Get a Room: The secrets to saving money when booking hotels
Travel Tips & Advice
Whether it is online or on the phone, savvy holidaymakers know how to get a better booking deal, writes Kim Bielenberg.
For holidaymakers hoping to book a hotel, there is a bewildering array of options to choose from.
You can pick one of the popular online travel sites such as Booking.com or Tripadvisor. You can visit the hotel's own website, phone direct and try to haggle, book a package - or just turn up and hope for the best. But how do you ensure that you get the best deal?
Often there is a wide variation in rates for similar rooms in the same hotel, depending on which method you use. Canny travellers have ways of getting substantial discounts, or getting more bang for their buck.
You may not get 20pc off every room, but you can ensure that you are not put up in a shoebox with a view of the rubbish bins at the back of the building. If your timing is right you might get a free meal thrown in.
Perhaps the best advice comes from hoteliers themselves, who have seen all the tricks.
Michael Vaughan, past president of the Irish Hotels Federation, says: "Savvy travellers should be able to make a saving of 15-20pc on many bookings if they take a clever look at the dynamics of booking and shop around."
Booking sites such as Booking.com are useful for gathering information about the hotels in an area, but it is important to remember that they take a big cut when you book with them. This can vary from 15pc to 30pc.
Our check on prices using different booking sites showed that they were often considerably more expensive than the hotel's own website.
A double room at the Premier Inn County Hall in central London on June 28 was €75 cheaper on the hotel's website than on Booking.com. The hotel's website was actually €20 cheaper than the price quoted when we rang up the hotel directly.
We sought the cheapest offers in each hotel when checking the prices, but sometimes the options presented to the person booking depended on which method was used. This could cause a huge variation in cost.
When we tried to book a room for a family of four for two nights in Randles Hotel in Killarney in mid-July, on Booking.com we were only given the option of taking two rooms for a total of €887. But when we looked up the hotel's own website, and also when we rang up, we were offered a family room for €516.
Michael Vaughan, who runs the Vaughan Lodge Hotel in Lahinch, Co Clare says guests can often get a better deal at family-run hotels, where the owner has more leeway to cut a deal.
"I think hoteliers are more prone to the human touch if they talk to someone over the phone, especially if you have a story, and tell them it is something like a special treat for a partner. You might get a discount or an upgrade on the room."
He recommends booking a hotel months in advance to get a better rate, as hoteliers are keen to bring money in before the season starts.
"You can ask for a discount if you pay in advance and many hoteliers would give it to you," says Vaughan.
On the other hand, last-minute bookers can also bag bargains on evenings when there are a lot of empty rooms.
Michael Vaughan says: "Sometimes front of house managers are under a lot of pressure to sell the rooms. So you might get it cheaper late in the day."
Timing is everything when it comes to booking cheap rooms. If it is a resort hotel that attracts families at weekends or a large number of weddings, you are likely to get a discount for days early in the week or midweek.
Hotels that are business-oriented have better deals at weekends.
Michael Vaughan says: "Sunday is often a good day to get a discount, because it is the least busy day. If you are staying for a few nights, you might get a discount on Sunday."
Seasoned observers of the travel business point out that getting a better deal in a hotel is not always about price.
Too often, travellers go online and just look for the cheapest room without checking the quality.
Once a guest has established a price, he or she should try to ensure that they are getting one of the better rooms.
Hotel consultant Conor Kenny says many establishments are keen to offer a good deal without lowering the price.
"Many hotels are happy to offer an upgrade of the room, or they may offer breakfast in bed or a later check-out.
"If you book a hotel for a leisure break on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday, you'll usually get much better value."
Many Irish hotels also offer a free meal if you are staying two or three nights.
Eoghan Corry of Travelextra.ie advises travellers to use price comparison sites like Trivago. These trawl the Internet for the best online price.
Corry also believes you should always check the price directly with the hotel.