Did you know that you can actually stay in a hotel for a week for “FREE”?
We do it all the time!
We are always on the hunt for some of the best places to travel in the US and we love to do in on the cheap. We generally take two long road trips per year between 10-18 days each, and I rarely pay for more than seven of those nights out of pocket. When I do pay, I either get a substantial discount, earn points toward my next free hotel stay, or pay for a standard room but sleep in a suite.
In this article, I’m going to teach you how to stay in hotels for 2 weeks, but only pay for 1 and…how to get discounts on luxury resort hotel rooms, Disney resort rooms, and sweet (Suite) upgrades!
What is the cheapest way to book hotels?
I’ll be up front and admit that I don’t like to stay in cheap hotels. When I begin researching a trip and making hotel reservations, I want to find the best hotel for the least amount of money and, if possible, I want to be pampered. Who doesn’t, right?
Since I have champagne taste on a beer budget, I have to do a little bit of leg work if I’m going to be pampered without breaking the bank!
Snagging a great deal or getting an upgrade is half the fun in my opinion. Some people fish, I search for deals on hotel stays…it’s my thing. 🙂
That being said, here are my tips and answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about saving money on hotel reservations.
Is it better to book hotels directly?
Book Hotels Direct To Get The Best Rate!
The cheapest way to book hotels is always directly. All the major hotel chains have a Best Rate Guarantee ensuring that you can’t over pay by booking directly.
- Hilton Hotels promises: Book on Hilton.com – Best price, best perks and price match guarantee: If you find a lower rate, we will match it, plus give you 25% off. Expect better, expect Hilton!
- Marriott Bonvoy promises: Your room, your way. Best rate guaranteed at Marriott.com when you book direct.
- Choice Hotels Promises: If you happen to find a lower published price for the same date and terms on any other qualified online source, we’ll not only match that rate—we’ll also give U.S. and Canada residents a $50 Reward Card (in USD or CAD respectively) to spend any way you want.
I once called the hotel reservation line directly to verify if booking through the third party booking site would eliminate my ability to earn points on my stay and, instead of answering my question, they booked my room directly for the same rate at the third party site and I earned points on my stay. It pays to always do your homework, but more often than not, booking directly with the hotel is the cheapest way to book.
I reserve online travel agencies like Booking.com, Expedia, and Hotels.com for last minute hotel deals only if my hotel of choice is already booked.
Join Hotel Loyalty Programs To Receive The Absolute Lowest Rate and The Best Perks!
If you aren’t a member of a loyalty program, you should be! We are members of all the major hotel chains because there are generally rewards even at the lowest tier levels and many hotel chains will match the level of their competitors. Yay, more chances to earn free hotel rooms!
We have been members of the Marriott Bonvoy Loyalty Program (formerly Marriott and Starwood Preferred Guest, or SPG) for over five years and booking directly through Marriott is almost always the cheapest way to book hotels and get free hotel stays.
INSIDER TIP: ALWAYS compare the total cost of your stay with the free nights against the rate on popular booking sites like Booking.com or Expedia because hotels will match their rates.
Utilizing the points we earn on our Marriott Brilliance American Express combined with previously earned points from hotel stays within the Marriott program enables us to earn several free nights which lowers the overall cost of our stay significantly.
Note: We are also members of the Hilton Honors Loyalty Program by Hilton Hotels, but with Marriott’s merger with the SPG program in 2018, the sheer number of hotel options is greater with Marriott Bonvoy so we find loyalty to that program easier. Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of membership to other hotel loyalty programs in the sections below.
How do you get free hotel stays and discounts on hotels?
Earn Elite Status With Credit Cards
It probably comes as no surprise that you can earn points for discounts and free hotel stays through hotel loyalty programs, but the key to unlocking the best rates and perks on hotel stays is combining a loyalty program matched credit card, like the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express card with a membership in the Marriott Bonvoy Loyalty program.
Few people realize just how powerful the combination of a loyalty program and the right credit card can be. This is because holding one of these credit cards moves you up the loyalty status chain faster than otherwise possible.
