Consider the extras • Booking a hotel isn't as simple as just looking at the rate and taxes. Some hotels include Wi-Fi, breakfast, bottled water and parking. Others add on hefty fees for some or all of the above. Then there are those dreaded resort fees. They were once just levied at resorts or Las Vegas casinos, but today hotels in big cities not your typical idea of a "resort" are adding on the charge. Most hotels disclose the fees on their websites, but you often have to hunt around to find them. You can always pick up the phone, call the front desk and inquire before booking.
Kitchens, laundry and privacy • These amenities won't directly save you on the room rate, but can make your vacation cheaper. If you are a large family, you might want to prepare a few meals in your room. Extended-stay hotel brands such as TownePlace Suites by Marriott, Starwood's Element and Homewood Suites by Hilton offer in-room kitchens. Many hotels also offer on-site laundry machines for guests to use. To avoid getting two rooms, but still have some privacy, consider a chain like Hilton's Embassy Suites, which offers parents their own room and a pull-out sofa in the living room for the kids.
Cancellation policies • Many hotels let you cancel up to 4 p.m. or 6 p.m. the night of check-in. Read the fine print and then use that to your advantage. Hotel rates are constantly changing. Reserve at a fully refundable rate, and consider that the most you will need to pay for your lodging. Then, watch the price. If it falls, rebook at the new, lower rate.
Try Tingo • Tingo is a booking website that plays the cancellation game for you. The site requires prepayment for the room but focuses on fully refundable rates. Each day, Tingo automatically checks to see if hotels lowered prices for the nights you booked. If the price falls, Tingo cancels the original reservation and rebooks you at the new, lower rate. The site, which is owned by TripAdvisor, says travelers have a 20 percent chance of getting at least some money back. Those who are lucky enough to get a rebate typically see about $50, according to the company, but occasionally it is much more.
Day-of-stay deals • You have until 4 p.m. to cancel that hotel, right? Well, a handful of new services are offering deals for people checking into hotels that night.
• HotelTonight offers discounted rooms at more than 10,000 hotels via its iPhone and Androids apps. Each day at 9 a.m. local time, a slate of rooms is released for each of the big cities it serves. There are luxury hotels, hip hotels and those categorized as "solid" or "basic." HotelTonight users can't request room types, so it is best used by solo travelers or couples. And while many hotels offer ample nonsmoking rooms, nothing is guaranteed using the app. Rooms can be booked for up to five nights, but check-in must occur the day of booking.
• Priceline has also jumped into the same-day hotel sale frenzy. Offers start to post at 11 a.m. Unlike Priceline's traditional service where travelers bid on unknown hotels, here the hotel names are displayed along with descriptions, maps, photos and customer satisfaction scores.
• Last Minute Travel recently launched a new mobile app which can also help with last-second bookings. The app integrates TripAdvisor ratings and reviews. Unlike the other apps, hotels can be booked at any time in advance of your trip; you don't have to wait until 11 a.m. or noon that day of arrival.
Non-refundable rates • Hotels know that some people cancel and rebook at a lower rate. That leads to lots of uncertainty for them about how many guests will actually show up on a given night. To get a better sense of their future business, hotels offer discounted rates to travelers willing to lock in that rate in exchange for giving up the ability to cancel. Sometimes these can be a great deal, but only for travelers who are certain that flights won't be delayed or their plans won't change in any other fashion. Occasionally, fully-refundable rates will fall and become cheaper than the non-refundable ones, especially when booked months in advance.
Discount codes • If you are a member of AAA, inquire about a discount. Most hotels offer one, though you sometimes need to hunt around to find it online.