How to find a cheap hotel room


TLDR: Shop around the major booking sites, but don’t go crazy because there isn’t that much difference between them.

That’s a bit too cursory. The post also says at least two things I didn’t know – that a new site called TravelPony consistently offers the best prices, and that if you find a price at some online site, calling the hotel will often result in a matched price (which means not having to deal with the site where you first found that price).

Whatever you do, do not click on Expedia’s “unnamed 4-star hotel” option (where you pay a seemingly low price for a room and then find out which hotel it actually is).

I tried this and it turns out it actually was too good to be true. Later, I find out that my Expedia credit card purchase did not cover state taxes that the hotel attempted to get from my upon checkout.

Expedia has this “unnamed hotel” option competing at an artificially low rate with the other listed hotels (whose prices do include the tax).

To me, this seemed fairly deceptive/fraudulent.

(By the way, I’d be curious if anyone else has had this experience. When I pointed this out to the hotel manager, he claimed the tax was routine and no one else had ever complained before. This involved a hotel in NJ.)


So now I’m going to check to make sure TravelPony wasn’t in any way responsible for the article!

An additional plus to booking through the hotel rather than a budget site is that if there are any problems, the hotel will treat you better. They know that a customer who booked off a site is just looking for the cheap price and will probably never come back, so there’s not as much incentive to keep them happy.


Ah! Please let me know if you find out it was.

Expert opinion here:

I used to travel all the time with music and comedy shows, and have worked in the hotel industry for a little under 15 years. I have stayed in literally hundreds of hotels all over the US, from $800/night luxury penthouses to tiny old places where I literally got a tarp and sleeping bag out of the car, just so I wouldn’t have to touch the sheets. Since 2000, I’ve worked for two different companies in a total of 8 different propeties in two states.


Let’s say our standard price on a room night (what we call the “rack rate”) is $100. Our AAA discount is 10%- Now, we’ll give a 10% discount to pretty much anyone. You go online and book through a website for $89. Good for you- You saved $11. But, then the website takes their commission of 40% and sends us the rest of our money. Your buddy Bob calls us and books directly- He politely asks if we can do any better on the rate, and we give him the 10% discount.

You paid $89. Of this, the hotel gets $53.40
Bob paid $90. The hotel keeps all of it.

First, your choice of how to book tells me something: Bob wants to stay here. He specifically sought us out and called us personally. You picked the lowest rate from a list (and may not even have known what hotel you were booking!). Bob is probably coming back his next time through. You will stay at whoever gives you the steepest discount. Also, not for nothing, but we’re getting paid almost twice as much for Bob’s room.

So, who do I value more as a guest? If a pipe breaks, and I need to move people from the East wing, which of you gets the free upgrade to the whirlpool suite, and which gets the basement room with the broken air conditioner?

Secondly, let’s look at what you get for your $1 savings:

You can’t cancel or make changes without a fee- Sometimes the entire amount you paid. Seriously- Pick any website and read the fine print. Right now. I’ll wait. Bob, on the other hand, can call and make changes whenever he wants. If he cancels his stay, chances are he won’t have to pay anything.

They don’t guarantee your room type. When Bob was on the phone, I told him exactly what rooms I had available, and he’s guaranteed the room he booked, or if I need to shuffle things, a free upgrade. You get the room the website agreed to buy from us six months ago- So if that room happens to be a smoking room with 1 bed, that’s what you and your two asthmatic friends get. Sorry about that.

You may need to pay extra for certain things like a cot or to bring a pet. If Bob is nice to me, I might comp those. If I do charge him, he’d know about it from the start, and it won’t be a surprise when he checks in. You probably weren’t informed of this policy, and quite frankly, with the discount you’re getting, I need to squeeze whatever I can out of you.

Special requests might not be honored- Or even seen! Some hotels and some websites have computers that directly connect with each other. Make a reservation online, and it goes directly into my system. Others send us a fax with your information and we have to enter it manually. In either case, sometimes they send us every detail you enter into their site, and sometimes all we get is “NAME, 1 ROOM”.

How far in advance did you make that reservation? Because we might not have it yet. See above. This process can take anywhere from less than a second after you hit “confirm reservation”, to several hours. I have lost count of the number of times a guest has shown up and said “I just made a reservation from the airport”, and ends up sitting around while I call and remind them to fax me their info.

Oh, also, some websites are better than others about making sure things like pictures and the list of amenities are up to date. Good luck.

