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Strategies for Booking Hotels on a Budget

Strategies for Booking Hotels on a Budget

By Beth J. Harpaz, AP Travel Editor

For overviews of what each hotel credit card offers and how many dollars you must spend to accumulate more points, check out creditcards.com/travel-rewards.php.

But be aware that when you apply for new credit cards, “it impacts your credit card rating,” said Gail Cunningham, spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. For example, applying for four or five hotel credit cards to get several free nights with sign-up bonus points “can signal to lenders that you’re desperate for credit, that you’re just getting credit everywhere you can,” Cunningham said. That can hurt you if you’re looking to get approved for a loan.

Others who should avoid rewards credit cards, Cunningham says, are those tempted by new lines of credit to buy things they can’t afford; and those who carry balances from month to month. Don’t let the value of your rewards get wiped out by interest. Rewards credit cards, Cunningham added, are only for those “with the most pristine of credit ratings.”

Booking

McInerney of AH&LA says your first stop should be the hotel’s own website. “That’s where you’re going to get the best price,” he said.

In addition, said Hanson, “most brands have a guarantee that if you find a lower rate, they’ll match it or pay the difference, or you can stay for free.”

Ask for discounts for AAA membership, military service or corporate rates.

Alternatively, figure out how much you want to pay, the type of hotel you’d like to stay in, and bid for a room through a booking site like Priceline.com. You won’t know which hotel you’re staying at until after you’ve paid, but you can specify the category of hotel using the star-ratings system.

Note that star ratings are inconsistent. A four-star hotel on one site might only be a three-star hotel on another. Priceline has a “Winning Bids” advice feature that eliminates some of the guesswork by providing examples of brands for each star rating along with winning bids paid in different markets. Hotels accept the discounted bids because they’d rather fill rooms at lower prices than leave them empty. Priceline says its customers pay 46-48% less than if they booked through the hotels directly.

Another strategy: See what rates are offered at specific hotels online, “then call the hotel directly” and ask if there’s a lower rate, Hanson said. “A third of the time there will be.”

“When there’s an empty room, it’s just losing money. Any amount of money you pay for that room is found money,” agreed Tim Zagat, who has just published “Top U.S. Hotels, Resorts & Spas 2009.”

Zagat encourages consumers to negotiate hard. “Ask for package rates, ask for the lowest rate, ask for an upgrade. There are all kinds of deals out there. Not to ask is to look stupid,” he said.

Call the hotel at its local phone number, not the chain’s 800 number. “The branded hotel company has limits on what it can do, but the individual owner can do anything he feels like,” Zagat said.

Once you make a reservation, check to see if prices drop, then rebook. “If the booking pace is slower than forecast, hotels switch to a lower rate schedule,” Hanson said.

Look for free Internet service and free breakfast; avoid rip-off goodies in the mini-bar, and use your cell so you don’t get charged for the hotel room phone.

Despite the economy, Freitag of Smith Travel says he doesn’t think hotel prices will drop the way they did after Sept. 11th. But he does think consumers can expect better value for what they pay — better views, free Internet, free access to the health club, pay for two nights and get a third free.

“The takeaway for the consumer: Don’t be shy about asking for those things,” Freitag said. “With occupancies dropping, the most important person in the transaction is the man or woman who checks you in. Be nice, and ask, ‘Do you have a nice room for me?’”

Courtesy of © 2008 YellowBrix, Inc.

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