How to save money on summer vacation hotels

NEW YORK – Summer vacationers looking for deals on hotel rooms are going to have to search a little harder. The average cost of a room now stands at $110, according to travel research company STR.

Here are some tips to save on your family’s summer lodging:

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 resort fees. Today hotels in big cities 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, 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 avoid getting two rooms, consider a chain which offers one 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 says travelers have a 20 percent chance of getting at least some money back. Those who get a rebate typically see about $50, but occasionally it is much more.

Day-of-stay travel

A handful of new services are offering deals for people checking into hotels that night.

HotelTonight offers discounted rooms at more than 2,000 hotels via its iPhone and Androids apps. Each day at noon 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 mobile app which can also help with last-second bookings. The app integrates Trip-Advisor ratings and reviews. Hotels can be booked at any time in advance of your trip.

Non-refundable rates

Hotels know that some people cancel and rebook at a lower rate. 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. 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. Professional groups, athletic associations and senior citizen associations also often have their own hotel discount codes. And don’t forget about your employer. Most large companies negotiate discounts with hotels and typically allow workers to benefit from the savings for personal trips.

Join loyalty programs

InterContinental Hotels – the parent company of Holiday Inn – as well as Omni, Fairmont and Kimpton all give program members free basic Wi-Fi – even those who have yet to spend a night.

Fairmont gives its members free access to its health clubs. Kimpton gives a $10 credit toward snacks in its minibars. Other programs sometimes give rate discounts to their best members.

If you are an elite member, remember to log into your account before searching for a hotel.

Several programs also run seasonal promotions providing free nights for members. For instance, Choice Hotels and Marriott often provide a free night at certain level hotels after two check-ins during the promotional period.