Mysterious Hotel Fees Explained

May 22, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

When checking out of a hotel, do you ever really examine the bill that’s slipped under your door before you actually leave the premises? If not, you could be paying more than you expected for your room, thanks to some hidden fees that were tacked on to your bill but didn’t show up on the website when you booked it.

The use of fees isn’t uncommon in the hotel industry. It allows them a certain “sleight of hand” in advertising, claiming a certain room price and not disclosing what will be tacked on when you check out. This isn’t illegal so much as one of those unspoken things that just sort of happen but no one talks about.

So let’s talk about it! Here are some explanations for commonly added fees.

Let’s start with the resort fee. Basically, this allows a hotel to charge travelers for specific amenities that are part of the hotel’s property. It might include access to the business center, the fitness center, or newspaper delivery. It can vary from property to property, with some charging a flat fee while others tack on a percentage based on your room rate. Another little-known fee can be added for lawn maintenance called a groundskeeping fee. You value that there aren’t any weeds in the grass and that the lawn is edged, don’t you? Well, someone’s got to pay for that.

Some Fees are Negotiable

According to the LA Times, these fees aren’t mandated by law, nor have they been “levied by a legitimate taxing organization.” That’s good news for you because it means you can contest them before you ever check in and negotiate your way to a rate you can live with.

However, this is easier said than done.

Hotel lobby. This is the place to negotiate your hotel fees *before* you check inOne strategy for getting out of a resort fee is to know what your benefits are as a member of that hotel’s loyalty program. For example, a hotel can’t charge you for wifi if it’s included as an amenity in your loyalty membership. According to The Points Guy, Nick Ewen, fees of this nature can be waived at certain properties in the Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, and Starwood chains.

If the hotel you’re staying at doesn’t have a loyalty program, you can try to negotiate the resort fee by telling them you don’t want to pay for amenities, such as the pool or the gym, you don’t plan to use. If you don’t do this at check-in, though, you’re going to have a hard time getting waived when you check out.

And don’t try to be tricky: Don’t negotiate and then surreptitiously use them anyway. (That doesn’t work with the pet fee, and it won’t work in this case. Hotels have eyes everywhere.)

Another strange, annoying fee is the occupancy tax. This one is harder to dispute because local municipalities and some state governments have legislated these for the benefit of their city and state. Don’t confuse these with state and local taxes; they’re different. And, on top of both of these, some states and cities charge a bed tax, also known as a hotel unit fee.

For example, in New York City, the New York State Department of Taxation requires hotels in the Big Apple to charge $1.50 per day as a hotel unit fee. Houston charges 17 percent, Palm Springs charges 13.5 percent, and in San Francisco, the charge is 14 percent plus and additional 1 to 1.5 percent in certain tourism improvement districts.

Don’t let late-night snacking at the mini bar end up as an additional charge on your bill. On top of the overpriced item you bought on a whim, you may be charged a restocking fee Ask ahead of time if you plan to “take advantage” of this particular amenity, or stock up on snacks at a local convenience store and save yourself the remorse. (And don’t try to replace it on your own. Many of these minibars have sensors to tell if an item has been moved, and that’s how they know to charge you.)

Be aware that some hotels may charge what they call a “service charge” that ensures the staff are appropriately tipped for making your bed, vacuuming, and leaving you clean towels. If you plan to tip the staff yourself, discuss this with management, not the front desk staff, upon your arrival, but don’t be surprised if the explanation of this fee is frustratingly vague. After all, the housekeeping staff don’t make a lot of money to begin with, so shorting them on tips is kind of selfish and uncool.

Keep in mind that some hotels have taken their cue from the airlines and have begun charging for those little “extras” you may consider complimentary, such as:

  • Extra towels
  • Local phone calls
  • Late checkout
  • Choosing your own room

One last piece of advice about these fees: don’t get caught being charged a cancellation fee if you have to cancel your reservation. You may not be aware that some hotels charge you for the night if you cancel less than 72 or 48 hours in advance.

What kinds of hotel fees have you encountered on your travels? Have you been able to negotiate them off your bill or been surprised to find them? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Radesigns (Pixabay.com, Creative Commons 0, Public Domain)

Travel Safety Tips for World Travel

May 17, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’ve traveled the world full-time for seven years, we consider you an expert on how to see the sites and do so safely. Matthew Karsten, the Expert Vagabond, is just that. He has spent the last several years living as a nomad, traveling from country to country, doing remote work for clients to pay for his lifestyle, but living out of a suitcase wherever the winds will take him.

