According to travel-comparison website Hipmunk, the best time to buy flights is the week before Memorial Day, as rates are expected to rise exponentially as the Fourth of July holiday weekend approaches. Credit: Thinkstock
The endless possibilities of summer can feel less infinite if you’re trying to plan a getaway on a budget. With airfare, admission prices and restaurants taking an ever-larger chunk, saving where you can means getting creative before you even take off. We talked to Bob Diener, president of GetARoom.com, about how to score a hotel deal in the hottest travel destinations without paying as much as your rent back home.
1. Start planning now. “We’re expecting this to be the busiest summer for travel in 10 years,” Diener says. The economic downturn created a travel doldrum that’s definitely passed - but if you start making plans now, there are still bargains to be had. “May is the month to start booking for summer. What we’re seeing continuously is that the hotels are doing deals now, and they expect to raise their rates a lot as we get to summer.” The rule of thumb for travel is still booking 21 days in advance, but for summer you want to have your itinerary set before the end of this month.
2. Get a quote that can’t be found online. Travelers know that getting a person on the phone can ultimately score you a better deal than websites alone. GetARoom has gone a step further, partnering with about 35,000 properties to offer deals that you won’t get even directly through the hotels. Call 1-800-HOTELS8 and ask for the unpublished rate. “Most hotels are typically 10-20 percent off, but they can be as much as 60 percent,” Diener says.
3. Look for flash sales. GetARoom knows most travelers will shop around, searching four or five websites for the best deal, so it started doing flash sales as a way to serve up an irresistible deal within the first results. “The only thing is you have to make up your mind quickly, usually anywhere from 2 to 24 hours,” Diener says. GetARoom does a couple hundred such deals a day, and “once they’re gone, they’re gone, and those hotels may not participate again for another couple months.”
4. Stay at a hotel within a hotel. Would a luxury hotel by any other name be as relaxing? It can be, when companies like GetARoom purchase a block of rooms and slightly change the hotel’s name to offer their own deals. “For example, we have a hotel that we call the Luxury Suite at The Signature, and it’s the same hotel as The Signature at MGM but we call it something a little bit different because we have a block of rooms there,” Diener explains. And that makes all the difference, with deluxe suites that MGM would sell for between $300 and $400 going for close to $100 a night.
5. Go when the locals are out of town. Getting a good deal “is really about looking at your destination and knowing what’s going on there when you’re trying to travel there,” Diener says. “The trick is trying to find the destinations where demand is weaker during the summertime.” So if you’re willing to take your chances with a possible hurricane, Florida’s offseason begins the second week of May and lasts through October. “South Beach has all the entertainment, clubs, restaurants, shops — they’re all the same, just not as crowded, so you get a much better deal,” Diener says. Washington, D.C., is another bargain during August, since Congress isn’t in session, which means lobbyists aren’t taking up hotel inventory, and that can mean finding deluxe hotels in the city for close to $100. “Business travel is also lighter in July and August in New York, so it’s a good value for leisure travelers,” Diener says. Rates at European destinations like London, Paris and Barcelona also drop in August.
6. Stay longer for less. “A lot of markets have third-night-free promotions this summer,” Diener says. “Most people go for two nights, so check a third night and see if it’s free.”
7. Don’t rely on same-day booking apps. When it comes to the year’s busiest travel season, make sure you’re not trying to score a room the day you need it. “We’re seeing many more deals in advance,” Diener says. “There’s not nearly as many deals last-minute, and that’s because hotels are selling out and it’s getting busy.” If you love apps, he recommends Kayak and Hipmunk, but warns that same-day apps tend to have very limited offerings, and booking a few weeks ahead will still yield better deals.
8. Look beyond brand names. Don’t stop at brand-name properties. “You want to look at not the chain hotels but the independent, boutique hotels,” Diener advises. Check out reviews (GetARoom displays the TripAdvisor rating in its search results) - Seattle, San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, offer a lot of options. “People gravitate to chains bc its a known product, but it’s also kind of a cookie-cutter product,” Diener says. “More adventurous travelers like to find something that’s more unique and charming and kind of reflects the city that they’re going to.”
9. Don’t sleep where you party. Staying in Times Square seems like a great idea, until you realize that New York City traffic never stops and those LCD billboards stay on all night long. Instead of trying to get some shut-eye in the middle of the action, check into a neighborhood like Murray Hill, where the rates are lower and you can be back in the heart of Midtown in a 15-minute walk or short cab ride. In Florida, since you’ll need a car to get anywhere beyond your hotel anyway, Diener advises getting out of the neighborhood entirely: “If you want to be in South Beach, the deals might be much cheaper in North Beach, or Hollywood, which is a real bargain bonanza.”
Traveling with family?
If your travel companions include little ones, or a large group, consider a vacation rental. “They tend to be much larger accommodations, usually have full kitchens, separate bedrooms, and they’re usually the same price as a hotel room,” Diener says. The properties work like a regular hotel, with hot group destinations like Anaheim, Myrtle Beach and San Diego all catering to big parties. And the savings can be massive — in Orlando, Westgate Lakes Resort & Spa between the Disney parks and Universal Studios rents huge suites for close to $100 a night.
Trying to avoid families?
Find a hotel with a child surcharge, which tends to discourage families. “There are also a lot of hotels with one-bedroom rooms, which really doesn’t work for families,” Diener says. Many properties in space-restricted destinations like Boston, San Francisco and Chicago simply can’t handle larger parties — which means you’ll won’t have to compete for the waffle iron at breakfast.
Where you're going
This summer’s top destinations are Las Vegas at No. 1 followed by Orlando, Florida. Luckily for you, Vegas is also the top bargain market in the country - if you can play the slots when everyone else is at the office. “Sunday through Thursday in Vegas offers the best deals,” Diener says, with Strip hotels like Palace Station going for as low as $16 and Circuit Circus for $24 when we checked. If you’re visiting the House of Mouse, check in prior to July or after mid-August.