Cheap Hotels 101
STRATEGIZE WHEN TO GO
In travel timing is truly everything. Drop into Prague in July and you'll be part of the camera-snapping multicultural mob on Charles Bridge, but return in late October, and you may have this Central European landmark all to yourself. If your travel plans are flexible, allowing your vacation to fall at any time in the year, travel during your target destination's shoulder season. Simply put, peak time means peak cost and peak crowds, but hit a country's shoulder and you'll get thinner crowds, more relaxed locals, and -- most importantly -- cheaper rates. During the fall and early spring for example, Tuscany is much less crowded, the weather is warm but not hot, and hotel rates can be significantly cheaper than during the busy summer months.
Most destination guidebooks detail the peak and off season, but we go one step further with our bi-monthly column on shoulder-season travel, which currently includes low-cost travel guides for Australia, Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean.
STRATEGIZE WHEN TO BUY
Your next task is to master the delicate art of timing when to book your hotel room. Most experts agree that there isn't a certain time that is perfect to buy in all situations. If you must travel during the peak season, finding accommodations early is your best bet; you may not get a good deal, but at least you won't get closed out. And if you start early enough, you can monitor hotel rates online at websites like Hotels.com, Expedia, or Orbitz, and when you see the price you want, snag it -- but again, when you travel will dictate the best strategy for getting the best hotel deal.
"Much depends on the location and time of year," says Mark Kahler, author of About.com's Budget Travel Guide. "If it's January in Paris, you might be better off going without reservations and bargaining with the innkeeper, who could have plenty of empty rooms to fill. That same innkeeper will be booked solid in July and will serve people who reserved with him months in advance." That said, if you're going the bargaining route on an overseas trip, Kahler advises making reservations for at least your first night. Some websites actually specialize in last-minute deals, like Last Minute Travel (www.lastminutetravel.com), Rates to Go (www.ratestogo.com), and the weekender's Site59.com, though larger search engines like Orbitz and Expedia often dredge up similar deals.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication