Last post I talked about why I still recommend Hotwire and Priceline a lot. But of course they’re not the only places to get a cheap hotel deal. Also, their reach is limited the further you get from the U.S.
So here’s a quickie list of websites worth checking out, depending on your budget range. Don’t forget the obvious one though: just show up. For hostels, guesthouses, and budget hotels, you’ll often get the best deal in person. This doesn’t work for peak periods—like summer in Europe or when a big festival packs the city—but normally you’ve got economics on your side in person. There are empty rooms, you’re willing to fill one, bargaining can ensue.
Free and Cheap Lodging
Booking a hostel or cheap place to crash is easier than it used to be. Just pull up a site like Hostelbookers or Hostelworld and you can see all the options. Prices, location, reviews, and photos. (See note about about showing up though—booking ahead means paying list price.)
Trusty guidebooks are still useful, though remember that the places listed in Lonely Planet don’t need your business very much and will be priced/packed accordingly. Often a better bet is to consult guides or websites run by people specializing in a region or country. Examples would be info and apps from Travelfish for Southeast Asia, Eurocheapo for Europe, or IndiaMike for the sub-continent. Or drill down further to sites like Yucatan Today or Guanajuato Guru in Mexico. Just do some targeted searches and you’ll often find a great resource on even obscure destinations you thought nobody had heard of before. These days Google will even roughly translate ones built in another language.
The cheapest option of all is…free. Couchsurfing is the best-known option for finding willing hosts around the world, but also try Hospitality Club or Global Freeloaders. (Or friends of friends.)
Mid-range Lodging Deals
Once you get about the $30-$50 range, depending on country, your options open up a lot. As mentioned before, Hotwire and Priceline work very well in many developed countries if you use message boards to figure out what you’re probably getting in this “blind” buying process. Otherwise, mid-range chain hotel prices don’t vary much from site to site: there are too many agreements in place to keep that from happening. In the U.S., one of the most reliable discount finders is very old-school: the motel coupon books you find at highway rest stops. Printed deals are usually excluded from the price-fixing arrangements online.
Otherwise, many of the methods listed for budget travelers still apply, especially the websites focused on a specific location. Andean Travel Web, for instance, has Cusco recommendations from $16 to $787 a night. And again, waiting until arrival can work at this level too, for independent hotels where the front desk person has some real authority to discount.
If you own your own home, or a vacation home somewhere, you can tap into the whole home exchange network and pay next to nothing. Someone stays in your house or apartment while you stay in theirs. There are formal programs for this like HomeExchange.com, or some find success targeting specific areas on Craigslist.
Or you can rent out someone’s pad short-term with AirBnB. You’ve probably heard about this place in the news, and not in a good way, but they’ve put a lot of new systems in place to give more confidence on both ends. This works especially well where hotels are crazy expensive, like New York City. For Europe, a similar site is Wimdu.com.
While the U.S. is dominated by chain hotels, many locations do have quite a few bed-and-breakfast hotels that are independent. Check BedandBreakfast.com for comprehensive listings and deals.
Guidebooks can often lead you to alternative options too, like state park cabins, campgrounds, or colleges renting out dormitories in the summer.
Luxury at a Discount
If you’re reading the Cheapest Destinations Blog, you’re probably not a luxury traveler. But hey, everyone likes a splurge now and then and for all I know you’re helping grandma plan a big family vacation.
The obvious choice for the high end in the most locations is Luxury Link. They run auctions on high-end properties that can snag you a significant discount. Also try SkyAuction, which is especially good for all-inclusives in resort areas. As mentioned in my last post, I also like Bookit.com for discounted resorts. If you or someone you’re traveling with has an Amex Platinum card, book with that and get all kinds of extra goodies thrown in.
If you go high-end on a regular basis, it makes sense to subscribe to one of the many (and growing) flash sale sites like Jetsetter. Even Groupon and Living Social are in on this act. Sometimes the deals are great, sometimes just barely.
Where do you go for free, cheap, or discounted places to stay?