You’ll spend the dullest moments of your vacation sleeping in a hotel bed. Yet, you’ll spend more than a quarter of your travel budget on it.
According to financial data site ValuePenguin, hotels make up 26% of Americans’ total travel costs for domestic trips and 21% of their international costs. For frequent travelers, that number will most likely be going up soon.
Forbes reports that hotel prices will spike in 2021 as many places are reopening for travel as COVID-19 restrictions ease. But fret not: There are simple ways you can combat the increase without having to stay in the area’s token rickety motel.
Find out how you can take advantage of all your vacation days, rather than the cost of travel taking advantage of you.
How a hotel rewards card can help you save on travel
If you want to start saving on travel, it can be tough to choose between an airline rewards card or a hotel rewards card. Though both can help you in the long run, a hotel rewards card has some leverage over its airline counterpart…
1. The best hotel reward cards have no blackout dates or capacity restrictions
Airlines are making it increasingly harder to use frequent-flyer miles for award seats at the lowest mileage levels. Travelers have to plan their trips long in advance and be extremely flexible—and even then it can be nearly impossible to find awards for some popular destinations.
In contrast, many hotel programs—such as Hyatt, Starwood, and Hilton—offer award nights for any unsold rooms with no blackout dates. You can even cancel a hotel award in advance, usually with no penalties.
2. Hotel reward cards work for everyone, no matter where you live
If you live near an airport that’s dominated by one airline, you’re pretty much committed to flying that carrier if you want to fly nonstop to most destinations. That essentially means you only have one airline credit card to choose from.
With hotel credit cards, you can go in any direction you want. If you don’t like the new changes made to your favorite program, you can easily jump ship and go to a competitor’s.
3. Hotel reward cards offer substantial perks
Many hotel credit cards offer customers “elite status” in their frequent-guest programs, before even staying a single night at the hotel. For example, the Hilton Honors Card from American Express offers card members a $0 annual fee and complimentary silver status. Cardholders can upgrade from silver to gold, and so on, by simply spending money. Once at the gold level, you will receive all kinds of perks during hotel stays such as free Internet, free breakfast, and room upgrades.
Although airline credit cards do offer some nice benefits, such as free checked bags, they’ll never offer elite status just for having the card.
Other ways to cut down travel expenses
Getting a hotel rewards card is a step in the right direction if you’re trying to travel cheaply. But there are more ways you can tack on to your savings than just using points…
Compare travel rates
Before booking a trip, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting the best possible deals. Try using a metasearch engine to compare the rates of different airlines and hotel chains in your desired area. Websites like One Travel and CheapOair are great one-stop shops for planning your dream vacation. Besides comparing costs, you can use these sites to create a bundle of rental cars, airfare, and hotel rooms at lower costs.
Once you find the best price, go the extra mile by searching online for coupons. Sites like RetailMeNot and Coupons.com can help you find discount codes for hotel rooms and flights. Simply filter out the expired promotions by setting the expected dates of your trip and you’re good to go.
Lastly, follow your favorite hotel chains and airlines on social media. Many companies announce flash sales and promo codes through apps like Twitter and Facebook. Also, don’t be afraid to direct message the company’s accounts and ask for a discount code—the worst that can happen is they say no.
Cut out extra costs
When booking your trip, look out for added fees. While most hotels are upfront about the cost of each expense during your stay, if you’re not careful, you could end up paying big in hidden fees.
Some things to look out for:
- Parking fee
- Wifi fee
- Safe fee
- Pet fee
- Resort fee
- Early check-in fee
- Late check-out fee
- Additional person(s) fee
Skip the paid “premium” Wi-Fi options
If you’re staying at a hotel with shoddy free Wi-Fi, you might be prompted to pay for a faster connection. Chief Marketing Officer Brian Caskey of Zhone Technologies, a telecommunications equipment company, told financial news site, TheStreet, that around 90% of hotels have poor WiFi.
Yaroslav Goncharov, a representative from the WiFi speed and rate comparing site, Hotelwifitest.com says although it’s advertised as free, “[hotel internet] is so slow and unstable that you need to pay for the premium Wi-Fi service.”
Instead of coughing up a daily fee for quicker WiFi, try bringing your own hotspot or fewer electronic devices. You can also go out and find places, like cafes, that offer free Wi-Fi.
Stay at hotels with free breakfast
Make sure to double-check, because the list can change, but here are some hotels that offer free breakfast. These are known as “limited service” or “select service” hotels and don’t offer as many amenities as full-scale Marriotts, Hiltons, or Hyatts.
- Best Western
- Canopy by Hilton
- Comfort Inn and Comfort Inn and Suites
- Country Inns and Suites
- Embassy Suites
- Fairfield Inn and Suites
- Grand Hyatt
- Hampton Inn
- Holiday Inn Express
- Homewood Suites
- Hyatt House
- Hyatt Place (various locations have recently switched to a $10 per room fee for breakfast, so make sure to check!)
- La Quinta Inn and Suites
- Mainstay Suites
- Residence Inn
- Sleep Inn
- Springhill Suites
- Towne Place Suites
- Quality Inn
As mentioned previously, some “full service” hotels give free breakfast if you have status as a rewards cardholder. If the hotel you plan to stay at doesn’t offer any of these benefits, try making your own breakfast! Go to the grocery store early in your trip and pick up some staple foods and ingredients. Various hotel rooms include kitchens or kitchenettes so you might even be able to cook some hot meals, which is way cheaper than room service or eating out.
Research hotels carefully
Part of the reason hotel costs are rising is because of soaring consumer expectations for high-quality coffee, linens, breakfast, and more says hotel industry research company CBRE. But you shouldn’t have to sacrifice those items just to save a few extra bucks.
Finding a hotel on the more affordable side doesn’t mean it has to be skimpy. To evaluate the quality of these inexpensive gems, here are some tips…
- Check reviews. Search online for the hotel and their “reviews” to find the truth—but be sure it’s credible. Does the complainer sound like someone who got annoyed with a desk clerk for some trivial reason or does it sound valid?
- Call the hotel directly, not a corporate representative. Ask when that specific hotel was last renovated. To be on the safe side, go with hotels renovated within the last three or four years.
- Check out the neighborhood online. You don’t want to arrive and find that your hotel is in a sketchy neighborhood. Before you book, check out the area on free sites like CrimeReports or Google Earth.
For more information on saving on vacation, find out How to Save Money on Flights.
Kristen Grau contributed to this report.