When should you save money on a hotel room?


By Cindy Richards


Lodging is one of the biggest expenses of travel. Find a way to save money on that and suddenly a family vacation can become affordable.

But how do you know when it's OK to go cheap? Here are a few times when there's no point in spending a lot on lodging and a recommendation on how to know it's not too cheap:

1. You won't be there long.

This is best for those long road trips. You just need a (reasonably) comfortable bed and a shower. If you're traveling with kids who have been cooped up in car seats for hours, you need one more thing: a pool. They have to work out the kinks and they deserve a treat. So don't scrimp so much that there's no pool. Tip: Always check to be sure the pool is operating and open the hours you will need it. My kids had meltdowns the time we checked into a hotel only to find out the pool was closed for repairs.

2. The lower-priced hotels offer lots of freebies.

Unlike business-rate hotels that might have nicer lobbies and higher-thread-count sheets, budget hotels such as Super 8 and Hampton Inns offer something more important to families on a budget: free wifi and free breakfast. Kids are hungry when they get up. They don't necessarily want to wait for breakfast while you shower, pack, check out and find a restaurant. Take them downstairs (in the jammies if necessary), let them fill up on cereal or make a waffle while you suck down that first, all-important cup of coffee.  Then head back to the room to shower, pack and check out. Tip: If you'll be staying in a hotel for only one night on your way to your final destination, pack an overnight bag with just the supplies you need for the night--pajamas, underwear, toothbrushes, swimsuits, etc. That way you won't have to unpack the entire trunk each night.

How do you know is the hotel is a good deal or just cheap?

I have stayed in Days Inns for $49 a night (including breakfast and wifi) that were just fine. Ditto for small family-owned motels. And I once booked an online deal to hotel that was so bad I refused to sleep there, even though they kept my money.

So how do you know whether a low-cost hotel is going to be a good deal? If you find a chain hotel you like, stick with it. For my family, road trips usually mean at least one stay at a Hampton Inn. They line America's highways and I have yet to have a bad experience at a Hampton. We also like the Marriott Suites for those times when we want a little more space.

If you don't have a favorite hotel chain, look at review sites like TripAdvisor (keeping in mind that the people who had a bad experience are more likely to write about it). Finally, before you book, call the local tourism bureau or chamber of commerce. Don't ask whether a hotel is OK. They won't want to speak ill of a dues-paying member of the chamber. Instead ask, "If you were booking a low-cost hotel for your family, which one would you choose?"

Cindy Richards is the mom of two, a long-time travel writer and the editor of TravelingMom.com, a website for moms who travel with and without their kids.

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