Cool Ideas

Save on Lodging

by Stephanie Nelson

When you plan your family vacation, your choice of lodging may be the most important decision you make. Although we all want to find a good deal, spending your vacation in a disappointing hotel or rental house that falls short of your expectations can ruin your vacation. Consider these strategies to find lodging that meets your needs and your budget requirements, too.

Determine your needs: If you are traveling with your family on vacation, you may want to consider hotel alternatives such as extended-stay hotels with kitchens and free breakfast, condos, or houses. Not only will they offer more space, and they may have special amenities you wouldn't find in a hotel, such as a fireplace or a hot tub. You will also save money on meals if you are able to cook meals and snacks instead of eating at restaurants for every meal.

  • If you use a hotel, be sure to review the free amenities offered to save the most money overall. Amenities like free parking, free computer access, free breakfast, coffeemaker in the room, and evening hospitality hours can offer serious savings for a family or business traveler. Generally speaking, upscale hotels offer fewer free amenities than limited-service hotels. For example, moderately priced hotels like Fairfield Inn or Holiday Inn Express offer free breakfast buffets and free computer access. By contrast, I recently stayed at an upscale hotel that charged $7 for 15 minutes of computer usage and $3 for a cup of coffee. Those amenities are free at less expensive hotels!

  • Sites like Vacation Rental By Owner (www.vrbo.com) offer bargains because the owners are not paying management company fees (which are typically 40% of the reservation cost). Private owners may also provide savings tips to renters such as local coupon books, restaurant recommendations, and tips to get discounted tickets for local attractions.

  • You can also find rental homes at www.homeaway.com. It is the largest for-rent-by-owner vacation rental Web site in the world, representing more than 75,000 properties across 100 countries.

  • If you prefer having a fully refundable hotel reservation, use a search engine to find multiple hotel prices, then call the hotel directly to see if they offer discounted rates for AAA, AARP or Entertainment members. When planning a recent trip to Detroit, I used a search engine to find a hotel I liked at $94 per night. I then called the hotel directly and requested the Entertainment rate, which was available and was only $49.50 per night. The rate was not available online, so taking the time to call was worth the savings.

  • If you book a discounted hotel rate through Entertainment.com, you may qualify for their hotel rebate program. You can save $10 per night when you qualify (2 night stay or longer) and mail in a form that you print from the Entertainment site.

  • If you are willing to book a nonrefundable hotel reservation to save more money, use Priceline.com or Hotwire.com to name your own hotel price. You can select the specific location and quality level (up to 4 stars) then name your price. The downside is that you cannot select a specific hotel, and will not find out which hotel you've booked until after your credit card is charged. However, I recently traveled to downtown Chicago and found a nice hotel for $138 per night with a search engine. When I used the "Name Your Own Price" feature at Priceline.com, I bid $70 a night with Priceline and was able to get a reservation at the $138 four-star hotel that I wanted. This strategy saved me $136 before taxes.

  • Don't be fooled by "name your own price" sites. When you select a location and star level, you may get a message on the site that says, "Be aware that the average rate for a 4 star hotel in downtown Chicago is $229." My rule of thumb is to bid 50% off what the lowest available search engine rate is. Of course, room availability will also determine whether or not low-priced bids will work. Booking as far in advance as possible will raise the odds of getting your bid accepted.

Stephanie Nelson has shared her savings tips on ABC News' Good Morning America, Good Housekeeping Magazine and hundreds of local radio and TV stations. You can find more of her savings tips in her book "The Greatest Secrets of the Coupon Mom" and on her website at www.couponmom.com. Copyright 2006 Stephanie Nelson.

Ads