How to get a great hotel deal (and other tips)

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From a flophouse opposite the bus station to seriously high-end jaw-droppers, hotels come in all shapes and sizes. But the desire for a good deal, smart service and a clean room is universal. Here are a few approaches to a perfect bed for the night.

One of the best deals in many cities is staying in private rooms in hostels. Though spartan, these rooms are clean and functional, and hostels are very good places to meet people. Bigger hostels also offer family rooms, which will be a big hit with kids.

If you’re thinking three-star or higher, look at serviced apartments. Usually aimed at the business traveller, these are often a hidden bargain. You’ll get cooking and laundry facilities and often even access to a gym and pool for the price of a pokey hotel room.

A gentle reminder: some things in hotels are there to not be used. The telephone is one. Is watching a movie in your room as much fun as going to the cinema? And room service will always cost more than a stroll out, or even ordering pizza in your room.

Think like a hotelier. If the hotel thinks there’s a chance you might bring future business to the hotel, they’ll look after you. Reasons could be that you’re planning to return with a group, holding an event there or even just passing through town several times.

Call the hotel directly rather than any reservations office – the hotel will have all the access to the inventory in the property. Booking directly may not always get you the best rate, but it does increase your chances of scoring a hotel upgrade. With the hotel getting a higher portion of your booking, you’re a more valuable customer to them and will be higher up the list to move to a better floor should the chance arise. Check online, and then call and negotiate.

Give the hotel chain a reason to upgrade you. If you’ve got a card, by all means flash it. Loyalty programs: join them. They work best if you pick one and stick to it, but hotels have been known to upgrade people just for joining a loyalty program on the spot – the best time to try this is at check-in. If you don’t get the bump, at least you’re earning points. However, there is a backlash going on in the industry against guests using ever-more-spurious reasons to get a better room on the cheap.

Aiming for a boutique hotel? Then look for both very new places that haven’t quite established themselves and those that were quite the buzz a year or two ago. New places price competitively when they’ve just opened, both to get off to a flying start and test-run the place. No-longer-quite-so-hip hotels won’t enjoy the same clamour for rooms they once did and may even be due a refit, so you may be able to use this to your advantage.

Rooms in private houses are, in many parts of the world, an excellent route to a good deal – as well as something that can offer you some real insight into how local people live there. In many places prospective hosts with rooms available meet new arrivals off of trains and planes, meaning if you haven’t booked somewhere in advance this could suit you. However, make sure you’re happy with the location of the lodging first, and ask about curfews or other house rules that will affect you. If in doubt, use a local travel agency, which should offer reputable and good-quality rooms.

If you're looking for a better price take this extra advice from Robert Dee, Sales Director for the Rezidor Hotel Group:

An empty hotel room is the most perishable item on the planet. The hotelier has one night to sell it and then that night is gone forever – and they won’t get the potential revenue back. The later it gets, the more chance you have of twisting someone’s arm that your something is better than their nothing. This is particularly true as it gets nearer midnight.

Look out for advance-purchase rates. These are often available 21 or 28 days in advance, but conditions can be quite strict. Do your homework so that you know what the best rates are both at that hotel and one of its competitors.

Look at how many lights are on in the hotel – if there aren’t many lights on then you can bet it’s going to be empty. The restaurant and bars are other places to see how busy a hotel is, and how keen it might be to get you in.