Here are Matt’s top five tips for minimizing the bad stuff and maximizing the good stuff while exploring the world.

Before we get into specifics, here’s a freebie: educate yourself on the travel scams of the country you’re visiting. Ask Google for specific information so you’re not a victim of something that could’ve been avoided, had you only known.

So, Matt’s first piece of advice is to seriously consider what you’re going to take with you. Do you really need your digital SLR camera when you could take pictures with your phone? If you decide you need a valuable asset with you, create a plan for how you will secure it while you’re traveling (zippers and locks aren’t necessarily deterrents) and when you leave it behind in your hotel room.

Secondly, purchase travel insurance for your valuables. If you need to travel with your laptop, you’ll feel more secure if you know that it will be replaced if something happens to it. World Nomads, IMG Global, and TCP Photography Insurance all offer this type of insurance, but read the policies carefully. There are limits to what they’ll cover.

After you’ve secured your valuables, think about your personal safety. Taking a simple self-defense class before you go abroad will equip you to keep your wits about you should you accidentally end up in a place you didn’t intend to. Remember that just because you know how to defend yourself doesn’t mean you have to actually get into a fight. Removing yourself from the situation physically may be all you need to do in order to restore your desired level of safety.

Third, tell your bank where you’re going so that your account isn’t frozen because an employee suspects fraud. Also, spread out emergency cash among your luggage so that if your wallet is pickpocketed, you can still eat, pay your hotel bill, and get yourself to the airport. Securing a backup credit card in case of this type of emergency is also a good idea.

One final money tip? Inspect ATMs before you use them for evidence of tampering. Don’t ever allow anyone to assist you with a cash withdrawal. If you’re not sure, go to a bank during regular hours and ask them for help. (Better yet, try to avoid carrying cash and shop at merchants and restaurants where you can use a credit card. Then you don’t have to worry about paying too much in exchange fees.)

Finally, when exploring a new country’s cuisine, Matt suggests you purchase a filtered water bottle so that you don’t have to continue buying bottled water. This helps you avoid getting sick on the local water, because the filter will screen out any pathogens and bacteria.

He also passed along a few tips from his friend Jodi, another world traveler. For example, Jodi advises travelers to look for places to eat where you can see how the food is being prepared, and where the lines are long. This is an indication that it’s a popular place, and that food isn’t sitting around for long periods of time.

Her most helpful tip is for those with food allergies? Pack a translation card you can show when ordering food to avoid accidentally getting exposed to something you’re allergic to. Asking Google for a simple translation of “I have a peanut allergy” and transcribing that on a card could save you lots of unnecessary distress.

Risk is unavoidable when traveling, and you’re going to run into problems, the same as when you’re at home running errands or just going to work, but it can be managed. Prepare the best you can, practice some basic safety and situational awareness, and see what the world has to offer.

What kinds of safety tips do you have for world travelers, whether veterans or first time travelers? Share them in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Yonikasz (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 4.0)

Five Tips for Getting Your Passport and Avoiding Headaches

May 3, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Passport applications and renewals are surging at an all-time high, so if you’ve been meaning to renew your old passport or need to apply for a new one, we’d like to give you some tips to make the process as painless as possible.

The reason for the surge dates back to 2007, when the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative of 2007 required all those traveling to the United States from other countries to show a valid passport or approved documentation. This changed from the days when US citizens could travel between Canada and Mexico with just their driver’s licenses. In 2007, 18 million passports were issued, and now all those are approaching or have exceeded their 10-year issuance limit.

Another reason for the record number of applications and renewals is the Department of Homeland Security’s implementation of phase four of the REAL ID Act. Beginning January 18, 2018, a driver’s license was no longer sufficient identification for boarding an airplane if the state didn’t comply with the mandated standards set by the DHS.

So, how can you get that little blue book in the shortest time possible so you don’t encounter any travel headaches? Here are our five tips.

Photo of a U.S. passport1. What should be obvious by now is this: don’t wait until the last minute to start. If you have a few months before your trip, that may not be enough time. Expediting is possible, but due to the glut of applications and renewal requests, don’t push your luck.

2. For you procrastinators, there is a service you can pay to handle the process for you. Called govWorks, it exists to change the way people interface with federal and foreign governments. The company can accelerate processing for travel visas, passports, and other travel documents by facilitating access to a customer’s information from a secure platform.

govWorks CEO Adam Boalt said, “Many countries will not accept a passport with less than six months of remaining validity. If possible, you should get a passport renewal at least nine months before it expires.”

