Hotels on a Budget

February 4, 2016

My friends and family know I love to travel, and not just for vacation. When planning a work trip, there’s usually a “preferred” hotel option, either from the company’s travel programs and policies, or related to the conference venue or final destination. However, traveling on your own for fun can lead to the inevitable question of, “Where should I stay?”

I’ve not been one to ask to crash on a friend’s sofa, unless I’m already an invited guest. Moreover, I usually travel to places where I don’t know anyone yet, which means it’s a brave new world of where to stay and what that experience may be like.

For starters, I’ve not tried Airbnb yet, and I’m not sure I know anyone who has. That’s not to say I wouldn’t recommend it, but there are a few amenities and reasons why I prefer a hotel. That said, hotels can come in all shapes and sizes, so I’ve put together a quick list of what I look for in an inexpensive hotel.

I’ll start by classifying an inexpensive hotel, for me, has been usually somewhere between $100-$150/night, depending on where and when I’m traveling. Visiting tier one cities can skew at or above my high-end, but if there are savings elsewhere, say on airfare, then I’ll go past that mark, but not after checking all my options and measuring against the below criteria.

  1. Determine what amenities you MUST have for your stay. For me, this always includes free Wi-Fi and close proximity to public transportation. Wi-Fi is pretty self-explanatory, and while I take a taxi usually to and from the airport (depends on the city), I want to be near the regular bus or metro lines. This allows for me to do planning before I arrive on where I want to visit, and how I want to get there.
  2. Proximity to why you’re traveling. This can be a challenge, if you’re like me and prefer to see a lot of different things, both in and out of the city. That’s why transportation can be so important. Consider how long it will take you to get from the hotel to point A, B, and back. What’s your time worth? It may be $20 more a night to be closer to the action, saving an hour of travel on either end, OR saving money on a taxi or other transportation. I also love to walk, not just for the exercise, but also to see how the locals live, interact and thrive.
  3. The neighborhood. Yeah, I’ve stayed in my fair share of sketchy areas of a town. Even a nice location can have its rough spots, which goes back to numbers one and two above. However, a hotel on the outskirts of a main attraction, while it might be a bit off-the-beaten path, could have 20 percent or more savings if you’re willing to walk an extra block or two. Never hurts to look at all the pins on the map.
  4. Loyalty programs and points. I’m a member of a few of them, but honestly, seldom stay at one chain over another because of rewards. Similar to airlines, I typically decide based on amenities and price. However, for point collectors, or if you’re looking to cash in rewards, this can be a great filter. With increased consolidation of the parent hotels (thinking Marriott and Starwood combining), earning nights might become even easier. Some hotels, like Disney, offer special rates, to their loyalty base. It may not be free, but a third or half off isn’t bad, either.
  5. Travel mid-week, or look for a check-in on a Sunday our check-out on a Friday/Saturday. In most destinations, weekends are considered prime for rates and fees. This can mean a +$200/night hotel can be less than $150 if you’re able to shift your travel dates forward or back. My last long-weekend trip started on a Wednesday night with a checkout on Saturday. This was perfect for a hotel right in the heart of downtown Chicago, and yes, met the criteria above of one, two and three. Oh, and I saw two different sporting events, and a Friday night concert, plus touring.

Every person’s preferences are unique. Therefore, the best advice would be to make a list of what are your priorities, and if you are price conscious, shop for the lowest offering that meets those requirements. I’ve been known to bend the requirements, or drop entirely, if alternate options are available. Five star resort for the price of three and they offer a free shuttle into town, why not?

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Budget, Discounts, Hotels, Savings, Travel, Vacation,