It’s never been easier to find and book a hotel room. But with so many options out there, finding the best deal on a room that suits your needs can be a challenge.
Money expert Clark Howard owned his own travel agency and books dozens of hotel rooms every year. Here’s how he does it and how you can, too.
Editor’s Note: Make sure you check the COVID-19 travel rules and restrictions for your destination along with the policies for the hotel you book.
Book a Hotel Room in 5 Steps
Thanks to the internet, you can book a hotel room in a matter of seconds. But if you take just a little more time and follow these steps, you’re likely to find a room that’s perfect for you at a great price.
Table of Contents:
- Decide What Kind of Room You Need
- Search for the Best Deal Using Your Parameters
- Book a Refundable Room
- Search for Better Deals on Priceline and Hotwire Before Your Trip
- Cancel Your Original Booking (if Necessary)
1. Decide What Kind of Room You Need
The first thing you’ll need to do when you’re going somewhere that will require a hotel stay is to figure out exactly what kind of room you’ll need.
Important considerations in most cases will include:
- Location: If you’re traveling to a small town, your options will likely be limited, so this may not be a big deal. But if you’re heading to, say, New York City, you’ll want to make sure your hotel is centrally located to the places you want to go.
- Amenities: Do you need one bed or two? Do you need a kitchenette? Are you planning to bring a pet along? Do you want access to a pool? These are just some of the questions to consider when you’re booking.
- Quality: Most booking sites will rate properties on a scale from one to five stars. The more stars a hotel has, generally, the higher quality it will be. You should determine how much comfort you might be willing to sacrifice in order to save money.
- Reviews: Just because a hotel has four stars doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to meet your expectations. Be sure to ratings and reviews on sites such as Expedia and Tripadvisor, written by people who have actually stayed there. Those reviews can often be the best indicator of whether you’ll be comfortable or not at a particular hotel.
2. Search for the Best Deal Using Your Parameters
Once you’ve decided exactly what you’re looking for, it’s time to search for the best available deal that meets your specifications. There are a number of websites out there that act as aggregators, basically giving you access to most hotels in the U.S. and many around the world.
Here are some of Team Clark’s go-to sites for searching hotel rooms:
All of these sites allow you to search according to the parameters decided in Step 1, though the options may vary slightly from one to the next. The more specific you can be with your needs, the better you’ll be able to narrow your options.
You’ll probably notice that the prices for individual rooms you see on these sites will be pretty similar but not always identical. Sometimes sites will have agreements with hotels to sell discounted rooms. These sites might also run promotions that will give you a certain percentage off any hotel booking.
You want to be careful to note that the price includes all fees and taxes, so be sure to read the fine print. Understanding the total cost of the room is the only way to compare apples to apples when you’re doing this search.
3. Book a Refundable Room
The next step to this process is key: At this point, you want to book only a refundable room.
While you might see a better price on a non-refundable room — even at the same hotel — you want to give yourself some wiggle room unless you are booking a week or less in advance. After all, your travel plans might change, or you may have to cancel your trip altogether.
“If I’m flying somewhere — you usually book your airfare pretty well in advance — I also book a hotel room at the same time,” Clark says. “I book the best deal I can find for where I’m going but always a refundable room.”
Doing this leaves you the option to cancel the reservation if you find a better deal in the days leading up to your trip. So one last tip in this: Note the cancellation deadline before you book.
4. Search for Better Deals on Priceline and Hotwire Before Your Trip
That’s where the next step comes in: turning to Clark’s two favorite secret weapons for finding the absolute best price.
“I already know I have a room if I need it,” he says. “But I want a deal! So what I do is heavily concentrate on Hotwire and Priceline, two sources where you don’t know where you’re staying until you book non-refundable.”
Clark understands that some people might be uncomfortable with not knowing the name of their hotel before they make a non-refundable reservation. That’s why we published our guide to finding out which Hotwire or Priceline hotel you’re getting before you book.
As for when you’re likely to find the best deals on those sites, Clark has a strategy:
“I’ll check throughout the time period leading up to my travel, but I especially concentrate one week out and less. A lot of times, the best deals are the last few days before you travel.”
Clark also checks a couple of other specialty hotel booking sources to compare prices to what he finds on Priceline and Hotwire including:
- HotelTonight: Offers discounted hotel rooms for last-minute or flexible travelers
- Roomer: Lets you buy beds from motivated sellers who bought nonrefundable rooms
5. Cancel Your Original Booking (if Necessary)
The last thing you need to do — assuming you’ve found a better deal on Hotwire, Priceline or another site — is to cancel your original refundable booking. Most of the time, you’ll be able to do this up to 24 or 48 hours in advance of your check-in date.
“Occasionally that room you booked when you booked your airline deal will be the best hotel deal you’ll find,” Clark says. “But if you do it my way, most of the time you’re going to save big bucks.”
If this process is a little bit different from the way you’ve booked hotel rooms in the past, it might seem like a lot of effort. The reality is that it only takes slightly more time than booking the first low price you see. In the end, following these steps will likely land you in a room that you’ll love — and one that will cost you considerably less money.