3. If you travel internationally frequently, consider applying for a 52-page passport. Many people aren’t even aware this is an option, but that almost doubling in capacity can really come in handy when each country requires two stamps for entry and exit from its state. When a page can only accommodate four stamps, the standard 28-page booklet can fill quickly.

4. If you plan to travel with your children and live in a state that is currently out of compliance with the REAL ID Act, get passports for yourself and your children. Keep in mind that children’s passports aren’t issued for the same length of time as adult passports. They are only good for five years and will be required for children who travel with their parents in the continental US if their parents don’t have REAL ID-compliant documentation from their state.

5. Consider having two passports. Boalt confirmed it is possible, and sometimes necessary, to simultaneously hold two valid passports. “Some countries reject passports that contain visa stamps from certain other countries, such as traveling into Israel if you have a stamp from Saudi Arabia. Second passports are also helpful for frequent travelers who might need to apply for multiple visa applications on an ongoing basis,” Boalt said.

Bonus: Finally, don’t assume a passport is all you need to travel to certain destinations. Thoroughly investigate all necessary documentation before planning an itinerary. If you don’t, your biggest travel headache could occur at the airport gate when you are turned away because you lack the appropriate travel visa. To help travelers avoid this frustration, Boalt created Travel Visa, a division of govWorks. Do some investigating and make sure you have what you need before you ever leave the house,

Are you an international traveler? Do you have any passport success stories or horror stories? What have you done to get your passport renewed? Share your tales with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Price of US Passports Rose at the Start of the Month

April 5, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

As of April 2, the price you’ll pay to obtain a United States passport increased from $135 to $145, and passports for children 16 years of age and younger rose to $115 instead of $105.

According to the U.S. State Department, the price increase stemmed from a study done by the U.S. Department of Consular Affairs that determined that the $25 execution fee the U.S. Postal Service was charging was insufficient, and they weren’t making enough money. Thus the $10 increase.

The application fee for an adult passport book is $115 ($105 for children 16 or younger) remains unchanged. Those who apply for passport renewal also will not see an increase in their prices. Renewal fees are not determined by age and cost $110 per passport book.

Photo of a US passport on a map of the United States. Which is weird, since you don't need a passport to travel within the US.According to the Department of Consular Affairs, residents qualify for passport renewal if their original passport is undamaged when submitted, was issued when they were 16 years or older, was issued in the past 15 years, and was issued in your current name. (Name changes must be submitted by mail with an original or certified copy of a marriage certificate, divorce decree, or court order.)

For those looking for a less costly alternative and do not plan to fly internationally, a passport card can be obtained for $55 for residents over 16 and for $40 for residents under 16, with renewals only costing $30.

This card may only be used for land crossings and sea ports of entry, and is only accepted in lieu of a passport book for border crossings in Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean. In other words, you can’t fly into those countries with the passport card, you must have the full passport.

But the passport card may be a viable option for anyone on closed-loop cruises which starts and ends in the United States. That’s enough to let you get off the boat on a Caribbean cruise and get back into the country.

The passport card is also Real I.D. compliant and can be used for domestic travel. This is important, since some U.S. states still do not have Real I.D. compliant driver’s licenses and state ID cards, which means people in those states are not allowed to board an airplane.

How do you manage your business travel during peak travel seasons, especially to those vacation hotspots? Any tips to share or horror stories to learn from? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Cytis (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0/Public Domain)

Considerations for Business Travel During Spring Break

April 3, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

You may not be aware of it, but we’re right in the middle of Spring Break. Elementary, middle, and high school students as well as collegians all have weeks off that begin as early as the first or second week of March and ending sometime in April. That means business travel is going to be expensive and hectic for the next few weeks.

With the uptick in family and student travel to popular destinations such as Florida, California, Colorado, and the Caribbean, creating and booking last minute itineraries means you’ll pay premium prices for flights and hotel accommodations during this time. And you may have trouble finding seats and beds, so here are a few ways to still get to where you’re going and to have a place to stay once you get there.

If you encounter problems booking flights, consider regional options, which may be less busy and offer more flexibility for your schedule and allow you to avoid the Spring Break crowds. Consider rescheduling trips to hot spots such as Orlando until after this season concludes. Or, fly into smaller regional airports nearby, and drive into the busier city.

With hotels typically maxxed out, look into Airbnb for other reliable accommodations. Don’t be surprised to encounter less availability than normal though, as this type of lodging is becoming an increasingly popular option for families and groups of students, as well as for business travel.

