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Booking Cheap Hotels for the Holidays

Posted on 9/16/2013 12:34 EST

Planning to visit family for the holidays and the guest room isn't an option? Now is the time to start looking for cheap holiday accommodations. If you only need a place to spend the night, Cheapism has already identified the best cheap hotel chains. But if you're keen on more upscale lodgings, here are some tips on finding affordable hotel rooms during the holiday season.

Photo by sxc.hu/taut

Related: Best inexpensive hotel chains

Forget the usual tactics.

As many frugal travelers know, the best offers pop up when occupancy rates are low. This circumstance may present itself to folks visiting cities checkered with hotels that cater to business travelers and run promotions during the otherwise slow holiday season. But the usual array of money-saving tips may prove useless during the holidays. Waiting until the last minute to snatch cheap holiday accommodations from hotels eager to fill empty rooms often fails at this time of year. Discount-rate sites such as HotelTonight.com, which slash rates on rooms booked the same day, are just too risky. The last thing you want is to be left stranded or sleeping miles away from family because nearby hotels are filled.

Start searching now.

The best strategy for finding cheap holiday accommodations is to look early. When you spot a deal, however, don't just book it and forget about it. As long as the deposit is refundable, call the hotel every four to six weeks and ask about new promotional rates; if there is one on offer, book at the new rate and cancel the old.

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Side-step the aggregators.

Sites such as Priceline, Expedia, and other aggregators can point you to excellent deals, largely because they buy rooms in bulk at a discount and then sell them for cheap. That said, booking a room through one of these sites may not be the ticket to the most desirable cheap holiday accommodations. For one, sometimes the reservation is lost, and hotel staffers relate woeful tales (online) of travelers arriving only to find the hotel is full and their names aren't in the system. Then too, in posts on Reddit several hotel employees admit that the cheapest rooms (located near a stairwell or elevator, say) are often referred to as "Expedia rooms." (Others insist they treat all customers the same, and anyway, their electronic booking systems pick rooms, not people.) And finally, booking through an aggregator inserts a middleman who is unlikely to be flexible about prices.

Call hotels directly.

Rather than relying on an aggregator, call the hotel directly and quote the price you found online. This tactic doesn't always yield results but often enough the hotel will match or beat the price. If the hotel is part of a large chain, calling the central 1-800 number is worth a try because corporate employees sometimes have more leeway to grant discounts than employees at a franchise. Similarly, the corporate website may post online-only discounts about which on-site employees are unaware.

Photo by sxc.hu/zatrokz

Related: Best cheap airlines to fly

One advantage of booking cheap holiday hotel rooms directly is knowing that the reservation is solid. The hotel makes a higher margin on the rate than if the room had been booked through an aggregator and is unlikely to misplace the reservation. Moreover, management may be more accommodating and offer a free upgrade or amenities -- just don't expect an upgrade during the holidays.

Join loyalty programs.

Frugal holiday travelers should also enroll in hotel loyalty programs, which usually offer incentives even at the basic level. Club Carlson (Radisson, Country Inn & Suites, Park Inn, and Park Plaza brands), for example, gives members free Internet. Travel Zoo notes the perks available through programs offered by other hotel groups, such as Hilton, Hyatt, and Omni.

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Miscellaneous discounts.

One almost certain route to cheap holiday hotel rooms is through membership discounts from associations like the AAA or AARP. Active-duty military personnel often qualify for discounts up to 25 percent at large chains and smaller hotels. If friends or family members work at a hotel they may have access to codes that can unlock deep discounts. Even during the holiday season hotel employees may be empowered to offer discounts on the spot, and we found reports of several having done so just because a traveler was especially courteous to them.

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Large corporations often negotiate discounted rates for employees. Simply asking for a corporate rate used to be enough, but hotels increasingly are requiring a company email address as verification. A potential work-around that belongs in the moral grey zone is described on Reddit, where one traveler tells of claiming to be a contractor, interviewee, or salesman headed to a meeting at a large local company that has negotiated discounted room rates. A commenter at Lifehacker used a similar trick and also suggested finding out about nearby colleges or universities or upcoming conferences and asking for the parent or attendee rate.

What helpful tips have worked for you?

by Louis DeNicola (Google+ Profile)

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