Besides receiving multiple free hotel rooms per year, we have received numerous suite upgrades. We always ask for these even if we aren’t loyalty members, but becoming loyal to one particular hotel chain certainly has increased our odds.
You can imagine our excitement in Toronto, Canada when our Platinum Elite status earned us an upgrade to the Penthouse Suite at the Westin in downtown Toronto and it was PAID FOR WITH REWARD POINTS!
I told you I would show you how to get a free hotel room! Membership CERTAINLY has its BENEFITS!!
Because I am most familiar with the Marriott Loyalty Program, I am going to share the benefits we receive from being a Marriott Bonvoy Loyalty member and holding their matched American Express Card.
*A thorough comparison of every hotel loyalty program and matched hotel credit card goes beyond the scope of this article. Our favorite go to site to compare current credit card offers and hotel loyalty programs is The Points Guy.
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Perks
Here are just a few of the perks that come with our combination of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express and the Marriott Bonvoy Loyalty Program.
- Free Night Award– Right out of the gate, owning the the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant AMEX card gets you a free night in a hotel. Cardholders receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card account anniversary.
- EARN 6X MARRIOTT BONVOY POINTS on hotel stays- For every dollar spent on a Marriott hotel you earn 6 points. (NOTE: 4 OF THOSE POINTS COME FROM BOOKING DIRECT WITH THE HOTEL so once again this is the best option for loyalty cardholders)
- EARN 3X MARRIOTT BONVOY POINTS on restaurants and airlines- as you can see, for the traveler, it doesn’t take long to rack up points both at home and while traveling using this card.
- Automatic placement in an elite status category- While simply owning a loyalty credit card won’t move you to the highest tier, it will bump you to the next level above entry membership. With the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express you are automatically placed into the Gold Elite Status which earns you all the benefits of the entry level Silver Elite PLUS a 25% bonus on points earned per night, enhanced room upgrade when available, 2pm late check out, and a loyalty guest gift at check in. (This is usually 500 extra points or a market item)
- Elite Night Credit Award– Owning this card will get you a credit with the loyalty program of 15 nights. Combining these 15 awarded nights with your travel will quickly bump you into the Platinum Elite category earning you even more perks and a 50% bonus on every point you earn. As you can see, it’s a snowball effect once you achieve an elite status.
- Statement Credit of $300– I should probably mention that the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express does cost $450 per year, HOWEVER, before you roll your eyes and say you can’t afford that, recognize that you receive a $300 statement credit back, plus the added 15 night credit and the free hotel night award brings more than the $450 annual fee right back to you.
You can read more about this card and it’s perks here.
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Visa
Unfortunately, not everyone accepts American Express. In order to maximize earning points, I also keep the Marriott Boundless Visa. This card has at $95 annual fee so you only receive Silver Elite status and the perks are not as generous, but every point into my loyalty account helps us achieve free nights. You do, however, receive the 15 elite night credit and a sign up bonus worth 3 free hotel nights. Learn more about this card’s perks here.
Marriott Bonvoy Bold Visa and Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Cards
If you are looking for a no fee hotel loyalty card, consider the new Marriott Bonvoy Bold Visa which earns you a generous 50,000 Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
If you own a business, consider the Bonvoy Business American Express Card which earns a 75,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after you spend $3,000 in purchases on the Card in your first 3 months from account opening.
By putting all my monthly expenses on my credit cards and paying them off every month, I’m able to accumulate additional points to pay for several hotel nights per year.
A word of caution, this only works if you are disciplined to pay off your credit card each month. The interest rates on these cards are extremely high. I recommend you consider this option only if you are disciplined enough to budget your spending and pay off the full balance by the due date every month.
Why wait until retirement to travel, when you can stay in hotels for free? What Ya Waitin For? Travel Now! Join our travel now tribe and get more tips and tricks delivered straight into your inbox.
Book Hotel Convention Rates
Save on Resort Hotels by Attending a Convention
You can save a significant amount of money on hotels by booking conventions and extending your stay beyond the actual convention for the same nightly discounted rate. We often turn work into a “mini vacation” by attending conventions related to my or my husband’s field of work. Even if you aren’t in a field that requires continuing education, you may still be able to find a convention that suits you or your spouse’s particular work or interests.