Weather in the northern parts of the country is still very unpredictable. In fact, as I wrote this, my home state of Pennsylvania was getting ready to be hit by another severe winter storm.

That means snow and severe weather remain a possibility even in late March and early April. If your travel takes you to Chicago, Minneapolis, Detroit, or other points north, keep this in mind as you prepare your itinerary and try to arrive at your destination the day before an important meeting so you don’t get surprised by inclement weather.

While traveling to warmer climes may seem easy to pack for, be sure to pack a couple outer layers — a fleece, windbreaker, or light sweater — so you can adjust your wardrobe between daytime and evening temperatures. Even if it’s supposed to be nice and warm during the day, early mornings and evenings after sunset will still need a jacket.

Finally, allow extra transit time when navigating Spring Break hotspots. Roads, shuttles, and ride sharing services will be experiencing higher volumes than usual, so add an extra 30 – 60 minutes in order to arrive at the airport unfrazzled. Apps like Waze will help you understand traffic patterns and make you aware of delays in an unfamiliar city.

Consider this a warm-up for your summer business travel, when infrequent travelers will again flood terminals, hotels, and restaurants. Make your plans accordingly and just try to avoid arriving at popular destinations on a Friday.

How do you manage your business travel during peak travel seasons, especially to those vacation hotspots? Any tips to share or horror stories to learn from? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: TSReptilien (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)

The Benefits of Train Travel for Business

March 27, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Ever been frustrated by your desire to follow up on some great brainstorming that happened at a business meeting, but you couldn’t take advantage of that spurt of productivity because you were behind the wheel on your way to your next appointment?

If driving several hours between cities has put a big damper on your productivity, you should consider the possibility of taking the train. Whether it’s a commuter or medium- or long-distance intercity service like Amtrak, taking the train to get from here to there may allow you to make great use of the time spent getting to your destination.

Train travel can be an effective mode of business travel. It takes as long as a car trip, but you can get plenty of work done, or just have a good nap, while you're moving.Many business travelers may not be aware that Amtrak offers routes (called “lines” from their hometowns to regional destinations, such as the Hoosier State (Indianapolis to Chicago), Hiawatha Service (Chicago to Milwaukee); Amtrak Cascades (Portland to Seattle to Vancouver, BC); Acela Express (Boston to Washington DC); and The Maple Leaf (New York City to Toronto, via Albany) just to name a few. And they even have business class seating on most trains.

Plus, depending on where you travel, parking in some major cities like New York and Chicago can be extremely expensive and hard to find. Taking a train and catching an Uber or Lyft can help you avoid those headaches.

Here are a few things to consider for train travel for business:

  • Purchasing tickets online is often the best way to take advantage of deals. You can also decrease your costs by purchasing a rail pass if you know you’re going to make several trips via train in a given timeframe.
  • Amtrak offers a mobile app that streamlines your booking and boarding process. You can purchase your ticket through the app and display it during check-in as you would an airline ticket.
  • Amtrak has a loyalty program and accruing points can help you offset the purchase of your ticket just like you do when you book with an airline.
  • If you want to use the train for a multi-city tour with a day or two between cities, you need to purchase individual tickets for each leg of the trip.
  • Wifi and dedicated quiet cars give you the opportunity to make the most of the time spent en route writing that proposal, setting up appointments, or participating in a conference call. To ensure access to these amenities, be sure to book your ticket in business class.
  • Some train stations have business class lounges that allow you to work in a quiet, internet-equipped space as you wait for your train. This area creates a far more conducive atmosphere for conducting business than the crowded waiting area at a gate before a flight.
  • Train travel can have its delays, so be sure to adjust your arrival and departure times to ensure you don’t miss an important meeting due to unforeseen changes in the route’s timetable.
  • If you’d like to burn the midnight oil while you’re riding the rails, you can book a private bedroom and work as late as you need to before retiring. You’ll arrive refreshed at your destination.

Have you ever tried train travel for business? Did it make a difference in your commuter headaches? Share your stories in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: PXHere.com (Creative Commons 0, Public Domain)

Business Travel Habits by Generation

February 20, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

When we think about business travel habits, we generally believe that the aspects of it don’t vary much from person to person. Hop in the car or on a plane, go to your destination, do your thing, and go home. This is how travel works in the most basic sense, and for decades, this is how the business travel industry has worked — on a one-size-fits-all basis.

But when Carlson Wagonlit Travel surveyed Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials with regard to their business travel habits and preferences, some very interesting distinctions emerged.

