hostel…or even just a couch!

My travels both within and outside of the country have afforded me the opportunity to experience just about every lodging type…from the conventional and mundane hotel room to the unconventional and unforgettable private residence.

Pay Less for Your Next Hotel Stay

First let’s consider the most conventional option – a basic hotel room. This will often be the most practical way to go for one or two-night stays. A basic hotel room is designed to meet the needs of a solo traveler or couple on a modest budget.

Getting a decent room in some cities can be expensive, however. Especially if you just go by the rack rates (the per night rate published by the hotels). You should never pay the rack rate.

The easiest way to nab an unpublished bargain rate is to make a reservation through an Internet travel booking site that offers special deals. Both Priceline and HotWire offer the ability to book rooms at deep discounts to what hotels will advertise as their lowest rates. The catch is that you may not know which hotel you will be staying at – only the star rating and general location.

I’ve had good luck with these “secret” hotel deals for the most part. I’m willing to be flexible in order to get a big discount. However, sometimes the hotel you end up with will be less than ideally located or otherwise be a place you’d never pick. That’s the risk you take. Another risk is that once you book one of these unpublished deals you may not be able to back out without being on the hook for 100% of charges.

If you have a particular hotel in mind where you want to stay, you can try calling the front desk directly and asking for what discounted rates may be available. Hotels have a range of rates for any given room. Ask if a “corporate” or “convention” or “senior citizen” or other special rate might apply.

Travel At Slow Times if You Can

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 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 may include flight, hotel, and tours/entertainment. They take out all the hassle and can score you big savings compared to what each component would cost individually.

Skip the Tower of Rooms
for a More Home-Like Stay

I find hotel rooms to be unappealing for stays longer than a night or two. Even in nice hotels, the rooms tend to be confining and noisy. For longer stays, I usually seek out alternative accommodations – apartments, vacation rentals, and the like.

You can browse listings for rentals in a particular area on Craigslist. However, it can be a hassle to try to get something booked in a short amount of time. And it’s hard to gauge the legitimacy of a listing or the reliability of the amenities it touts. One of the best places on the web to find short-term places to stay is AirBNB. I’ve had several experiences renting there – some better than others, but none bad. One outstanding experience landed me a very comfortable private apartment with a full kitchen and all the furnishings and accessories of home for three nights. For less than the price of a typical 3-star hotel.

Other places to search include VRBO and HomeAway.

If you (or perhaps an adventurous child or grandchild) seek to crash in someone else’s living room for free, try the site for CouchSurfing. People actually will offer up a couch or a spare bed in their home to travelers for free, or in exchange for labor.

Is it Legal?

Private short-term rentals have gone up tenfold just since 2010. That’s delivered a blow to the hotel industry. Hoteliers complain that some of these lodging arrangements may not be safe or legal. The New York State attorney general’s office asserts that 72% of private short-term rentals in New York City are illegal.

San Francisco city officials have pushed a law to restrict the use of sites like HomeAway and AirBNB. The city says that only residents of San Francisco are allowed to use their property for short-term rentals. HomeAway and other parties are suing to stop the law from being enforced.

Attention Retirees: Turn Your
“Empty Nest” into a Profitable Business

If you’re thinking of renting out spaces on your own property to travelers, you should make sure you won’t run afoul of local laws or community covenants before proceeding.

A guest house or attached apartment that can accommodate visits from family can also be used as a cash flow generator. You can rent out any room or area of your house, or your entire house. For your own safety and security, you may want to make sure the room(s) you have for rent have a separate entrance and that private areas of your home are inaccessible to guests. AirBNB does offer insurance to protect against damage caused by renters.

Your short-term rental business can be as hands-on or as hands-off as you wish. You can hire housekeepers to come in and do all the cleaning. You can even hire a property management company to handle all tenant, rent, and property upkeep issues. The short-term rental business can be very well-suited to the lifestyles of retirees.