A website also won’t be able to tell you that the weekend you’ve chosen coincides with that big, loud wedding party, or the scheduled bridge closure between here and your business meeting. Or that we were running a special where you can get a free upgrade to an oceanview room if you also eat dinner at our partner restaurant. Call me directly and I’ll tell you all of that, plus which exit to take to avoid that heavy traffic area- And it’s not the one Mapquest says it is.

Now, let’s look at just why hotels hate these websites so much:

One, they’ve commoditized hotel rooms. We spent years and hundreds of thousands of dollars making our property unique, comfortable, and tailored to our guests’ needs. The place across town rents by the hour and hasn’t remodeled since the 80s. WE ARE NOT EQUAL. Even when I was splitting my hours between two company properties a few blocks from each other- Both were equivilent quality , but one had full kitchens and was set up for long term stays, while the other was literally on the beach- step out of your room and be on sand- Two completely different selling features. And yet, online, we are all just an available number of beds- the only difference is price.

Two, they are standing between us and our guests. Look- I would love to be able to help you with your specific request, but you’re not paying me- The third party that you did pay is paying me, and I have to answer to them, not you. They control what information you have about our property. They dictate prices, discounts, and seasonal changes.

Seriously, we provide the products, we provide the service. The websites decide who will see which properties, and how much we will be paid- And if we don’t like it, we can just not do business with them- and take our chances being seen instead of a business who spends virtually their entire operating cost on advertising and SEO.

These websites are to the hotel industry what the insurance companies are to health care, and what ISPs will be to the internet once we lose net neutrality.

I’m going to leave you with one final true story.

Many years ago, we did business with a major booking website (I won’t say which one). Someone would book a room online and give their credit card number, which the website would charge. The guest would stay at the hotel, and at the end of the month, the website would pay us for everyone who had stayed. (Nice business model, since they earned interest on that money all month, and kept all them money from no-shows)

At one point, they had fallen three months behind on their bill. At this same time, there were rumors floating around of bankruptcy and hostile takeovers (a couple months later, they merged with another major company). We were worried we would never get paid for those rooms- and at the time, it accounted for a good chunk of our business- they owed us well over $50,000 by this point.

So, here we have a third party which is taking money from people for a service we provide, yet not paying us for the service. We had no choice but to tell them we would no longer honor their reservations until they settled up.

They neglected to inform their customers- Our guests. This led to… issues.

At one point, I informed a guest that we couldn’t honor his reservation, but I had a room available if he’d like to pay for it himself. He was rightfully upset. I explained that he’d paid people who were not authorized to take his money. He called the website from his cellphone right in front of me. They called me back in front of him.

“You have to give him the room, you signed a contract!”
“Yes- the contract you defaulted on when you stopped paying your bill three months ago. If you want to give me a valid credit card, I’ll be happy to settle up with you and check in your customer, but I can’t continue to extend you more credit when you haven’t paid me for your last 400+ transactions. We told you this in writing over two weeks ago.”

The guest heard this and ended up paying for the room himself, then suing the website to get his money back. A couple days later, they settled up- But several dozen reservations were affected during that time.

Anyway, your best bet is to go online to do your research, and then call the hotel to book directly. You might get the same rate. You will likely pay an extra $5-$15. It’s worth it. You’ll get a better room and better treatment.

any other questions about how the hotel industry works, feel free to ask…


This is so valuable to me. I have traveled a bit for business and pleasure and will never book online again. I love to do things online but I like the customer service I get on the phone or in person if I am not ordering pizza or from Amazon,
This was proven last week when my van broke down in the Orlando, UCF area. Not a nice area. We tried to find several places to fix it and the Pep Boys my road service found was horrible. We found many car storage places to put it until we could return, but only one answered the phone. The rest wanted to book online. (One is still calling me.) Robert got my business, and seems to be quite the mechanic too as he has been in business for over 30 years.
With very motel we booked with personally, the customer service was awesome. All of them (four hotels) said they hate the online booking services like Priceline. When we had to leave early the hotel could refund our money only if we did NOT use a discount booking service.
Only one problem. I would like to find out how to prevent the desk clerks from calling gypsy cabs. They assume I am a 50 yr old woman and apparently stupid?

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That is right, I was just told by a few motels that they don’t like the booking services.

I don’t stay in hotels that often, but I’ve always been quite pleased with my experience at Now I hear that not only is the most expensive, but all booking sites suck?


I suppose I am somewhat old-fashioned, but I just tell my travel agent what I need, and let him or her do the work. It doesn’t cost any more—well, some travel agents might charge a fee, that was waived for me a few decades ago with my current one. Loyalty to a small business helps, I suppose.

