Before you go
1. Read reviews: Check websites such as Tripadvisor.com or Booking.com to find lodgings in the locations you’re seeking. Then, if it looks good, find the actual hotel’s website and compare.
2. Calculate the real price: Don’t just look at the room rate when you consider how much it will cost to stay. These days, you must also consider whether there’s a resort fee, fees for parking and Wi-Fi, and more. Can you get a fridge in the room and do they charge extra for it? Is there a special city hotel tax? Get out your calculator and start doing the math.
3. Don’t dilly dally: Many, if not most, hotels these days use “dynamic pricing,” which means as the number of available rooms goes down, the price goes up. So there’s no advantage to waiting to book, and it could cost you more if you do.
4. Plan far ahead: If there’s a particularly iconic place you want to go, such as Yellowstone, note that you can generally book a year or even more in advance. That’s what the smart travelers do, and it’s why they get the most affordable and best value accommodations, leaving the rest of us to book the leftovers. There’s seldom a cancellation fee, as long as you don’t wait until the last minute, so there’s often no penalty if you change your mind. For example, at the iconic 1904 Yellowstone Old Faithful Inn, you can book starting May 1 for the following year’s season. Believe it or not, nearly every room is already booked for summer 2017.
5. Share a bathroom: Hey, Europeans have been doing it for centuries. If you aren’t too squeamish to stay in lodgings with shared baths, you can often save quite a bundle. For example, speaking of the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone, you’d pay $185 for a room with bath this year in the older section of the inn, or $115 if you’re willing to walk down the hall.
6. Join the club: Go online before you stay at a chain hotel and join its rewards club. You can nearly always get free Wi-Fi by doing this, and other benefits, too. The desk clerk will be more likely to give you upgrades or other perks if you’re a loyalty club member. You can earn other perks, too, such as free nights.
7. Consider the free food: A free hot breakfast can save you significant change in the morning, and speed things along on your day, too. Make sure what’s included, because a stale “continental breakfast” of a packaged sweet roll isn’t going to fill you up for long. And make sure you know the hours, so you don’t miss out. The last half hour of any freebie like this is marginal at best. Note that Embassy Suites are pricey, but you get a cooked breakfast in the morning, a fridge and microwave, and usually a manager’s reception with a cocktail and appetizers the night you arrive.
When you arrive
8. Ask for a discount: No one wants to look like a tightwad at the check-in desk, but don’t leave money on the table, either. Hotels may offer discounts for members of certain organizations, such as the auto club, AARP, the military and such. Never hurts to ask.
9. Request an upgrade: If a hotel’s not full, there’s no reason not to ask for an upgrade, especially if it’s a special occasion like a birthday or anniversary. They might say “No,” but sometimes they’ll oblige, if you smile nicely enough. I always ask, “Can I have a room by the pool? Or with a view?” They might also ask you to pay, and then I always ask if it’s really worth the money.
10. Disappointed? Do something about it: If you walk into your room and you’re not happy, turn right around and go back to the desk. Explain nicely, with a smile, why that room won’t work for you, and ask for another one. Don’t be shy, but also don’t be unpleasant, it’s not going to help you. On a recent trip to a hotel where I’d stayed many times, I was ushered into a room with no window, just a broken slider onto a dark airshaft. As you can imagine, I was not a happy camper. After I asked to change, I got an actual window, and a patio too.