There are now a wide variety of websites offering deals on hotels, and prices have shown to vary significantly between them. Old school approaches like calling the hotel directly still have their advantages, especially when combined with online searches.
Received wisdom states that the best course of action is to first decide on a hotel, and then search for the best price.
To add an empirical axis I will be executing a live search for a London hotel as I progress through the post.
Make sure you read through to the end as there are a few gems in the bonus section which will vastly improve your chances of getting the best treatment at every hotel.
1.Decide On A Hotel
The first step to getting what you want is defining what you want.
Trip Advisor has become the encyclopaedia of hotels, and reviews are what make the site so useful, and hotels can now be booked directly through the site's search results.
For our live search I’m looking for a two night stay (4-6 June) in a modern four star under £200 per night which is in or close to Central London. I may need to do a little work during my stay, so a room that is geared to productivity would be a bonus.
Trip advisor returns over 1,000 London hotels with almost a million reviews between them.
I settle on DoubleTree by Hilton in Westminster. The reviews are very good, standing at 4.5/5 there is good desk space and even an iMac computer which will be a step up from working on my laptop. The location being close to the river is also great for a walk and it's just a short ride from the West End.
Trip advisor claim they search over 200 sites to get you the best deals. The best price they find is £154 through booking.com. Next port of call: the hotel website itself.
2. Check The Hotel For Their Best Price
The HHonors app price is £175 per night. This is probably because there is still around 10 days between now and the stay. 10 days is far enough away for the hotel to hold off on discounting the room.
Changing the dates to this weekend ( 2 days time) the HHonors app is quoting £119 per night.
Searching the Offers section of the Hilton Honours website, I can get a DoubleTree at Hyde Park for £111 or £101 in Chelsea for my chosen dates.
Also available is Hilton Angel for £125 and Hilton Hyde Park for £128.
The fact that I'm choosing to stay a Sunday night in a location close to the Houses of Parliament and Government departments (Whitehall) is probably the reason why the hotel is not yet discounting rooms. To get the best deal on this hotel I will probably have to wait until two to three days before my stay to book.
3. Search The Aggregates
Trip advisor claims to search 200 websites. Aggregates like Kayak and Trivago claim to search thousands.
Hotels.com run a loyalty scheme where every eleventh night is free! This could be a good option for me as its the equivalent of getting a further 10% off. This would equate to a £15.40 reduction, taking the price down to £138.60.
The DoubleTree price is still a little higher than I would like to pay or could get by changing location or even changing brand to the more luxurious Hilton brand.
A search on Trivago returns a price of £160 per night for the DoubleTree in Westminster. The price is offered by on Trivago by booking.com who offered the same hotel for the same dates at £154 via Trip Advisor, so it is clear that there is a lack of consistency to pricing, and legwork is a must if you want to save.
4. Take A Risk On An Opaque Hotel Vendor?
Opaque vendors offer secret last minute deals from hotels who want to sell rooms at a discount to improve occupancy, but don’t want to reveal their identity and risk damaging their customer base.
Secret hotels are not everyone’s cup of tea as many of us like to know where we're staying before we book.
Lastminute.com offers up more descriptive information about their secret hotels than priceline, making it easier to search Google for snippets of a description to help reveal its identity.
Where secret deals can really work is by trading up on star rating for no extra cost…bar the price of not knowing which hotel you’ll be staying at. For example, today they advertise a 5 star near tower bridge with pool and spa for £89, which is around the price of 3 star. And with the following description it may not be too difficult to work out which hotel it is:
“Close to the Thames, this luxury hotel is a Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence winner. Expect five-star service and amenities including a 25m swimming pool, gym and spa, onsite bar and restaurant and 24-hour room service.”
MoneySavingExpert has a forum thread dedicated to solving London’s secret hotels
BiddingForTravel also has a Secret London Hotel’s list geared towards Priceline’s descriptions (or lack thereof)
5. Bid your way to a great hotel deal
Both Priceline and Hotwire are the two big players in the hotel bidding game. Again, these are secret hotels. However, both also offer straight up searches and deals without any need to bid.
When I searched for our two night London stay on priceline, filtering out everything that is not four star I found our DoubleTree Westminster for £133.33 per night, an almost 24% reduction on the £175 rate offered by Hilton and £30 cheaper than booking.com.
Unfortunately with this rate there is no “Free Cancellation Fee” so I must pay up front and risk losing the money if I can’t stay. Booking this would also force me to stop searching for better deals. Remember, the same hotel offered a £119 rate for a stay this weekend, so holding off booking may still the best course of action.
If you are thinking of bidding, Bidding Traveler is a website dedicated to helping people work out a bidding strategy for Priceline.