Think outside the box for a minute while I help you brainstorm.
- Are you a professional by trade who needs continuing education?
- Do you homeschool your children?
- Are you interested in learning more about online business?
- Are you a teacher?
- Do you work in a service industry?
- Do you have a child with special needs? (I have researched food allergy conventions to learn more about helping my kids navigate life with multiple food allergies.)
- Do you have a cheerleader, dancer, ball player, or band member in your family?
All of these are legitimate reasons to attend a convention.
Full Disclosure: There will be a fee to attend the convention, and I am not advocating that you sign up and not attend, but if the convention is in line with your work or interests and you can book a few extra nights on the convention rate (which is often the case), then why not turn work into pleasure?
How do you find conferences and conventions to attend?
- First, check the trade journals you receive to see if there are any conventions in places you would like to attend.
- Second, you can try a simple google search.
For example: “Pharmacy Continuing Education Marriott” returned the following results:
Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa … 129th Annual Meeting and Convention in Fort Lauderdale, Florida July 10, 2019- July 13, 2019.
Here is a comparison of how the rates for the convention stacked up against the regular rates for a Marriott member.
- Run of the House: $189
- Intracoastal View: $199
- Ocean View: $219
- Ocean Front: $249
Marriott Member Rate:
- Standard Guest Room: $193
- Intracoastal View: $284
- Ocean View: $310
- Ocean Front: $304
The convention runs from July 10-July 13th, but the booking window for the resort is from July 7th-July 17th. As you can see, you could easily turn a work weekend into nearly a week of vacation to the tune of a $50 -85 per night discount.
Did you know you can attend conventions at Disney Resorts and stay on Disney property for a 65% discount off the hotel rack rates? If you know anything about Disney Hotels, you know the rates can be quite astronomical.
Convention attendees also receive discounts on on Disney tickets and bonus water park days which equal approximately 10-15% off the published ticket prices. (We also upgraded these tickets for annual passes one year at the FULL GATE PRICE for an additional savings, but that is another tip for another time.)
When we can’t find a convention to attend, we have also saved a significant amount on Disney Resorts by booking through David’s DVC Rentals.
If you want more tips on how to save on a Disney Vacation or how to rent DVC points, visit our sister site Disfanchat.
Use Your Affiliations & Online Travel Agencies
If you choose not to join a hotel rewards program, reread this article! 😉 Just kiddin.
Don’t forget to mention if you are a AAA, AARP, in the Military, or Government employee to receive a discount. Sometimes these rates will be lower than the direct hotel rate; however, not often.
State employees and homeschool teachers can also receive discounts in some locations. General rule of thumb is it never hurts to ask!
Hotels.com also has a rewards program which gives you a free night after 10 nights booked.
Are hotel rooms cheaper last minute?
Despite the fact that most articles online recommend getting a last minute hotel deal, in my experience, hotel rooms are not cheaper last minute.
Sure, using an app like Hotels Tonight might find you a cheaper hotel or a room when everyone else is booked, but I find using Hotel Tonight difficult for last minute hotel reservations because they always offer the caveat that the hotel rooms is for 2 people with no way to guarantee the number of beds. Unless you are traveling solo or as a couple, booking a room without knowing the number of beds is pretty risky in my opinion.
If my hotel choice is sold out, using Booking.com can save money and headaches on a last minute deal, but most often it is better to book the advance no refund rate directly with the hotel for the absolute bottom dollar.
How Far In Advance Should You Book Your Hotel Room?
While last minute hasn’t usually saved us much, booking too far out doesn’t either. I like to book no further out than 90 days and use the refundable rate, then check again at 30 days out and rebook the non-refundable rate if it has gone down.
What Day Of The Week Is Best To Book Your Hotel?
According to Kayak’s Global Hotel Study, the best day of the week to book a hotel is Friday or Saturday. Rates are generally higher Monday through Wednesday.
Check-in days, however, are cheapest on Sundays with rates rising significantly on Friday and Saturdays.
Do you have some tips for saving on hotel stays that I missed? Leave me a comment and let me know. What ya waitin for? Check out our Travel Planning resources to help you travel now!