How to Get Cheap Lodging: Hotels, Hostels, and Homestays – T-Rex Travel Tips, Part 3

For me, one of the sneakiest expenses of travel is the cost of lodging, especially on a multi-day trip. $100 is a pretty reasonable price for a hotel (to me), but if you’re staying for 3 nights, it adds up quickly! Combine that with the ridiculous list of hospitality taxes and fees, and before you know it, your $100-a-night hotel now costs $140 a night, and you’re poor. No? Just me?

It doesn’t have to be that way, though! Here are some of my favorite ways to save money on lodging.

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I spent way too much time thinking about this, and I’m now wondering if the bank really DOESN’T accept checks written in crayon. Can someone try?

1) Pick a brand and stick with it.

Just like airlines, hotels have loyalty clubs too! While brand loyalty may not necessarily be the cheapest option in the short term, it can definitely save you money in the long run as you build up enough points for free nights – especially if you travel for work. When I first started traveling for my old job, I never cared what hotel I stayed at until I realized how many points I was missing on that I wasn’t even paying for! If you work for a company that books your travel for you, give them your hotel club loyalty number so they can add it in when they book. There is nothing better than getting points for a hotel someone else is paying for! If you are one of the lucky people that works for a company that allows you to pay for your own hotel and then get reimbursed (I’m serious, this is lucky!), consider getting a branded hotel credit card like the IHG Rewards Visa or a flexible travel points card like the Chase Sapphire. This way, you’re getting points just for staying, plus the points for each dollar you spend! It adds up really quickly.

Of course, sometimes you will pay more to stay at your hotel brand of choice when there are considerably cheaper comparable options. Personally, although I try to stick with the IHG brand (Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, etc) because of my Platinum loyalty status with that brand, I do draw the line at some point. If the Holiday Inn is $20 more than the La Quinta and I’ll get points for it plus all the perks that come with Platinum status (free room upgrades, late checkout, etc), it’s probably worth it to me. If it’s $50 more, probably not. It just depends.

Example of the benefits: my entire hotel stay for the Chicago marathon was free (4 nights – about $1000 in hotel costs), several of our nights in Japan will be free (about $600), plus many other random nights have been free simply because I have accumulated a ton of points! Also, my Platinum status with IHG means I am guaranteed a hotel room if I call 72 hours in advance, even if the hotel is sold out. Do you know how helpful that is for marathons where all the hotels are sold out within a 20 mile radius? Yeah.

2) Try Booking.com if you aren’t sure where you want to stay.

Booking.com is one of my favorite hotel websites. Unlike the better known Hotels.com, Booking.com compiles the results of big hotel chains, smaller boutique hotels, hostels, and BnBs all in one place. The best part about this site is it reserves your room and rate without charging any fees up front, making it super easy to change your mind if you find a better deal elsewhere or your travel planes change. For example, when I found out I got into the Tokyo Marathon, I knew hotels close to the start and finish would sell out quickly. I must have booked and canceled 5 rooms before one opened up at the hotel I wanted at a great price! If I had panicked about a sell out and paid up front for the rooms, like many sites require you to, I would not have been able to get the room I wanted when it opened up. I also like that it puts many different types of lodging in one place rather than just focusing on the big hotels.

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Sorry I’m not sorry for changing my marathon hotel room 18 times.

3) Use the HotelTonight app if  you need a cheap place to stay at the last minute.

HotelTonight is an up-and-comer on the travel app scene. It offers great prices on hotels booked for same-day use, although it can be used to book hotels earlier as well. If you use code DHASTINGS6 when you sign up, you’ll get an automatic credit of $25 to use towards your first booking! The app is available on Android and Apple products, but it’s not a website, so you’ll need a smartphone or tablet for access. It’s super easy to use and very convenient if you find yourself suddenly in need of a hotel or have a little bit of flexibility.

4) Open your mind to the idea of hostels.

