I don’t know where (or when) I came up with the idea that booking my destination’s hotel “should” be a quick, no-brainer – but, boy, is that wrong.
If – like me — you travel on a budget, expect it to take time to locate a phenomenal hotel deal.
Take last week. I sat down on a chilly January morning (because booking months in advance will always score you a deal), poured myself a cup of my favorite pick-me-up, and logged onto my laptop to book a hotel for a celebrity event in Nashville that my son and I are attending in August.
My son gets to meet his favorite celebs – like Stephen Amell and John Barrowman — and I get to spend one-on-one time with my sweet boy.
To save money, I bought tickets to see the event the day after Christmas thereby scoring 50 percent off the tickets. (And yes, I felt pretty amazing.)
But when I sat down to book our hotel, amazing went out the window and annoyed took its place.
Here’s the scoop on locating a rock star hotel deal:
Why I love Google Maps
If you’re visiting a new destination and don’t know much about the region – including the hotel price range – start by researching your region.
It’s not nearly as time consuming as it sounds.
I’ve been to Nashville one time, but I had a decent idea of what they offer and where the exciting venues are located.
Given that I semi-knew Nashville, I hopped onto Google Maps, put my venue’s location (where our event is happening) into the map program and had a look around.
I knew that to score the best deal I needed to find a hotel that’s outside of the fun zone. (Anytime you stay smack in the middle of the action, you’re paying for that convenience.)
For example, our event with the celebs is being held at a fancyish conference-hotel in Nashville. I checked and the price to stay in the middle of everything came screaming in at $300 a night. We need two nights (plus tax) and I was looking at almost $700 for the convenience of staying in the middle of the action.
Which is a major not in this lifetime.
My hotel workaround
Here’s how I found the value hotels that I was betting would deliver a great experience at a better price. Still on Google Maps, I entered the convention-hotel’s address into the program. In the lower right corner of the screen I clicked the small plus-sign and zoomed down into the map program. I then could see all of the nearby hotels.
I found seven 2.5- and 3-star hotels sitting about eight minutes away from our conference-hotel.
To see if I could find deals even further away, I also checked other neighborhoods in Nashville, but I couldn’t find a quiet neighborhood hotel that didn’t also require a long drive on my part. If you’re willing to drive 20 or 30 minutes to your venue, you’ll save the most.)
And I checked hotel prices near the airport.
Even so, the best value deals were those seven hotels that sat about eight minutes from my venue’s site.
Gathering the hotel price range
Then I slowly and methodically — because saving money is never a speedy experience – began gathering prices on those seven value hotels for the dates we’re visiting in August. (I logged the info. that I found into my One Note program. Trying to remember it all isn’t fair to your brain.)
And here’s the price range I found: $95 to $200 for the 2.5- and 3-star hotels near our fancyish conference-hotel.
You might be assuming that I chose the lowest priced hotels at $95 or even $130.
But no. I’ve learned the hard way that to choose the most inexpensive hotels might mean savings, but it also means the likelihood of having a truly awful trip experience.
My weird hotel experience
Quick aside: long ago, we once stayed in an extremely inexpensive hotel near LEGOLAND Florida. We saved a pot of money, but we paid for it by truly disliking the place we were sleeping.
It was verging on nightmare-ville.
Our room faced a parking lot (never a smart idea for safety’s sake) so we heard every siren racing by our hotel. The amenities were non-existent (no fridge, no microwave etc. unless you paid extra). And a very unfriendly staff person hung out in the breakfast room policing the breakfast buffet so that nobody stole little yogurts. (I guess.)
Did I save on that trip? I did not. If a trip is ruined because of a bad hotel, it’s not worth the savings. In effect, we took a very expensive trip given that we had such a terrible time.
How to Use Trip Advisor to Save
I’ve learned through the years to always research a property on Trip Advisor before booking. As a travel writer I don’t consider a hotel fully reviewed unless it has at least 100 reviews and has at least a total of 3.5 to four stars.
To find out what Trip Advisor thinks of the properties you’re considering, simply enter your hotel’s name into the search bar along with the name “Trip Advisor.”
At the top of Trip Advisor’s page immediately underneath the hotel’s name, you can see how many people provided reviews in little circles.
I read lots of reviews on those seven hotels. Some reviews started out, “a dump! Don’t waste your time!” or “terrible! Look somewhere else!”
Ultimately, the hotel I chose from the seven properties had been reviewed by 508 people with a composite of 3.5 stars total from those 508 reviews. Not bad.
I signed up as a member with the hotel chain and saved a bit of money for signing up. The per night price I locked in was $140 and the total with tax came to $340.
The $340 total is still a sizeable chunk of money, but here’s what we’ll get at that price:
- “Free”* breakfast
- “Free” parking
- “Free” Wi-Fi
- Outdoor pool (because Nashville in August is blazing)
- Laundry facilities
- A mini-fridge and microwave in the room.
- A shuttle (but please read on to find out how/why the shuttle won’t work for my situation).
*I’m not wild about the word “free,” because the above items that are listed as free are wrapped into the room price.
My Last Piece of Vital Hotel Advice
I called the hotel directly and asked, “Where does your shuttle take people? Does it go to my fancyish conference hotel that’s only eight minutes away?”
I was gently told that it does not.
I then asked the hotel staff person how much it costs to park at the fancyish conference hotel and was told $29.99/a day.
Holy guacamole, right?
So I asked her, “what should I do?”
She kindly recommended taking an Uber from our value hotel to the fancyish conference hotel each day for about $8 each way.
Her one sentence saved me $16 each day, I was saving $28 for the weekend (rounding).
If this plan sounds confusing, trust me. Once you’ve done it two or three times it comes to you easily.
Please share!! What’s your favorite way to save on hotels when you travel?
Want to save more? Register on my home page for my 10 Tips to Save on Every Family Trip.