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Why you need to stop blowing your travel budget on hotels

If you’re spending more than $99 a night, you need to read this.

Are you paying too much for your next hotel stay? How much is too much remains a relatively personal thing, sure, but too often the answer is a resounding yes. It’s an easy habit to get into—“but it was only $199, that’s a really good deal for New York!”—and a hard one to break—“so, uh, you’re recommending I stay where?”—but for those ready to travel more and spend less, weaning yourself off overpriced hotels is an important first step. Ready to go? Let’s do this.

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The less you pay, the less you get nickel and dimed. (Go figure.) So, this first one’s a doozy. For numerous reasons that will make no sense to most people, the expensive hotels typically offer the fewest freebies. Let’s say you check into a Hampton Inn—that’s the budget brand under the Hilton umbrella. Along with your typically reasonable nightly rate, you’ll get a whole load of freebies. Free parking, provided you’re not smack in the middle of a city center. Free internet. A fairly generous complimentary breakfast spread, each and every morning—complete with waffle bar, in many cases. Now let’s take a look at, say, a Hilton. It’s a little more expensive, sure. But, you say to yourself—this is going to be much nicer, right? Not really. Unless, of course, you enjoy paying $35 for parking, $12.95 for basic internet ($18.95 for faster speeds) and $22 for the breakfast buffet. (I’m calling out the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, in this case.) Add all that up and for two people, you’re looking at nearly $100 in extras for the one night at a hotel that isn’t even close to being San Diego’s best hotel for a proper splurge. Wouldn’t you rather stay somewhere nearby—you’re in San Diego, you’re already winning at life—and put all that cash toward an additional night?

Spending less means goodbye to the travel tax gouge. Many destinations charge hefty hidden tolls that you often won’t be fully aware of until checkout time. Say your room costs $99. You’re not going to be too upset to see, say, $17 in taxes show up on your final bill—that’s what you’ll pay when visiting destinations like Houston, Texas, or Anaheim, California (home of Disneyland). The taxes quickly start to add up, however—even a rate of $150 means paying nearly $26. Obviously, it skyrockets from there. For one night, you might be okay, but paying $150 or more for a week’s stay means budgeting in at least the cost of another night’s stay. Keeping your average nightly rate low isn’t just good sense—it’s also like you’re giving yourself a tax cut. And who doesn’t love tax cuts?

Resort fees aren’t just for the beach, anymore—they’re all over the place. Like it or not, you need to budget for them.
In cities like Orlando or Las Vegas – anywhere people like to go on vacation, really – hotels are becoming much bolder with the fees they slap on to the nightly rate to cover a multitude of so-called amenities. Take Vegas, for instance—get used to automatically adding around $30 to the published, pre-tax rate at pretty much all of the major resorts. Honestly, at this point, you’re smart to ditch the Strip entirely, in favor of a Las Vegas hotel that hasn’t yet jumped on the hidden fee bandwagon—yes, there are still a few.

Higher-end hotels are shamelessly using parking charges as a profit center – even in the suburbs. It’s gotten ridiculous in the big cities—we won’t shame the Chicago hotel that now charges upward of $70 a night for valet parking—but budget hotels are eagerly charging sky-high rates as well. Chicago’s ACME, for example, boasts the “cheapest hotel parking in the city,” at a still eye-watering $39 per night. Moral of the story: Don’t bring a car to Chicago. Or any major city. (Even in Las Vegas, most Strip resorts have discovered overnight parking as a guaranteed revenue stream—make sure to check the new rules before booking.) If you can’t ditch the car, most American downtowns are no longer your friend. Sleep elsewhere. On weekends in particular, staying in edge cities and suburban commercial areas can often save you hundreds of dollars—in plenty of cases, you’ll find efficient transport available into town, should you need it. Not that the ‘burbs are immune from fee creep—many hotels and resorts will now often charge fees to park in lots that used to be free. At the Marriott in Tysons Corner, Virginia, handy to the sights in Washington D.C., budget in a parking charge of $9 a night. Modest, sure, but still odd, when a couple minutes up the Leesburg Pike at the Residence Inn by Marriott Tysons Corner, there’s no charge at all. Oh, and they’ve got free breakfast and Internet, too. Which the Marriott does not offer. Both hotels are convenient to the shopping that Tysons Corner is famous for, not to mention stations on D.C.’s new Silver Line Metro, which can get you to the museums and monuments of the National Mall in no time at all. Once again, the lower-end hotel wins.


Stop paying for amenities you’ll never use. Expensive hotels are expensive because they have more bills to pay. Will you be there long enough to use the world-class fitness center, spa, pool, 24-hour room service, beach chairs, or a rooftop nightclub they probably don’t even want to let you into? Why do you care that they have a world-class conference facility, with a world-class team to keep it running—are you attending a conference? Will you even read that complimentary Wall Street Journal they offer to leave at your door? Do you have time to sample the offerings in the hotel’s many fine restaurants and lounges? When splashing out for a nice hotel stay, make sure you’re going to actually do more than sleep.

There are too many good tools out there now to help you pay less for your next hotel stay—no more excuses. TripAdvisor now trawls more than 200 sites to find you the best deals in your desired destination, a game-changing upgrade that now allows travelers to cross-reference the best value hotels with the best-rated. There’s always Priceline, too—you don’t even have to bid, if you don’t want to, because their Express Deals option does the bidding ahead of time. All you have to do is grab that $95 rate on a 4-star hotel in New York City on a Sunday night before it’s gone. Don’t think that you have to wait until the very last minute to get that screaming deal, either—some seriously good hotels have been known to toss piles of rooms into Express Deals weeks ahead of time at discounts of more than 50 percent of the eventual nightly rate, sometimes even more. (Case in point: In the run-up to a recent major holiday weekend, the W Hoboken, across the Hudson River from Manhattan, was selling off rooms for roughly $125/night well in advance—by that weekend, the lowest rate had soared to just shy of $400). As with the bidding tool, you need a taste for adventure: they won’t tell you where you’re staying until you’ve paid. But as any happy user will tell you, it’s nearly always possible to figure out where you’ll be staying ahead of time—or at least narrow it down to one or two properties that you can research further before you give Priceline your money. If for some reason you’re not a Priceline fan, go to Hotwire, where similar guidance applies. Tip: These secret deals—opaque deals, in industry-speak—can be ideal for last-minute staycations, or for those more hotel-centric getaways. You’ll often be able to upgrade yourself to something much nicer than you’d expect to find at list price.

Ready to start saving? Find the best deals in your next destination (along with thousands of reviews) at TripAdvisor.

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