Over the years I’ve checked out all kinds of discount programs while traveling around the U.S. that promise great rates on motels: AAA, the Entertainment book, and all the various booking sites for a start. Over and over again though, the best rates come from an old-school source: those printed coupon books you pick up at Interstate rest stops.
I just used one of these again a few nights ago while driving down to Florida. South of Atlanta the three of us stayed in a Baymont Inn for under 50 bucks, breakfast for three included. Free Wi-Fi and ice for the cooler too. The lowest rate I’ve found online since for the same hotel is $59—and that’s the advance payment rate through the Baymont site. Other booking services were more and usually tack on a fee on top the taxes (which were 10% in this case.)
I maybe could have gotten a better rate for an unknown motel by using Hotwire, but at this level the most I could have saved is $5, not enough to make up for the uncertainty. If I were alone and less picky, there were a few cheapo motels off the same exit that were under $40.
This has been my experience road-tripping across multiple states in the U.S. If you’re staying in a nicer place, like 2.5 stars and above, it makes sense to book online. If you don’t care which hotel you end up in, you can save a bundle using Hotwire or Priceline. If you’re just looking for a cheap place to crash for the night though as you move from point A to point B, hit the coupon book racks when you stop for a bathroom break. The best selection is usually at the state’s welcome center after you cross a state line. You can routinely shave 5-20% off the best rate you can find online—and some of these cheapo places aren’t even in the system at Expedia or Orbitz.
Don’t forget that even these rates and terms are open to negotiation. If the rate listed is for a single and you’re two people, call from the road on your cell phone and see if you can get the same deal for a double. If it’s 11 at night and you’re in a haggling mood, call (or just show up) and see if you can get a discount: no hotel manager likes to turn down a chance to fill and empty room, especially when you’ll be in and out in eight hours.
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