Browsing Posts tagged hotel bargains

cheap hotel

This $10 Mexican hotel is NOT on Expedia!

I get asked a lot about how to save money on travel and while I can guide people to one of my books or this cheap travel blog, I don’t really have one easy-to-skim post on it though. So here are a few websites, apps, and methods I tend to go back to time and again. Some of these are affiliate links where you’ll buy me a pack of gum or a beer if you buy through them, but the cost is the same to you whether it’s one of those or a straight-up link.

Airfare Deals

Getting a good price on a flight and figuring out the total cost is still far more difficult than it should be, mostly because the airlines like it that way. Especially the crappy U.S. legacy carriers (and even worse Spirit Air), who seem to thrive on being hated. Packing light helps, as does avoiding peak periods. So does being flexible.

On that note, I really like Google Flights as a place to start. They took the old ITA Software program and added one key function: the ability to search fares from any airport, to anywhere, for any dates. It’s all right there on an interactive map. So if you live in Orlando, you can also check what it costs to go anywhere from Miami or Tampa. You can see if it would make sense to fly to an alternate airport where you’re going or to leave two days earlier. You can then click through from there or book elsewhere.

Flight searches

From MEX, Montreal is cheaper than Dallas, but Chicago is $292 round trip!

For international fares, I use Vayama a lot as they seem to figure out multi-airline combinations better than the others. Always shop around! There’s no one website (including the airfare’s own) that always gives you the best deal. On the go, it’s useful to have Skyscanner and Kayak on your phone. But remember that many budget airlines don’t feed into those booking systems. You need to go direct for those.

This assumes you have to actually pay for your flight. If you can build up miles and use those, even better. If you’ve got the time to peruse the blogs over at the Boarding Area or by using other ones you’ve read before, you’ll get plenty of free advice. FlyerTalk is great too if you can decode the frequent flyer geek speak. Otherwise, it can be useful to sign up for the Travel Hacking Cartel and get it all spoon-fed to you in a pretty package.

Hotel Deals

This is easier than flights because you don’t have to go many places to shop around. If you’re wanting to book a specific hotel, go to Trivago and see a whole bunch of prices from different booking sites in one place. Where that’s usually not enough is parts of Asia (use Agoda to drill down to more options), in much of Africa, and in Latin America south of Mexico, where you have to really do some digging around sometimes.

The oldies but goodies Hotwire and Priceline bidding still work well in allowing you to save a bundle on unused inventory. Search for a message board like this one to get the inside scoop on what others have paid where you’re going. If it’s last-minute, you might get a good deal the same day from the HotelTonight app. Or go old school and just start wheeling and dealing—in person or on the phone. Nobody likes to let a room sit empty if there’s a way they can rent it to you. But you have to get to someone who has the power to make a decision, which is usually the front desk manager or owner.

Hotel Tonight App room

A $68 place from HotelTonight

Remember one key thing, especially for international trips: a LOT of hotels and inns are not listed on the big booking sites. That costs them money they don’t have, so you have to find them through internet searches, guidebooks, message boards, and TripAdvisor. Or look at HostelBookers, which has more than hostels if you go to the “private room” option.

Of course maybe you don’t need a hotel at all. Between vacation rentals, couchsurfing, house-sitting, and home exchange, there are lots of other ways to get a place to crash. Often they’ll have more space too.

Rental Cars

Enterprise is one of my advertisers at Perceptive Travel, so lately I’m using them (and their National and Alamo brands) a lot. But unless you have some kind of loyalty consideration or status, again Hotwire is your best friend. I’ve routinely gotten cars for half price through them and did it matter any on the booking or pickup? Not that I can remember. Otherwise shop around, check your favorite airline site for mileage bonus earning opportunities, and book the smallest car you can tolerate: half the time you’ll get upgraded to something bigger. Also make sure you have a credit card with rental car insurance perks, Then you can safely ignore all the sales pitches for domestic rentals. Internationally, you’ll probably want to cough up some money for insurance to be safe.

Lisbon tram

Local Transportation

In some countries, taxi fares can kill you in a hurry. In places like India, central Mexico, Nicaragua, or Ecuador, it’s a few dollars to go anywhere in town. The ride from the airport is usually the big expense though, so if you can find a way around that, go for it

Local transportation passes can save you some money, especially if you’re in a city with a good subway/tram/bus system that will get you everywhere you need to go. Some of those tourist cards have a transportation pass included too, but use a calculator to figure out if they’ll really save you anything. Sometimes you’d have to be on a whirlwind museum tour just to break even.

If you have a student ID of some kind, whip it out every time you buy any official transportation. You can often get a discount. This is true for seniors and teachers as well.

Your Turn

What app, website, or hack have you found that has saved you big bucks on multiple occasions?

