Consumer Reports traveled to the hotel world to help you save some money. The June issue offers 10 tips to finding a better hotel rate and saving some cash. Here are some highlights:
-- Wing it. Respondents who appeared unannounced paid about $20 less per night for comparable accommodations, on average, than those who made a reservation ahead of time. Travelers who really want to play "chicken," ask the desk clerk for the lowest possible rate, then say you're taking your business elsewhere. If occupancy is exceptionally low, the clerk might invoke the "fade" rate, an option coming into play more often. It's the bare minimum the chain will accept for a room, as an alternative to leaving it unoccupied. If you're willing to roll the dice and show up late in the day without a reservation, you could hit the jackpot--or end up sleeping in your car.
-- Become a fan. More chains are becoming involved in social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Fans or followers of a chain will be notified of upcoming promotions and specials as soon as they're available.
-- Consider a discount-travel Web site. Our survey showed that discount site such as Priceline and Hotwire were the only surefire way to consistently reap substantially lower room rates. Respondents who reserved a room at an upscale hotel through a discounter paid an average daily rate of $80. Those who phoned the hotel or booked online by other means paid about $120 for a comparable room. But discount Web sites aren't ideal for everyone because the identity of your hotel doesn't become known until after you complete a nonrefundable transaction.
-- Lock in a rate. If you're traveling to a popular destination at a peak time, call around and surf the Internet for price quotes from three to five hotels long before your trip. Then lock in the lowest refundable rate. As your departure date nears, try another sweep. If you find something better, cancel your original reservation in time to avoid a penalty.
-- Look for specials. Given the poor economy hotel Web sites are loaded with limited-time offers. Among those that caught CR's eye: a $100 Amazon.com gift card for every two nights' stay at a Westin; an additional night at half-price for every night you stay at a Sheraton Four Points; and a 15 percent discount when you book at least eight days in advance at Super 8.
For complete Ratings for upkeep, service comfort in value on all 48 chains, money saving advice and tips to avoid hotel fees and traps, travel to ConsumerReports.org or check out a copy of the June issue of Consumer Reports on newsstands May 4, 2010.