How to save money on holiday accommodation
That one minute it takes to sign up on a hotel or booking website can amount to some serious members-only savings.
Many booking sites offer rewards programs (where you earn credit or free nights after a certain # of bookings) or members programs (where a membership earns you exclusive discounts). If you're hesitant to sign up because your inbox is perma-flooded with e-mails, fear not! You can still snag deals with a one-time sign-up to get a log-in ID, click “unsubscribe” from all e-mails thereafter.
As you've probably learnt by now, not all booking services are created equal. Many sites tack on sneaky commissions to already inflated rates. The websites we've found to consistently have the best prices that also search broadly include:
Expedia (good for members only and last-minute deals)
Hotels Combined (combines multiple hotel and hostel search engines including Hostelbookers)
Booking.com (offers special rates with free membership)
Hotels.com (often has coupons)
Thrifty Tips: Reserve as far in advance as possible for best price – intentionally waiting for last-minute deals is a huge gamble.
Booking a reservation that has “free cancellation” can help you secure great rates in advance. Most booking sites have free cancellation on the majority of listings, but always be sure of the cancellation policy and check how long that is valid for (e.g. sometimes it's only free cancellation until 48 hours before the booking date).
While this is a great way to hold an exceptionally good rate, many booking sites like Expedia and Hotels.com will offer an even greater discount if you book a non-refundable rate. It pays to plan ahead!
Finally, don't make a habit of “holding” infinite hotel rooms/dates – hotel owners don't enjoy repeated cancellations!
Every major hotel chain has a rewards program, letting you earn points that can be exchanged for free hotel stays or upgrades to your room. What you may not realize is that hotel booking sites have started their own loyalty programs too. The advantage with earning points on a booking site is that you can earn points when staying at any hotel, not just one chain. So if you stay at the Hilton one night and the Marriott the next, both stays will earn you points as long as you book with the same booking site.
Some booking sites that have their own loyalty programs are:
Expedia+ Rewards: Earn points on flights, hotels, car rentals, vacation packages, and more. Earn even more with an Expedia+ credit card.
Hotels.com Rewards: Collect 10 nights across any hotels, get 1 night free.
Orbitz Rewards: Earn points on flights, hotels, car rentals, vacation packages, and more. Earn even more with an Orbitz Visa card.
Loyalty programs with hotel chains can still be a great option. Many hotels offer exclusive perks and pricing to members of their program, such as late check-out and complimentary internet access. Most hotel programs are well connected with many partners, allowing you to earn points through credit cards, flights, car rentals, online shopping, and more.
Find region-specific search engines and hotel chains
More often than not, broad search engines miss smaller, region specific search engines and hotel chains. It pays to ask around on Tripadvisor forums, friends, and Google to see if there are local hotel chains or booking sites you may not be aware of. Here's a few region-specific examples (got more to add? Leave a comment below!):
Australia & New Zealand
Booking site: Wotif
Budget hotel chains: Formule 1(chain of AccorHotels)
Booking site: Ctrip, Agoda
Budget hotel chains: 7 Days Inn, Super 8 Hotel, Motel 168.
Budget hotel chains: Motel 1, Formule 1 (part of Accorhotels), EasyHotel
Mystery Deals & Bidding
“Mystery deals” happen when the hotel name is only revealed after payment, in exchange for a deep discount off regular rates. Price bidding is a virtual auction, and involves offering your own price on a known hotel (keep in mind that a bid is a commitment to that price each time). Websites that offer mystery deals include Hotwire and Priceline (which also does price bidding).
Last minute deals happen when rates are reduced to sell a room. Such prices can be found on normal booking sites or via HotelTonight, which specializes in last minute deals (get $25 credit using promo code TAVERY19). Expedia has a last-minute deals page as well. That being said, it's not recommended to delay booking in hopes of finding last minute deals – at least make a Plan A and “hold” a room with free cancellation first (tip #3)!
A new service called Roomer allows you to reserve a hotel room that someone else has booked but can no longer use, and is non-refundable. By offering someone else's set booking, the original buyer gets some money back, and you get a reduced rate. Win-win for all!
Use the sharing economy
The sharing economy relies on “sharing” in one form or another, such as renting someone's home while they're on vacation. This is often hugely cheaper (and sometimes even nicer) than hotels, hence its worldwide explosion in popularity. Check our round-up of sharing economy travel services here.
What does it cost to stay somewhere using the sharing economy? Anywhere from FREE to as much as you want to fork out for a high-end apartment rental. Couchsurfing, (not ideal for families) housesitting, and house swapping are all cost-free options. Those wanting to splash out on fancier accommodations can book timeshares for rent by owners at a fraction of the cost set by the resorts themselves. Prices can range from as low as $28/night to a few thousand per week, depending on how luxe you want.
Book longer stays for weekly & monthly rates
Longer term rates can reduce nightly rates significantly. Surprisingly, a 7 night stay can be even cheaper than staying 6. Why is that? Extended bookings are ideal for owners as it means less room changeovers for them and thus less costs. Weekly and monthly rates on AirBNB are quite competitive against what locals pay in terms of rent, and are almost always much cheaper than hotels.
1) Avoid peak times
Obviously, if your little ones aren't at school yet then book your holiday during term time. Flights and accommodation are much cheaper during quiet periods and you'll beat the crowds too. And even if you are constrained to school holiday periods, play around with departing mid-week and be prepared to arrive earlier or later in the day.
2) Book big days out in advance
If you're planning on going to any big theme parks or water parks during your family trip it's usually cheaper to book these tickets in advance online. Most places will offer discounted family tickets and they might even have a sale before you go so keep your eyes peeled for deals.
3) Travel light
If you decide to go abroad be ruthless with your packing. We know it's easier said than done when you've small ones, but do the kids really need three different hoodies? Do they definitely require multiple changes of shoes? If you're only going for a few days try to just take hand luggage. It means you won't have to wait around at the baggage carousel too.
4) Pack snacks
Airports are seriously expensive, especially when you have a few hungry mouths to feed. Avoid forking out extortionate prices and bring a packed lunch to the airport instead. Don't forget some nibbles for the plane too.
5) Book a home away from home
Instead of booking a hotel room book a small apartment or Airbnb. Having your own washing machine (see No3 above!) and kitchen can be very handy and are a great way to save some cash. Search in advance and simply hit the supermarket for basics and supplies once you arrive.
6) Shop around for insurance
Doing your research can really pay off when it comes to travel insurance. Thankfully, there are lots of great comparison sites online. If you're planning on going on a few trips in 2018/19 it might be worth buying an annual policy. If not, you can usually get single trip coverage from as little as €10 per person.