Q: How do I get the best deal on a hotel room? I have noticed that prices fluctuate depending on when I book, and it is always frustrating to find that I am paying too much. Is it better to book direct or online? Should I book far in advance or last-minute? Any money-saving tips you have would be appreciated.
A: You are right that prices for hotel rooms are not static. They vary largely according to supply and demand, and different factors affect different hotels in different locations. Hotels which mainly rely on leisure guests tend to be cheaper during the week, while business hotels can see rates drop at weekends. Hotels and resorts in beachside holiday locations generally offer better rates off-season, while city hotels are particularly affected by public holidays.
To complicate matters further, hotels often have their own pricing systems, which vary hugely in terms of sophistication. A family-run hotel in an isolated location may charge a set rate month in, month out, but in general, pricing is becoming more flexible and it's always worth haggling to see if you can obtain a cheaper rate.
Though they may not want to admit it, however, most hotels have a base rate, which is the least amount of money that a hotel will ever charge for a room. When you begin planning a trip, ideally at least eight weeks before departure, it pays to check the websites of several hotels or hotel chains with properties in your proposed location. Look at the rates for a variety of dates and it will soon become clear what the lowest rate is. You can also use sites like Expedia.com and Gonabit.com to see if the hotel or hotel chain is offering any better deals via these sites - sometimes, you can obtain a hotel package including meals or a spa treatment for less than the hotel's published room rate.
If after checking these sites you feel you still aren't getting a good deal, it may be worth telephoning the hotel or e-mailing the reservations department and asking what their very best rate would be if you stayed on a particular date. Sometimes, hotel websites aren't sophisticated enough to reflect any last-minute special offers which the hotel may be willing to offer faced with the prospect of not filling its rooms on a particular night. Where there are a number of hotels competing with each other in a particular destination, you will be in an even better position.
Of course, getting a good deal also sometimes depends on how flexible you can afford to be. If you are committed to a very tight itinerary, it's probably better to book the room as far in advance as possible, so that you don't run the risk of it being full closer to your chosen date. Equally, even if you are flexible, the best rates on hotels, as with flights, are often found far in advance. Bear in mind, though, that the cheapest rates often come with strict conditions, meaning that you won't be able to amend or cancel your reservation without charge.
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