I’m not sure where to start with sharing my tips on booking accommodations as there are so many things I do depending on where I am staying, and what my budget is but below are a few general tips.
– Always read reviews if you have time!
– Cheapest is not always best value.
– Most of these sites offer a % cash back if you book through Ebates.
– Beware of hidden fees for resort fees, extra people, etc. Often the cheapest accommodation listed actually isn’t cheapest when you go to the final booking step with fees. Another hotel that was initially more expensive is often actually less!
– I usually book double occupancy with large hotel chains despite sometimes having 3 or 4 (or 5) people in my room and have never been questioned about this. I don’t bring the whole group to check in, usually just text them the room number to join me after check in. Don’t do this with small boutique hotels or B&Bs, only places that give you a minimum 2 queen bed set up and have hundreds of rooms.
– Do a quick google search for coupon codes, especially for Hotwire & Priceline.
– Don’t forget your corporate rate, AMA, CAA, Aeroplan etc. discounts if you’re booking directly with a hotel.
– Never trust a booking site when they say an accommodation is sold out for destinations off the beaten path. These sites are usually fairly accurate for large chain hotels in North America but my experience overseas has been different. If you want to stay somewhere, email them directly and usually they’ll have room for you.
Hotwire & Priceline are my favourite sites for scoring an amazing hotel deal when I’m pretty flexible. I’ll often look on Hotwire for an idea of a price for their hidden rate hotels and then lowball it on Priceline’s name your price. I’ve never been disappointed and it’s kind of fun! The downside to these sites is booking is final so you need to be 100% sure you’re not going to cancel. Lately Hotwire has been showing the name of the hotel before booking but if you really want to know, you can check betterbidding.com for a list of hotels listed on Hotwire & Priceline.
If I am a bit more particular about location or or am going somewhere a little more remote, booking.com is my go-to site for searching. They have all types of accommodations including hotels, hostels, B&B’s, and even campsites in some places! They appear to be the most comprehensive booking site. They also allow you to search by minimum review score by users which is a feature I use religiously. It doesn’t matter how good of a deal a place is, I try to always take time to check at least a few reviews and if there’s any mention of bed bugs or unclean bathrooms, I won’t stay there. Once I find a good spot on booking.com I’ll often go to the website to book directly with the hotel to save a few dollars with whatever promo code or corporate rate I have for that hotel chain, or book through Expedia. If I’m in a hurry and don’t have time to do thorough research, booking.com is the easiest and quickest way to book a hotel. A couple things to beware of with booking.com (or any booking site) are:
– Read the fine print to find out additional fees, taxes, etc.
– Check reception/check in hours. Some places do not offer 24 hour or late check in.
– Beware of booking on booking.com and then the hotel asking you to pay on PayPal or through wire transfer at an increased cost. There isn’t much you can do about it other than report them to booking.com but it does happen.
– Because booking.com offers such a wide variety of accommodation options, it is possible that some are scams. A friend sshowed up at her place in Spain to find out it didn’t exist. Booking.com took care of her but it still cost her hours of time to sort it out.
Expedia has less options than booking.com for broad searches but remains a favourite site to book on if prices are the same as booking direct with the hotel. I also love the flight + hotel option. If you need to book both a flight and hotel, always start with Expedia flight + hotel search. On a trip to Vegas a few years ago I ended up with my flight AND 2 nights on Fremont street for less than the cost of the same flight alone! This feature allows you to create your own packages. I’ve also used this feature when invited to a wedding in the Mayan Riviera. I didn’t want to spend a week at an all inclusive, nor did I want to fly a cheap charter airline with the rest of the wedding party, so I was able to use Expedia to book a flight on Air Canada and 3 nights at the all inclusive where the wedding was, while still getting the savings of a package deal. After I added another few nights at another hotel, I ended up paying less than the all inclusive package wedding party “discount” rate from the charter airline. You can click “I only need a hotel for part of my trip” if like me, you only want to spend a few nights locked in an all inclusive zoo before spending the rest of your time exploring. Hotwire also offers this option to create your own packages. One word of warning is that they do not include ground transportation like other vacation packages so you will need to find your way to the hotel on your own.
Hostels & “Other” Accommodations:
Another way to find the best accommodations is to check Tripadvisor. They have 3 categories: hotels, B&Bs and speciality lodging. For cheapest options, check speciality lodging. This is where you’ll find hostels but also cool spots like eco lodges, glamping, yoga retreats and other cool spots! Don’t necessarily go by the top rated one, some newer places haven’t crept their way to the top yet due to lack of reviews. I usually look at their overall score and read a few reviews to get a sense of the place. Tripadvisor isn’t actually for booking, but is meant to guide you to the best spots to stay. Once I decide where I want to stay, I book direct with the accommodation, or through websites such as hostelbookers.com or hostelworld.com.
