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The Best Strategies for Booking Hotel Rooms

5 minute read

In the 15 years since its inception, Airbnb has become part of the travel industry’s bread and butter. The vacation rental marketplace has never been short of quirky appeal, offering vacationers the chance to stay at picturesque properties, from a suite in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s former home to Kate Winslet’s quaint English cottage in The Holiday.

The platform also allows everyday property owners to generate income by opening their homes to a global market and, in exchange, holiday makers get to venture out of touristy neighborhoods and enjoy travel tips from local hosts. Some guests even arrive at their rental to freshly baked goods—what isn’t to love?

But once regarded as the affordable option, Airbnb prices began creeping up as the platform became more popular. Airbnb’s average global price rose from $110 per night in 2020 to $137 in 2021, according to All The Rooms, which aggregates and catalogs vacation rental properties. In February, Airbnb cited its average daily rate (ADR) as $153 for the last quarter of 2022. Meanwhile, of the major hotel brands in Q4, Marriott reported an ADR of $176.46, Hilton reported $151.81, and InterContinental Hotel Group reported $125.58. While ADRs are increasing across all rooms, the previous gap between hotels and Airbnb is closing.

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A spokesperson for Airbnb says that “Airbnb often provides more space and more amenities” and that prices remain below some major hotel chains. But for travelers looking for one or two nights away, Airbnb’s narrowing price advantage, plus the lack of certain hotel luxuries, like reception and regular cleaning, are drawbacks.

An analysis of more than 100 million reservations, conducted by SiteMinder, found that global traveler confidence reached new heights post-pandemic, with a 38% increase in average booking time and cancellations dropping by 17% in 2022. As the tide turns on independent rentals and the hotel industry enjoys a boom, here’s how to find a great place to stay that doesn’t dent the pocketbook too much.

Time your booking strategically

A representative at Booking.com says that according to the website’s 2023 Travel Predictions, which surveyed 24,179 respondents across 32 countries and territories who were looking to travel in the next year or two, 44% of travelers say “investing in a holiday remains a top priority, but being budget conscious is key.”

While there is merit to booking your trip early, you can find bargains by waiting for last-minute deals. “If you’re willing to gamble and have some flexibility on location or room type, waiting closer until your arrival, you can unlock savings when hotels are looking to fill rooms at the last minute,” advises a spokesperson for Hotels.com.

You can also get further discounts by opting for mid-week stays or off-season dates, which will also allow you to avoid the crowds, the spokesperson added. Average hotel rates tend to be lower in April and May or September and October, just before and after the peak summer months.

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Use travel community pages to find areas that suits you

Make use of travel community platforms such as Trippin to explore your destination and find hidden gems in the form of shops, bars, and restaurants. The website can help you discover less touristy parts of a city, as recommended by locals. It also offers travel tools to help people plan trips that are more ethical, environmentally conscious, LGBTQ friendly and more diverse. Try searching for hotels in these areas.

Join hotel rewards programs or members sites

Booking as part of rewards schemes and loyalty programs is another tactical way to find special offers. Travelers can unlock discounts and deals for boutique and luxury hotels that aren’t available to the general public and these customers are more likely to pull off requests for upgrades upon arrival. Similarly, free members-only sites such as Secret Escapes and Travelzoo offer generous discounts on anonymous hotels for customers to claim during a short window of time.

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Use price comparison websites or go direct

According to Money Saving Expert, there’s an art to securing a lower priced hotel booking. The website advises bargain hunters to use price comparison sites to find a rate, and then call the hotel directly to see if they can give you a better room rate or throw in any additional freebies to sweeten the deal. Also check rates on the direct website to give you an idea of how much to haggle.

A bonus tip for securing a cheaper stay is to research new hotels by browsing hotel industry publications such as Hotel News Resource or Hotel Designs, the website notes. This will allow you to find large discounts or even complimentary stays in exchange for positive reviews, and hopefully return customers.

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Book hotels with free cancellation

Another hack is to select hotels that offer free cancellation as this will allow you to cancel and rebook your stay if a deal becomes active closer to the time. This also means you can book something sufficient in advance and rest assured that you have a backup option booking while shopping around for better offers elsewhere.

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Write to Armani Syed at armani.syed@time.com