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The last time I used a travel agent, she messed up so many things including some doozies like spelling one of my kids’ names wrong on the airline ticket (for an international flight) and not registering our one piece of checked luggage per person so we had to pay double fees at check-in. And I had put everything in writing (via email) to ensure such things wouldn’t happen.

I wish travel agents were the easy solution, but you can’t really know the good ones from the bad ones until you’re on the trip and thus are at the point of no return.

If the hospitality industry cared enough it wouldn’t be hard to start their own “booking service” that didn’t have the flaws of Expedia and crew and gave the majority of the money back to the hotels. Upkeeping a website isn’t that hard.

Asking me not to compare prices and call the hotel directly on the phone so I can pay whatever price they feel like is similar to asking me to go back to horse and buggy. This booking sites didn’t spring up and become super popular because the old system was so good.

A service like this should be able to offer better prices than the competitors because it won’t have as much overhead of traditional booking sites. Or the new competition will drive the overhead of those competitors down, which is still a win for the hotels.

The hardest part will be finding someone to design the site who won’t make it horrible (so Hotels can’t use whatever service they previously used–all hotel websites are terrible), and they have to convince all of the middle managers to “leave the money on the table” and not jack up overhead rates wherever they can until they’re barely a percentage point or two cheaper than the existing sites, thus negating the entire purpose of the exercise.

That and it doesn’t fix the actual complaint here, which is not that booking sites are such vampires with their overhead, but because they enable customers to shop around too much and drive down profits.

Yeah, I used an agent once, for a honeymoon in Europe. She planned the first half but only booked a hotel for the second half and we did our own thing.

The first half was all tourist traps and places that were obviously giving a kickback to the booking agency. Oh, and of course double beds for our honeymoon. The second half was much better as we ran around London doing museums and attractions. It was cheaper too, despite being in one of the most expensive cities in the world instead of out in the countryside.

We have not used an agent since. Maybe if you could find a really good one it would be worth it, but such a person would probably be expensive.

You seem to be speaking from your hotel’s point of view. I guess your hotel never gives more than a 10% discount, either online or in-person?

Other hotels, also hotels of quality, give much deeper discounts. I routinely get 30-40% discounts using Expedia. If I called up, there is no way I would get a discount that’s anything close to what Expedia gets me.

You say you’d never book online? I will never book in-person.

Call anyway. Some of the website/hotel contracts won’t let us match prices, but if you tell me you’re looking at a rate of $64, I’m pretty likely to offer you $69.

That said-

You do realize just how insulting that is, right? I don’t know what you do for a living, but would you appreciate it if I approached you as a customer and told you that I didn’t really care about how well you do your job, I just want a 40% discount or I’d go somewhere else?

It’s seriously right up there with not tipping your waitress. And again, It’s that commoditization I was talking about- The “I can just get it at WalMart instead, so why should I pay more” mentality.

So, I can waste $5, if I put in the extra effort… Huh?

I really don’t understand what your stake in this is. Unless you’re the hotel owner, why do you care that one customer pays X and another pays 40% less than X? And, if you’re the hotel owner, you voluntarily signed up with Expedia; you know that you’d have empty rooms if you didn’t have the people who signed up online.

So, No, I do not realize how insulting that is. This has nothing to do with “how well you do your job.” Your job’s wages and benefits do not vary with how little or much I spend on the hotel room. I’m the one who takes the risk (eg, no ability to cancel/reschedule, no “ocean view”), and I’m fine with it.

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[quote=“petzl, post:18, topic:31349”]
I really don’t understand what your stake in this is. Unless you’re the hotel owner, why do you care… Your job’s wages and benefits do not vary with how little or much I spend… [/quote]

I don’t think you understand what it’s like to work for a family business.

Remind me never to hire you.

You go personal because I have the consummate gall to want to pay the lowest price for the highest quality. For someone who claims to be in the business, you have a remarkably cluttered vision of the customer’s experience.

Are you the bookseller who yells at those ingrates who buy e-books?

Do you swim against the tide, then with your last gasp, yell at the Moon?

(PS, remind me never to retain you when I’m brought in by creditors to downsize your establishment.)

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I’d just like to say that I just tried TravelPony and it struck me as incredibly sketchy. It wouldn’t let me book a room unless I gave it access to either my Facebook or Twitter account. No thanks. I’m not going to spam my friends to save a few bucks,