Bolivia to Chile

Sometimes you have to make your own path…

Why do some people always seem to travel for cheap and others search in vain for deals that elude them? Often it comes down to a combination of patience, persistence, and creativity. As creative thinking author Roger Von Oech advised, often you need to find “the second right answer.”

Next week I’m traveling from Mexico to South Carolina on a Delta frequent flier ticket. Their miles are often derisively referred to as “Skypesos” because they’re so hard to cash in compared to most other airlines. Getting the lowest level awards are next to impossible. But…this is the fourth time I’ve flown Delta for free, so it’s close to impossible, not completely so.

I managed this, as I’ve done the other times, by basing my travel dates on when Delta had availability, not when it was most convenient for me. I’ll make all kinds of changes in my travel schedule if it’s the difference in paying $50 in cash-in fees or $550 to buy a ticket.

Over the past few years, due to some smart travel hacking efforts, I’ve flown for free (except for taxes and fees) to four continents, plus a few domestic flights. Rarely was this as simple as punching in my dates and hitting the booking button. Here are a few contortions that were required to cash in all those miles for almost-free tickets:

  • I flew American to Bolivia and LAN back from Chile because neither had openings both ways.
  • I started and ended my four-country tour of Eastern Europe not in Sofia, as I’d planned, but in Budapest because that’s where I could get a mileage ticket flight the time of year I wanted.
  • My family returned from Southeast Asia on a different airline than me.
  • My daughter and I moved to Guanajuato a week earlier than my wife because we were paying and she was using mileage.
  • I got an extra cheap hotel room one night in Salt Lake City because the date I wanted to fly out on mileage wasn’t available. The next day was.

Be a Travel Deals Detective

This kind of willingness to be flexible also applies when you’re paying. I recently got quoted in this Reuters article about flying an unaccompanied minor because they liked my story about how I avoided paying United Airlines $300 to put my daughter in a seat by herself. I accompanied her up and back on Allegiant, then she returned on JetBlue. It took some time and a calculator to figure all that out, but we saved a a few hundred bucks and it all went smoothly. creative travel savings

Hotels? Go beyond the typical booking engines everyone uses. For normal hotel deals, try and get a look at what everyone is charging. If you just need a chain hotel in a certain area, use Hotwire or Priceline bidding. Try the HotelTonight app if it’s last-minute.

If all else fails, use none of them and go old school, researching independent options that don’t want to pay the big booking sites. Look at guidebooks, destination websites, and the third page of TripAdvisor for hidden gems. Ask friends of friends. Or if you’re staying a while, rent a home or apartment.

If you’re coming up empty finding a reasonably priced way to get from A to B, make sure you’re looking at all the options. From Megabus to Amtrak, Easyjet to AirAsia, one-way rental cars to alternate airports, there multiple possibilities to try before giving up.

Travel is so much easier than it was when I started 20 years ago, but it’s also easier than ever to overspend. It’s easier to mistake info that pops up in your first search as the final word. Really, it’s just a starting point. Dig deeper and wider to find a better answer.

Siem Reap Angkor

Until Burma reaches a point of real reform and starts getting the promised foreign investment coming in, Cambodia will hold the crown as the best travel value in Southeast Asia. What you get for your money is unbelievable sometimes, yet you don’t have to go way off the beaten path to find the bargains.

In Cambodia you can travel in a manner that feels way above your budget. If you spend $30 on a room it’ll come with air-con, maid service, a great breakfast, TV, fridge, and maybe even a pool. If you spend $5 on a meal it’ll be in a pretty nice restaurant and probably include a beer or two. If you have to break down and take a tuk-tuk or taxi across town, that’ll set you back two or three dollars. So naturally, if you’re used to doing everything on a shoestring and want to keep that going, you can really make your budget last by hanging out here for a month.

Without the vast distances you have to navigate in Indonesia or even Vietnam, you can get to most anywhere you need to go the same day.

Here are some sample prices for Cambodia, from my mid-range family trip this past summer, from my notes, and from articles and blog posts I bookmarked before and after. Almost everything is priced in U.S. dollars here—even in the supermarkets—so you rarely use local currency.

Hotel & Hostel Prices in Cambodia

This country has gone from being critically underserved on lodging to being in the midst of a building boom, so there’s plenty to choose from in every price range. You have to negotiate on the spot to get a private room without paying the two-person rate: couples or friends traveling together get a better deal. A triple or family suite is generally just 1/3 more than a double at cheapie places, even less at nicer ones. Some hostels have free laundry, almost all have free Wi-Fi.

Hostel bed: $4 -$7, usually including Wi-Fi, sometimes breakfast
Cheap double room, fan-cooled, shared bath: $5 – $12
Cheap double room, air-con, private bath: $8 – $18
Mid-range room with hotel amenities, maid service, breakfast: $16 – $50
Deluxe room with elevator, bellhops, pool: $40 – $200

(There are very few hotels where guests pay more than $200 per night for a standard room. When I searched Siem Reap hotels on Trivago for two weeks from now I only found 8.)