Solo vs Group Travel. It seems that Millennials prefer traveling in groups, more than Baby Boomers: nearly six out of 10 Millennials prefer to travel with someone else, while as many as 70 percent of Boomers will travel alone. Meanwhile, 58 percent of Gen X-ers will travel alone, and they’re less likely to travel with a colleague or family member.

An older man holding a newspaper waiting for a car to pass. Different generations approach their business travel differently.Safety Issues Personal safety is a big issue for Millennials. According to the survey 29 percent of them have canceled a business trip over concerns for their safety, while 20 percent of Gen X-ers have, and only 12 percent of Boomers. Those two groups are more willing to get on the ground and get specifics, particularly if they’re already familiar with the area and where the unrest is taking place in relation to where they will be.

Communication. When it comes to communication with family, colleagues, and clients once per day, Boomers just aren’t as interested in it: only 29 percent of them will keep in touch with anyone from home. But 38 percent of Gen X-ers will keep in touch, as will 45 percent of Millennials. The 18 –29 generation are more likely to turn to Skype while the Boomers will just pick up the phone. But all of them will use email almost equally when it comes to business communication with clients and colleagues.

Business travel habits may vary from generation to generation, but businesses and business travelers need to figure out how they want to deal with those differences. Should businesses require people to travel in groups more often, especially for personal safety? Is it more beneficial or a hassle to ask one generation to travel more like another? Or do you just let everyone follow their personal preferences as long as it doesn’t create disharmony around the office?

Share your comments with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Skitterphoto (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)

Five Tips for Traveling in Winter

February 15, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Traveling in winter isn’t for the faint of heart. It can be discouraging and downright frustrating to try to “move about the country” when Mother Nature seems out to get you. When I lived in Pennsylvania, near Scranton, I would often fly from Scranton to Philadelphia to my final destination.

Time after time, during the winter, my flight was usually canceled due to weather. Finally, in order to save myself the aggravation and be able to more accurately predict my itinerary, I decided to skip the Scranton leg of the flight and rent a car either to or from Philadelphia. I learned my lesson, and if I can ever help it, I skip the small regional flights during the winter months.

There are a few other things I learned about weatherproofing winter travel. While you can’t change the weather, these will at least give you options that keep you from being held hostage by it.

This is a common sight during travel in winter. This is a Norwegian SAS airplane on the ground and covered with snow.First, follow my lead. Don’t book a connecting flight through a city that has a reputation for being hit hard by winter storms: Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Detroit, and Boston. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for some sort of delay or cancellation. If you have to make connecting flights, make them in southern cities less likely to get hit with major winter weather — Atlanta, Dallas, Phoenix. I’ve seen flights from Detroit to Portland, Oregon make a layover in Dallas rather than Chicago, which avoided big snowstorms.

Better yet, book non-stop whenever possible. Sure, you may not get as many frequent flier miles, but you’ll get where you’re going and eliminate one possible leg where you might end up getting stuck because the connecting airport got snowed or iced in for 24 hours.

Always try to book your travel to depart first thing in the morning. When weather delays occur later in the day, you’re already out of the worst of it or your flight may be one of the few that gets out at all. Also, those on earlier flights have more rebooking options than those who wait until later in the day to change their itinerary or return home.

Never be without extra clothing. Even if it’s just a couple pairs of fresh undergarments, pack enough so that if you are delayed or stranded, you won’t have to wash out anything in the sink and hope it dries overnight in the hotel bathroom.

Finally, build time into your schedule so that you can afford to absorb a delay or cancellation. While this is smart travel advice throughout the year, it’s particularly wise to do this when traveling in winter: don’t schedule your arrival on the actual day you’re expected to give a presentation or close a big deal. Getting there the day before will ensure you’re there when you need to be, not sitting at the airport texting colleagues explaining why you’re not.

Most importantly, when you’re traveling during the winter, remain flexible, be aware of your options before you leave, and have backup plans. And if you can, work with a travel agent who can put all this together and make the quick changes on your behalf instead of you stressing out about it.

How do you deal with traveling in winter? Do you have any tips that help you get where you’re going? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Pxhere.com (Pxhere.com, CC0, Public Domain)

PreCheck and Global Entry Merger Considered

February 13, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are considering merging their respective “trusted traveler” programs, which means you don’t have to choose which program to use if you travel both domestically and internationally.

According to David Pekoske, Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) Administrator, easing traveler headaches across both the domestic and international systems is the main reason he is evaluating the idea with his colleague Kevin McAleenan, CBP Commissioner.