For more information on my thoughts of hostelling for adults, click here.
If you’re travelling somewhere a little off the beaten path, you can use Tripadvisor, booking.com or Expedia to get a sense of prices and vacancy but then walk up to the place to negotiate a better price after viewing it in person. This only works when vacancy rates are high, you speak a bit of the local language, and you don’t mind carrying your bags around to a few spots. If you’re travelling during peak season you probably want to secure somewhere to stay before you arrive, at least for the first night.
I love Airbnb. It is such a fantastic concept, especially if travelling with a larger group or to a place with crazy high hotel prices like Europe or Manhattan. Their app is terrible. Absolutely terrible, and not user friendly making it difficult (but not impossible) to book on the go. If you have a desktop computer, checking out Airbnb is a great option. They have all types of accommodations in all types of price ranges. You can share someone’s home with them, share a room with strangers hostel style, or you can end up with an entire private house to yourself! I’ve stayed in Airbnb’s at least 10 times and have never had a bad experience.
They have generous promo codes to get money off your first stay. Click here for a promo code for your first stay.
Tip: double check the map of the location of your Airbnb before you book it. The search function sometimes sends you quite far away even after you specify where you want to stay.
This is brand new to me but on a recent trip to Banff, Alberta (Jan 2018) I wasn’t loving the options on my regular search sites so had a peek on Groupon Getaways. I found an incredible condo for a better price than anything on Hotwire – and it had breakfast included. I’ll probably start checking this more often although it seems limited to the bigger tourist areas.
Costco Travel, BCAA, Entertainment.com or your employer travel services:
I’ve tried all these and have found limited options and prices comparable with the above. I usually don’t bother checking but if you’ve had a good experience with one of these, shoot me an email as I’m happy to be proven wrong here.
Now if you really want to save money, check out Couchsurfing. Be prepared though, Couchsurfing is about more than just a free place to stay in someone’s home but is about building community, meeting friends, and sharing culture. If you want more private/indepedent lodging, try the above options.
Vegas deserves its own little section here. My biggest tip is to beware of crazy high resort fees (can be up to $40/night) before booking anything! Also, some “north strip” hotels can barely be considered on the strip. Anything north of the Wynn/Encore isn’t really walking distance to most strip attractions.
Hotwire/Priceline are still going to get you a kick ass deal but if you want to do a bit of work, you can score an even better deal by signing up to the loyalty clubs for different hotel groups. This has resulted in even better prices than Hotwire or Priceline when I’ve taken the time to do this and had a specific strip hotel in mind. They may also throw in some extras like meals or show tickets.
To really save money, consider staying downtown or off the strip. You’ll end up with cheaper accommodations and cheaper food options nearby. Your transportation costs will be increased if your primary objective is to hang out on the strip gambling, clubbing or hitting shows. If your Vegas goals involve the strip, you probably want to stay on the strip. If the off strip hotels offer a free shuttle to the strip you have to ask yourself if you really want to sit around waiting for a shuttle bus that only runs certain hours beside a family of screaming children, or are you more likely to jump in an Uber to rent a car? If so, you might want to just stay on the strip.
One of my favourite value accommodation spots in Vegas is Desert Rose Resort because they are located just behind Tropicana near the strip, do not charge a resort fee, have large spacious condos ideal for groups, and have little extras like free breakfast and happy hour drinks. The only downside is the pool is small and shady, but you can usually use the nicer Hooters pool (and 24 hour hot tub!) next door. Check their website directly for the best deals.
Lastly, you can usually get an upgraded room if you ask while passing over a $20 or $50 bill at check in. They may also throw in some extras like a bottle of champagne we got with our upgraded room at TI a few years ago.
Cuba also deserves its own little section on here. A quick look on any booking site and it will seem as though Cuba doesn’t have many small hotels, hostels or B&Bs listed, just the big all inclusive resorts. This will probably change over time with the Americans visiting Cuba but as of April 2017 when I was last there, most accommodations were in the homes of people, and were found on AirBnB, through word of mouth, or by looking for the white and blue sign out front of a home (it looks like an anchor). It seems strange to just walk up to a door to a house and ask if you can stay there but if they have a blue anchor out front, they’re expecting you! The occasional hostel has its own website you can find through an internet search but my accommodation booking tips don’t typically apply to this country and your best bet is to knock on some doors upon arrival or use AirBnB.