Siem Reap restaurant

Food & Drink in Cambodia

This is where you really get the full benefit of local pricing. As long as you eat what’s grown in the region and don’t need a daily fix of imported items, this is a place where you can eat out three meals a day and spend less than $5 if you go where the locals go. Step up to a nicer restaurant with waiters and you can still get a meal for a few bucks. Often our family of three would completely chow down on multiple courses in Siem Reap and I’d have a few beers, my daughter would get a fruit shake. The bill would come and it would be $11 or $12.

cheap beerStreet or market stall meal: 50 cents to $1.50
Basic restaurant main dish: $1 – $3
Nicest non-hotel restaurant in town, meal for two: $35 – $60 with a bottle of wine
Draft/bottle beer: 50 cents/75 cents – $1.50/$2
Soda or coffee: 50 cents – $1.50
Fruit shake: 50 cents – $1.50
Cocktail: $1 – $4

Transportation Prices

Siem Reap to Phnom Penh by boat: $35
Same route by bus: $6 – $13 (working A/C and Wi-Fi).
Bus from Phnom Penh to the beaches: $4 – $6
Taxi from Phnom Penh to the beaches: $50 – $60 (up to 4 people)
Bus to Saigon, Vietnam: $6 – $14
Bus to Thai border from Siem Reap: $9
Taxi to/from Thai border to Siem Reap: $30 – $48 (up to 4 people)
Flight to Vietnam: $100 – $300
Tuk-tuk ride: $1 – $2 local, $10 – $16 for the day
Taxi: $1 – $4 local, $15 – $50 for the day depending on distance, negotiations. (If there’s a meter, $1 per 2kms)
Motorcycle taxi – $6 – $9 around Ankor Wat for the day.
Motorbike rental (not allowed in Siem Reap): $6 – $25 per day, weekly rates are cheaper.
Bike rentals: $1 – $3 per day

Other Traveler Prices:

CambodiaAngkor Wat region admission: $20 one day, $40 three days, $60 one week
One-hour massage: $5 – $8
One-hour four-hand massage: $10 – $15
Manicure/pedicure: $3 – $5
Laundry service: $1 – $2 per kilo
Local tours: $15 – $35 per person
Mobile phone Sim card: starts at $5
(Illegal) MP3 albums/movies: $1/$2

If you want to move to Cambodia to live for a while, you can’t buy property without partnering up with a local, but you can get a 99-year lease, which works for most people. International Living says you can rent a 2BR beach house in Sihanoukville for as little as $150 a month and get by there on $525 a month total in living expenses.

Related post with pics: What $50 a night gets you for a hotel in Southeast Asia

Miami hotels

Do you typically go to one or two sites to check hotel prices before booking? Do you change those sites depending on the region?

Even if you do, you’re probably paying too much.

One of the companies I’ve partnered up with over at Perceptive Travel is Trivago. Since I’ve starting using them to search for the best hotel deals, I’ve seen dramatic differences between the various online travel agencies and you can rarely point to one of them as being consistently lower in price than others.

A lot of American travelers haven’t heard of Trivago because they’re based in Europe. The closest thing to it here is Kayak, but I don’t have to look at 3 display ads from outside companies and three blocks of Google Adsense ads on Trivago. And I don’t have to uncheck boxes that will send me to three more booking sites. (If Kayak already gives you the best results, why do they want to send you to Orbitz or Priceline? Because they get a few cents every time you leave the boxes checked and those windows open, that’s why).

So this site delivers multiple results like Kayak, but it loads faster and has a cleaner interface, without a bunch of distracting ads blinking and expanding on the sides of the page.

Hungary hotel search

Trivago pulls from 141 booking sites in all, so if you search for a Budapest hotel deal, you’ll get 1,149 hotels in the results. Whoa, that’s a lot of hotels! When I searched Miami Beach hotels for an upcoming trip, there were 365 of them to choose from. Thankfully you can narrow this down by price, distance, ratings, or popularity on the general side, lots of specific factors (like star category, amenities, and type of hotel) on the left sidebar. If I drilled that Budapest list down to 3-star hotels within a mile and a half of the city center, I got 13 results. All but one were $100 or less.

Here’s why using a metasearch site like this matters though. In those results, the lowest price for various choices came from six different booking sites. Sometimes Agoda was lower, sometimes, sometimes Vivastay or EasytoBook. This is why just going to Expedia every time is a bad idea, especially for international locations.

I also like this site because it gives you different room options from various sites. So you may see a difference of $10 for a standard double, but a difference of $50 for a junior suite. Or you may click on a hotel on the same block and find a similar junior suite $60 less than that.

