Sunday, February 3, 2008
Comparison shopping on the Web can save big bucks, but there's more to getting a great price on hotel rooms than just plugging in a date and seeing what comes up. Seeking insider tips, we turned to Charlyn Keating Chisholm, hotels and resorts expert for About.com (http://www.hotels.about.com).
* Know when not to go. If you're planning to visit a place that's popular with conventioneers, your first stop should be the area's convention and visitors bureau Web site (often designated "cvb," as in http://www.charlestoncvb.com). "They'll have a calendar of all events happening," Chisholm says. "You can find when the big conventions are in town and when the big festivals will be" and when, as a result, hotels will be at their most expensive. "Go there at any other time."
* Timing is everything (Part 1: Days of the Week). When is a hotel less expensive, during the week or on the weekend? Once again, it depends. "In Las Vegas, for instance, the weekends are so much more expensive than during the week," says Chisholm, who recently snagged a "gorgeous suite at the Mandalay [Bay Resort] for $139 during the week. . . . It even had a flat-screen TV in the bathroom." What about the flip side? "On the opposite end of the spectrum is New York, which can be dead on the weekends, especially in places like the Wall Street area. There's no one there and you can get a good rate."
* Timing is everything (Part 2: Months of the Year). Okay, you know that New York is horribly expensive in December and much cheaper -- as cheap as it's going to get, anyway -- in January and February. But what about New Orleans in October? That may not have the same ring as April in Paris, but bargains abound. And if you've got your heart set on partying in one of the world's great party cities -- and if Mardi Gras hotel prices are beyond your budget -- just do a little digging on the Web. "Look for a town's smaller festivals, like the French Quarter Festival," Chisholm says. The weekend event, featuring more than 150 musical performances, will be held April 11-13 this year. (See http://www.frenchquarterfestivals.org.)
* Call the hotel."The Internet is great for comparison shopping, but if you want the rock-bottom rate, you need to try calling the hotel directly," Chisholm advises. So after checking prices at hotel booking sites such as Hotels.com, Quikbook.com and Orbitz.com, go straight to the source. For one thing, hotels often promise to give you a rate as low as or lower than those you'll find through an online agent. For another, she points out, "the same hotel can have a wide variety of room rates. A big online hotel site like Expedia might say the lowest rate is $205, but the hotel site may have six different room types for the hotel," some of which may be cheaper.
* Don't overlook the 'burbs. Get a map of the town you're traveling to. See all those hamlets encircling the center city? Remember their names. They may be the key to a hotel bargain. "Truth is, the best rates are often going to be in the suburbs," Chisholm says, and the close-in suburbs are often more convenient to the downtown area than you would think. Staying in Metairie (sticking with the New Orleans example) can save you a bundle. "You will have to worry about transportation more when you're outside the city. On the other hand, the parking is usually free." Given that the price of parking at downtown hotels can sometimes rival the price of a room in the suburbs, casting a wider net for accommodations is highly recommended.
-- Scott Vogel