This Is How Travel Experts Book Hotels (Hint: They Don’t Do It Online)

Tired of booking expensive vacations through hotel websites? Try these expert tips for booking the perfect hotel room for your getaway.

If you’ve ever let the idea of vacation go because of unrealistic prices on hotel websites, you’re not alone. As you’re wracking numerous hotel websites for an affordable room, the entire vacation falls apart. While your vacation was intended as the antidote to stress, costly hotel rooms can be enough to sour the entire adventure—or even shut it down completely.

Before you abandon your much-needed trip, rest assured that you can book your hotel stay without the jaw-dropping prices. Today, booking your stay through a hotel website is one of many common travel trips you can safely ignore. Here’s how travel experts book hotel rooms—without burning holes in their pockets.

They call the hotel

In the age of computers and smartphones, this approach may seem a bit old fashioned. However, more often than not, calling the hotel is the best way to score unique and fleeting deals. According to Jill Douglass, General Manager at the Commander Hotel & Suites in Ocean City, MD, calling the hotel will usually grant you “access to valuable unadvertised money-saving specials that the hotel may be running during the time period when you’re looking to visit.” Plus, when you book over the phone, you can usually get a cancellation agreement of “at least a 24- to 48-hour buffer before your check-in, in the event that you need to cancel for whatever reason,” she says. These amenities are not usually available through the hotel website and can make all the difference when you are planning a budget-friendly getaway.

Other than providing discounted booking prices, calling the hotel can have additional travel perks. After securing your room, be sure to inquire whether the hotel “has any discount partnerships with or coupons for area restaurants and attractions,” says Douglass. Then, when you arrive at the hotel, remember to ask the front desk whether the hotel is fully booked. If it’s not, “guests can always request room upgrades,” informs Douglass. If the front desk offers any of these hotel amenities, you will want to book a room ASAP. Capitalizing on these deals will help formalize your vacation itinerary, while also saving money!

They ask in person

While it may seem unconventional, one way to beat the tall prices on hotel websites is to ask the front desk in person. This booking method is mainly targeted to those of you planning road trips, who need a quick hotel room nearby, or simply have a free spirit and thirst for adventure. (Read: this tip may not be for anyone averse to uncertainty). Charles McCool, travel expert and owner of McCool Travel, told Reader’s Digest, “on road trips, when I cannot reliably predict where I will end up for the night, I often rely on just going into hotels and asking for rates. I will ask to apply all kinds of discounts and even just ask if they can go as low as a certain price.” While this is not a sure-fire way to get a lower price than listed on the website, you would be surprised how accommodating some hotels can be when they have rooms to fill.

They use an app

There’s an app for everything these days, but there are numerous apps to help you get the best price for a hotel room. One of the most prominent of these apps is, which “has a great price matching policy just in case a better rate is available elsewhere, and the website almost always has discount coupons available that allow you to save even more,” says Luxury Travel Financial Strategist, Kira Brereton. Similarly, TripAdvisor “compares prices across different websites for you,” to help you find the best deal possible, says Travel Writer Sara Essop. In addition to and TripAdvisor, you can also try finding the best rate for your vacation on Orbitz, Expedia, and countless other travel apps. If you don’t want to actually book your hotel room through these apps, you can call the hotel’s front desk and ask them to match the lower price that you found on a travel website, says Colleen Kelley, travel expert and host of Family Travel on PBS.

If you’re looking to book a cheap hotel for the same day, professional travel writer and photographer Holly Habeck suggests using the app, Hotel Tonight. “Though it may sound risky to book a room the day/night of your arrival, it’s an easy way to score up to 60 percent off on accommodations—some of which are even four or five-star hotels.” Still not satisfied with these options? Don’t worry, we’re not done yet! It’s also extremely common to use Airbnb, an app that lets you list and book apartments, rooms, and homes across the globe. Sara Essop recommends using this app “if you are traveling with a larger family/group or want more space.” While using Airbnb means forfeiting the traditional hotel experience, this app provides countless luxury housing options that are often cheaper than hotel rooms. Any of these apps will help you find great accommodations that will make your vacation perfect—as long as you avoid these stressful vacation mistakes. Happy app hunting!

They consult a travel agent

While apps, websites, and even the front desks at hotels can provide a lot of valuable information, it’s often helpful to speak with a travel expert who can help mold your vacation to your preferences. Angela Rice, a member of OASIS Travel Network and co-founder of Boutique Transformative Adventures, recommends “finding a travel consultant who identifies with your travel style and specializes in destinations where you would like to travel.” Since travel agents are well-connected to many hotels and restaurants, “they have access to immediate pricing as well as availability,” says Tara D’Agostino, founder of the luxury hotel representation company WanderLuxe Destinations.

Other than being able to book a cost-efficient room, a travel advisor can often secure many amenities for their clients, including “free Wi-fi, early check-in/check-out, hotel credits to be applied to the bill at the end of the stay, and free breakfast, amongst other things the hotel may be offering,” says D’Agostino. Additionally, travel agents’ connections can often help clients book rooms in a hotel that are not listed online, and get VIP treatment from their hotels, says D’Agostino. Not to mention that travel consultants can expertly advise which dates will be the cheapest times to travel, based on the destination’s high and low seasons, and can offer suggestions for lesser-known hotels every travel should know about.

While you may be concerned that the cost of hiring a travel advisor will make the vacation more expensive than simply booking through the hotel’s website, D’Agostino assures that this is not usually the case. “Using a travel advisor affiliated with a well-known consortium such as Virtuoso, Travel Leaders, Signature, or Traveller Made” can provide a plethora of benefits at a very low cost.

They book through Costco Travel

Costco lovers rejoice—you can officially buy your vacations at Costco! Well, kind of. According to Sara Rathner, travel expert at NerdWallet, “Costco members can get even more value out of their annual fee by looking into Costco travel packages. They’re a great option for anyone who wants a more luxurious trip at a down-to-earth price.” To qualify for these travel savings, you must either have a Gold Star Membership or Executive Membership at Costco. The Gold Star Membership costs $60 per year and gives you access to stores and travel packages; the Executive Membership costs $120 annually and comes with the added perk of 2 percent back on your first $1,000 spent through Costco Travel. So, if you’re a Costco member looking to beat the prices listed on hotel websites, Costco Travel is the place for you!

Bottom line? You should never let the price listed on a hotel website ruin your vacation plans! There are many ways to book a lovely and affordable vacation, that don’t involve handing over your savings account in the hotel lobby. Using these expert travel tips, you’ll be trading stress for sunglasses, obligations for oceans, and responsibilities for some much-needed R&R in no time! Just make sure you avoid these 9 travel mistakes for the best vacation ever.

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Carley Lerner
Carley Lerner is a freelance writer and former editorial intern for Reader's Digest. She is a member of the Class of 2021 at Duke University, where she writes for the school newspaper, The Chronicle.