There’s a lot to sift through in some cities and that can be a bit daunting. But if you use the filters to home in on what you want, you can book through Trivago feeling confident that you’ve gotten the best possible deal, whether that deal was from Splendia, Agoda, GetaRoom, Venere, the hotel chain site, or a dozen sites you probably never would have checked otherwise.

If you’re going to potentially save $40 or more on your hotel bill, a few extra minutes spent on research would seem to be a good payoff.

Follow this link to find your cheap hotel deals.

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In most respects, Nicaragua is the cheapest place to travel in Latin America, which makes it the cheapest destination in the Americas period. Since it’s also close and easy to get to for a reasonable airfare, at least for those of us in the U.S. and Canada, your total cost for visiting Nicaragua is going to be lower than almost anywhere else you could go internationally.


This huge “meal of the day” was $2.50 with drink and tip

Naturally, you have to give up a little comfort in the process though. You’ll be on a “chicken bus” now and then if you get off the main tourist track. Budget hotel choices are a good value, but the selection and overall level of quality are not always up to what you find in Guatemala or even Honduras—again, outside the main tourist towns that is. In part this is because domestic demand hasn’t been there and while tourism numbers are growing fast, they’re still relatively small.

This is a country where you can feel like an adventurer though, with almost no tour buses in sight, affordable restaurants everywhere, cheap drinks, and limited hassles from touts and scammers. If you’re looking for somewhere to kick back for a while and let your budget recover, here you can do it in a beautiful colonial city (Granada), on a beach (San Juan del Sur or a more isolated surfing village), or in the mountains of coffee country.

At the time of writing, the exchange rate was 23 cordobas to the U.S. dollar. So if two happy hour cocktails are 35 as in a photo of a bar I visited below, that’s around $1.50.


A $52 splurge (with full breakfast) in Granada

Hotel and Hostel Prices in Nicaragua

Dorm bed: $3 – $8 per person, often incl. basic breakfast & Wi-Fi
Basic double room with shared bath: $6 – $15
Double room with private bath, A/C, TV, maybe a fridge: $10 – $30.
Nice double room with all that, good bedding, daily maid service, breakfast, maybe a pool: $25 – $60
(There are probably only about 12 hotels in all of Nicaragua where rates for a standard start at more than $125 double per night.)

Food & Drink in Nicaragua:

Market stall lunch: $1.50 – $3
Basic restaurant lunch: $2.50 – $7
All-you-can eat buffets: $4 – $8.
Fancy restaurant meal, cloth napkins: $7 – $15
(There are probably only about 20 restaurants outside Managua where you can spend $20+ per person on dinner excluding drinks.)

Flor de Caña rum, 4-year: $2.50 – $4 per liter
Flor de Caña rum, 7-year: $4 – $9 per liter depending on where.
Cheap local rum: $1 – $2.50 per liter.
Rum cocktail in a bar: $1 – $2.50.
Small beer in a bar: 60 cents to a dollar in a bar
Liter-sized beer in a bar: $1.50 – $2 (Less in a store or at happy hour.)

Seasonal fruit: 50 cents to $1 a pound
Tortillas: 50 cents for a handfull
Bread: 10-20 cents for sandwich roll, 50 cents for a baguette
Coffee: 50 cents to $1 a cup, from good local beans

Transportation in Nicaragua:

The regular buses in Nicaragua are mostly converted school buses discarded by U.S school systems and on their second life here. They can be slow and crowded, but will often only cost you a dollar or less to get you where you’re going.

Express bus: 60-80 cents per hour of travel.
Express minibus: around $1 from Managua to Granada, around $2 Managua to Leon.
Tourist door-to-door shuttle: pricey, but quick and air-conditioned. $27 for Granada to San Juan del Sur, $18 to $35 each between Granada and the Managua airport depending on group size.

Local buses in cities: 15 – 25 cents.
Taxi ride: 50 cents to $4 in city limits anywhere. $6 to go across Managua, more from the airport.
Taxi from the Ometepe ferry dock in San Jorge to the bus station in Rivas: $1 – $2 (depending on your bargaining skills.)


Ferry from San Jorge to the main port on Ometepe: $1.50 (small boat on the right above) to $3 (air-conditioned large ferry, on the left).
First-class air-conditioned seat on the overnight trip from Granada to San Miguelito: $9. (Second class is $4, but can get crazy crowded.)

Bike rental: $3 – $8 per day, less for half day.
Scooter/motorcycle rental: $12-$40 per day depending on quality, demand, season, and your bargaining patience.

Internal flights: $80 to $140 round trip on a puddle jumper prop plane.

Other Prices for Travelers in Nicaragua:

Hop-on, hop-off tourist site buses: $10 – $22 per person
Internet access in cafe: 75 cents to $1.50 per hour
Hourlong massage from a blind masseuse in Granada – $15
25-minute VoIP phone call home – $1 USA, $1.50 Europe
Museum admissions – 25 cents to $2