Hostels aren’t just for partying college students anymore. They also aren’t all dormitory style! In fact, many hostels offer the option of a private room and bathroom for much less than you’d pay at a hotel. While they will almost certainly be more bare-bones than your standard hotel, it’s still a good option if expenses are a concern. Hostelworld.com  is a great resource for finding hostels and smaller hotels, and you can find out what type of hostel you’re looking at. That’s important, because some hostels definitely are geared more towards the party scene while others are family-owned and geared towards adults. Amanda and I found a very highly rated hostel in Bogota in the safest, most expensive part of town where we’ll have our own room and bathroom for 1/3 of the price of the local hotels – AND it had higher ratings on TripAdvisor!

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Our hostel in Colombia! Doesn’t look crappy to me.

5) Get frequent flyer miles (and a low rate) with Rocketmiles.

I touched on this in my post about flying for free, but Rocketmiles  offers great rates on hotels while also giving you airline miles for your favorite frequent flyer program. Recently, I booked a room at the host hotel for the Sedona Marathon for $90 less than the posted rate and earned 4,000 United miles to boot.

6) Stay like a local with Airbnb.

Airbnb is a major disrupter to the traditional hotel model. If you haven’t heard of this service, Airbnb allows people to open up their homes for rent. You can rent an entire home or apartment, a single room, or share a room, often in areas where hotels are prohibitively expensive, such as downtown Manhattan or Tokyo. Although I’ve never shared a room with anyone before, Amanda and I did rent a room in an occupied house on several occasions when we were in Alaska this summer. Hotels were really expensive there, and we saved a lot of money this way. Everyone we stayed with was very nice and not weird, and we never felt unsafe. When we were in Aspen, we were able to get a great condo downtown for about 1/4 of the going rate of hotel rooms at the time, and we had the whole place to ourselves. The best thing about Airbnb, in my opinion, is the flexibility of check-in and check-out, especially when you are doing a marathon! The owners have always been super understanding about us needing to have time to shower after the race, and those of you who have ever been kicked out of your hotel or not allowed late check-out after a race know exactly how valuable that is!

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This is possible with Airbnb.

7) Couch surfing is a thing.

I’m not a couch surfer, but this is a thing. In fact, I have a friend that regularly hosts “surfers” and loves meeting new people! The premise is that people open their couches/spare rooms/air mattresses to travelers for free. You build a profile on the site and then connect with people who have availability in their home or are traveling to your area. While this isn’t exactly my cup of tea, if you’re really on a budget, it’s definitely an option! My friend has not yet been murdered.

8) Best Rate Guarantees are your friend.

This one requires a bit of research, but most hotel brands and travel websites out there will actually match the price or give you a free night or merchant credit if you find a lower advertised rate for a hotel room. This blog post by Travel is Free offers a comprehensive list of Best Rate Guarantees and links you to the terms and conditions of each site. If you spend enough time doing the research, it is almost always possible to get free or very cheap rooms. At the bare minimum, this should encourage you to spend at least a minimal amount of time researching prices for rooms!

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See the best rate. Get the best rate. YOU ARE THE BEST RATE.

9) Use Hotel Aggregators.

On that note, it’s very helpful to quickly search sites like Kayak, Priceline, etc. that list a variety of internet prices for the same hotel or the same city all in one place. Never assume that the prices on one site are the lowest. At a minimum, I always search Kayak, Priceline, and Booking and then also check the individual hotel’s website. While this might seem like a lot of work, it’s really not. It takes just a few minutes and can save you a ton of money! Don’t be lazy.

10) Find some travel buddies.

If I had to pick one thing (besides hotel points) that has saved me the most money on travel over the years, it would be traveling and staying with friends. When I travel for a marathon, if I’m not staying at someone’s home, I always split a hotel room with at least 1 and preferably 3 other people. Is it the most comfortable thing in the entire room? No. Would I rather have a bathroom all to myself? Yes. But the fact of the matter is that I simply travel for races way too often to be that picky, especially if it is just for a night or two. Even if you’re not a member of the Marathon Maniacs or Half Fanatics, you can still join their Facebook groups and look for people who want to share a room. Are there psychos on those groups? Maybe, but I’ve never stayed with one or had a bad experience. It’s all a matter of what you’re comfortable with. You can always check the race’s Facebook group, too!

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It DOES suck. And it’s expensive.

WHEW! This was much longer than I expected. LEAVE A COMMENT: What is your favorite way to save money on lodging?

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