PreCheck, administered by TSA, provides travelers the option to go through a screening process that, for a fee, puts them at the proverbial “front of the line” when navigating security. Global Entry, administered by CBP, provides many of similar benefits for those wanting to streamline their customs and immigration process when re-entering the country after traveling abroad.

TSA PreCheck sign showing the way to an empty pathway, next to a line packed with people.This means, if you travel abroad frequently, you need PreCheck to leave the country fast, and Global Entry to get back in just as quickly.

Pekoske told TravelPulse.com the maintenance of two distinct infrastructures for PreCheck and Global Entry is a “big duplication of effort, sometimes in the very same airport.”

Currently, both programs support 12 million travelers. Sharing technology advances and data is another reason the idea is attractive to Pekoske. Global Entry, run by CBP, already uses facial recognition, while TSA doesn’t yet have the ability to use this when screening travelers, and that additional security measure appeals to DHS.

The travel industry is watching this development closely, and is all for the merger. According to Eben Peck, executive vice president, advocacy, for the American Society of Travel Agents, “Having two trusted traveler programs with similar costs, benefits, and application procedures has proved to be, at times, confusing and frustrating for travelers. A single program allowing travelers to get through the airport screening process quickly would be a welcome development, and we urge DHS to move this concept forward.”

There is no timeline for moving this concept forward from talking to implementation, but anything that would streamline the processes would be advantageous to the flying public.

Do you use PreCheck or Global Entry? Would you like to see the two merged? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Grant Wickes (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

How to Find a Cheap Hotel Room

February 6, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

According to Nomadic Matt (no, not me), former cubicle dweller and 9-to-5-er turned full-time traveler, finding a cheap hotel room isn’t as much about database results as it is about knowing what you want.

Having traveled the world full time since 2006 and authoring How to Travel the World on $50 a Day, he qualifies as an expert about how to do worldwide travel on the cheap. While he typically stays in hostels and books through Airbnb, he knows that there comes a time when those options aren’t available or may not be preferred by other travelers.

So he did a little experiment. He created an itinerary and plotted it on the major hotel booking sites, Agoda, Booking.com, HotWire, Orbitz, and Travelocity. What he found surprised him.

Hotel pricing is a lot more set than airline pricing and tends to fluctuate less. I wouldn’t spend hours searching hotel websites or days tracking prices like people do with airline prices. I’d spend, at the most, 30 minutes on booking a hotel. I found that the variation between sites isn’t enough to justify more time.

Hotel room in the Renaissance Columbus, OHHe did find that there were two clear winners in this site war experiment: Booking.com and Agoda.com. While they didn’t aggregate the largest number of places to compare, each provided him with the best selection of cheap establishments.

His opinion of Orbitz and Travelocity were mixed because both are owned by Expedia and therefore pull from the same databases for their results. He also found that they tended to provide results toward higher end of what he was requesting.

While he felt Priceline and Hotwire gave him excellent results, he didn’t like not knowing what hotel he was choosing until after he’d paid for his irrevocable reservation.

Based on his research, here are Matt’s suggestions for booking a cheap hotel.

Look at hotel websites directly. They often offer deals and will match whatever price you find on another website. Booking directly allows you to accrue loyalty points, which translate into free nights in the future, but you can only rack up points if you book direct.

About loyalty programs—sign up. “The best way to stay cheap is to stay for free,” Matt says. There are other ways to earn points besides stays, such as using credit cards that tie to the hotel chain you like, and shopping portals.

Bartering may work. If you want a better rate, you won’t know if they can give you one unless you ask. The best times to ask are mid-week and during non-peak travel times when the hotel may have empty rooms it’s trying to fill.

Membership has its privileges, and members of AAA and AARP get discount rates. Something you may not know is that AARP is open to anyone, not just people who are in their 50s!

Another little known way to earn loyalty points and increase your status is to purchase discount hotel gift cards. They allow you to book hotel rooms at discounted rates too. Giftcardgranny.com is just one example of such a site.

Lastly, take advantage of someone else’s reservation. Their cancelled reservation, to be exact. If someone cancels a reservation at a hotel, rather than being stuck holding the bathrobe, hotels often put these rooms on sites such as Roomer.com at discounted rates so that they can recoup a portion of the cost. Someone else’s loss could be your gain, so check it out if you’re looking for a room a day or two before you need it.

How do you shop for hotel rooms? Do you have any tips or tricks for finding cheaper hotel rooms, especially without sacrificing comfort? Leave your ideas for us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: David Jensen (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

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