Is it too late to score a hotel deal this summer? Not if you follow these surefire tips

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For those seeking a deal on a hotel room, this is turning into an endless summer of frustration. But take heart: There are still ways to score a cheaper stay.

Lodging prices have soared to record levels in recent weeks, as travelers hit the road once again, even with growing concerns about the COVID-19 delta variant. The average daily room rate reached $141.75 for the week ending July 24, according to STR, a company that tracks hospitality-industry data. By contrast, in April 2020, the rate was as low as $73.04.

In other words, hotels are less inclined to discount these days because the supply-and-demand equation is now to their advantage. Nevertheless, travel experts say those who apply a few simple strategies may be able to save a few bucks, if not quite a bit more.

What kind of strategies? Read on…

Memership programs

There are a few standard hotel discounts that can often be applied, such as having an AAA or AARP membership (even without the latter, seniors may still be eligible for a lower rate). Also, government employees or members of the military (retired or active) may qualify for special pricing. Often, you can do one better than these basic options, but they are always a good place to start and use for comparison.

Don’t accept the first price

We don’t really need to tell you in 2021 that the Internet is a good place to get a hotel deal. But you have countless ways to search for those deals, be it through individual discounters, such as Priceline or Expedia, or through aggregator sites, such as Kayak and Trivago. It’s worth comparing what the different sites offer, says Pauline Frommer, editorial director for Frommer’s Guidebooks, because they “all make the sausage in a different way.” At the same time, Frommers.com does a comprehensive ranking of the sites and currently rates HotelsCombined as its top pick.

Be flexible about checking in

The more you lock yourself into a vacation plan, be it when or where you travel, the more you limit your discount options. This summer, travelers are heading to beach and mountain locations, as they often do in the warmer months, so savings may be harder to grab there. But cities remain a worthy option, especially because business travel hasn’t fully recovered and that means demand is still lagging. Also, play the timing game: Rates can vary depend on when you check in. A Kayak study found that Sunday remains the cheapest option.

Stay one town over

Bunking in a town that’s a few miles from your preferred destination can also be a money saver, provided you’re willing to drive a little extra, or seek out other ways to get to where you want to be. Budget-conscious travelers visiting New York City have been known to stay across the Hudson River in New Jersey (there are plenty of public-transportation options). After all, how much time do you spend in your hotel room, anyway?

Play the points game

If ever there was a time to look up how many points you have in your hotel-rewards programs, this could be it. That’s because while the cost may fluctuate for a room night by night, the reward “price” may not, though there are exceptions. In essence, your rewards may go a lot further this summer. Nick Ewen, senior editor with the travel website The Points Guy, says if you’re heading to super-popular destinations, such as Hawaii or Miami, it “could be a very good time to use your points.” But he advises to do the math first and see what the cost is for a room in cash versus points, based on the per-point money value for a given program.

Package your trip

Traditionally, there are discounts to be had when combining hotel stays with flights and car rentals. That may be less true these days, especially with packages that include car rentals, which have become extremely expensive of late. But Pauline Frommer says values in hotel-and-air packages can apply in certain destinations, such as the Caribbean. The key, she says, is to price out the costs separately to make sure the savings are real.

Don’t forget Airbnb

Staying in homes rented via Airbnb or similar platforms has been a great way to save on lodging. As with much else this summer, travelers are discovering that’s not always the case anymore. Still, it’s worth keeping in mind that Airbnb recently introduced new search tools that allow you some flexibility (there’s that idea again) in terms of dates and destinations, which can help in finding cheaper options. Also, you can book many hotels through Airbnb — and rates can be competitive.

Factor in the total cost

A great value on a hotel stay becomes not-so-great if you have to pay for extras. Beware of the dreaded “resort fee” or “facility fee” that can easily add $25 a night to your stay. Conversely, consider hotels that include a free breakfast, be it your standard Continental-style spread (the comic duo of Key and Peele had plenty to say on that matter) or something more substantial. The free extra equates to a discount on your room.

Contact the hotel directly

It almost always pays to see if hotels can match or better a deal found elsewhere on the web. More often than not, they are incentivized to do so because it means they don’t have to pay a commission to the travel site that brought you to them. But don’t stop at going to the hotel’s own website. Give the property a call (yes, pick up a phone and talk to an actual human being). Ideally, speak to a manager who may be empowered to make a deal. At the very least, there’s no harm in asking.

Layer your discounts

What’s better than getting a break on a hotel stay? Getting two breaks. It’s quite possible by employing certain “layering” methods. For example, instead of going directly to a travel or hotel website, go first through a site that offers an added rebate, such as Rakuten or CouponCabin (you’ll need to establish an account with the rebate provider if you don’t already have one). Another option: Use a credit card that features a travel rebate.

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