We’ve all been there. Your flight is booked, your itinerary is nearly finalized and now all you need to do is book your hotel rooms and your travel plans will be complete.
But there’s just one small problem: It’s the summer. And you’re planning on going to, say, Paris, and are freaked out that all the good spots are already booked and your dream vacation is starting to feel a whole lot more stressful. What’s a Cheapo to do?
Don’t worry, we’re here to help! Take a deep breath and follow these five tips to find affordable hotels in any city.
1. Location, location, location.
First, get to know the layout of the city you’re visiting. Do you know where you’ll be spending most of your time? Are most of the sites you’re visiting in the same area or are they spread throughout the city?
While finding a hotel near your favored attractions is an obvious first step, it’s also important to consider neighborhoods that can serve as convenient “hubs” for reaching museums, landmarks and restaurants in disparate areas.
Staying near the Eiffel Tower makes it easy to also visit the Musee d’Orsay, Les Invalides and go cafe hopping in nearby St-Germain-des-Prés. But if you’re more interested in experiencing the Marais, visiting Pere Lachaise (and especially if you happen to be arriving into Gare du Nord), you may wish to consider the budget-friendly Republique neighborhood.
We often hear from travelers who book the cheapest hotel they can find only to realize it’s an inconvenient schlep to the areas they want to visit. This can cause an undue expenditure of both time and money, but fortunately it can be avoided with advance planning.
2. Re-order your schedule
For travelers who plan on visiting more than one city (or those in the midst of some RTW backpacking), flexibility on the sequence of city visits can help save money. For example, hotel rates in Brussels are always higher during the week than on weekends, so why not visit Bruges from Wednesday to Friday and Brussels on Saturday and Sunday? The rates are cheaper and the line to see Mannekin Pis will be shorter.
Likewise, keep an eye out for regional and national holidays or major conferences that can cause rates to spike. Just this past week we noticed hotel rates in Milan were particularly high even for typically lower-cost properties. Digging a little deeper, we realized it was the annual Milan Furniture Fair, which caused most centrally located hotels to sell out… sounds like a perfect time to visit Florence!
3. Go window shopping
Once you’ve narrowed your list down to a handful of hotels that look good, always compare rates. Hotel owners frequently use more than one reservation agency to manage their bookings, but can charge different room rates depending on the commercial terms of their contracts. So shop around, Cheapos, and compare prices to make sure you’re getting the best deal.
An easy way to do this is by using a hotel search engine that receives up to the minute prices from multiple reservation agencies. There are many excellent sites that feature this type of price comparison, including Kayak, Mobissimo and (you guessed it) our very own EuroCheapo.
4. Consider what amenities you really need and skip the ones that are just nice to have.
When is the last time you had a truly delicious breakfast at a hotel? While they do exist, we recommend skipping them altogether and starting your day at the cute café down the street. Breakfast fees at hotels can be notoriously high, yet the quality can be exquisitely sub-par. Skip it, pay less elsewhere and save yourself some euros.
Also, think about the room amenities that you really need to enjoy your visit. Is a satellite TV really a necessity? Do you need air-conditioning in Vienna in early June? The difference in comfort between a one-star and a three-star hotel might be more noticeable in your wallet than anywhere else.
5. Don’t forget about hostels and apartments.
You’ve probably already heard this before but it’s worth restating: Consider booking a private room in a youth hostel to save money. Most hostels offer both private and dorm-style rooms, and many have gone to great lengths to shed their image as a lair exclusively for round-the-world backpackers (editor’s note: not that there’s anything at all wrong with RTW backpacking, of course).
Hostels also add an extra dose of convenience, frequently offering on-site laundry facilities and kitchens to guests. There’s also the undeniable social element that’s hard to find elsewhere.
Similarly, you might wish to consider booking an apartment that includes some of the same cooking and washing benefits beyond what is offered at a standard hotel. A wide selection of short-term rental apartments can be found on sites like Roomorama, airbnb and, of course, Craigslist.
Tell us what you think! Do you have any special tips for finding cheap hotels to share with your fellow Cheapos? Leave a comment below!