Bidding For Travel also contains a list of secret london hotels allocated to winning bidders, and our DoubleTree by Hilton is featured in the Westminster 4 star section.
This means that if I bid on a 4 star in Westminster, I am likely to be allocated a room at one of these hotels. If I feel they’re all acceptable I might be happy to proceed with bidding on a room to make a saving.
Better Bidding is another resource which supports users of priceline and hotwire.
6. Join Mailing lists of hotels and aggregates
Just today I received an email from hotels.com with some some 50% off rooms and a 10% coupon code. Being on mailing lists for your favourite hotels, chains and travel websites is a no-brainer.
7. Join Hotel and Website Loyalty Schemes
Earn points, get a free night. As a member of a hotel loyalty scheme you also stand a better chance of getting an upgrade or free extra.
As mentioned earlier, hotels.com offers a 'buy 10 nights get one night free' scheme. The hotel rate for the free 11th night is the equivalent of the average spent on the previous 10, but can be redeemed against the price of a more expensive hotel if you fancy a treat.
8. Use Hotel and Travel Site Apps
Some apps, like hotels.com offer “app only” deals so it is always worthwhile making an app search part of your research.
9. Search sites and apps dedicated to rooms tonight
If you are more flexible and there isn’t a huge demand for rooms owing to a major event then you may want to use an app such as hotel tonight, which sells rooms for same day occupancy at knock down rates.
Tonight in London the Gordon Ramsay Hotel ‘York & Albany’ by Regent’s Park in Camden is offering a £74 reduction on their £205 rate and you’ll only have to pop downstairs for some lovely posh nosh.
10. Book at the right time
If you are travelling at a time when demand for rooms could be high, it may be wise to lock in a price by booking a Cancellable Rate up to three months in advance. After booking you can continue to search for a better rate right up to just before your cancellation deadline. If you find a better deal you can cancel your original booking and enjoy your better rate.
11. Know your worth
Certain job roles, non-profits, public sector workers, teachers, military people and returning guests are eligible for discounts from hotel chains, so it is worth checking with the hotel via website or phone to see if you are eligible.
12. Chose the right time to travel
Go in the opposite direction to the masses and you are sure to grab yourself a bargain. When most head for the coast e.g. August in Europe, go on a city break.
Consider travelling in shoulder seasons, which are time periods immediately before or after a peak season. You’ll enjoy the benefits of less crowds and lower prices.
13. Widen your geographical net
When searching London hotels, even within the Hilton chain, there is a substantial price difference between London’s central locations and out of centre locations like Croydon.
A late evening flight could be coupled with an airport hotel stay the first night. The same standard of Hilton is far cheaper at Heathrow compared with Central London locations. You can then make your way into town early the next day and store your luggage at your next hotel until its time to check in.
A scan of Google maps might bring up a location close to your destination with much cheaper room rates. Make sure transport is widely available and doesn’t eat up your savings.
14. Book a flight and hotel package deal
If you are also planning on booking a flight in addition to your hotel, it might be worthwhile booking both from the same website.
A search on lastminute.com for a Paris to London flight with a two night stay in a 4 star hotel started at £288 for a DoubleTree in Docklands or £311 for Chelsea.
In my search the hotels in London were being coupled with flights from Southend Airport (misleadingly called ‘London Southend Airport). At 42 miles from London and located in the neighbouring county of Essex, Southend is not in London nor is it in Greater London, so be careful what airports are being offered when using this approach.
15. Call the hotel directly before booking
Sometimes it is worth cutting out the middlemen and calling the hotel direct to establish the best rate they can offer you. You might be able to negotiate some free extras such as breakfast, spa access, a bottle of wine, or free internet access to increase the value received during your stay.
Live Search Recommendation
If I was keen on staying at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Westminster I would probably wait to book it closer to my stay. Knowing that the hotel is geared towards visiting public service and business guests due to it being close to the Palace of Westminster, I believe weekend occupancy will be lower than midweek and I will probably get a better rate by waiting. This was confirmed by the much lower rate being offered a weekend stay in two days.
When you have booked your hotel stay online, it is good practice to call the hotel reception desk the day before. You get the opportunity tell them your ETA and it sends them a message to take you seriously. Take this one step further and Tweet the hotel to say you’re en route and looking forward to your stay. Knowing their standard of customer care will probably be aired on Twitter for all to see will have them looking after you like royalty.
Finally, arrive at the hotel between around 4.30pm and 6pm if possible, and tip the receptionist.
You’ll get there when the maximum amount of rooms have been made available from Housekeeping. Arrive too late and all the best rooms will have been allocated.
Tipping the receptionist (who are rarely tipped) might just get you the best room or an upgrade. If you are given star treatment at reception keep it to yourself as you walk away. Don't make trouble for the person who made nice things happen for you.
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