Hotel costs are rising – but you can still take an affordable trip without sacrificing a comfortable room.

4 minute read

You’ll spend the dullest moments of your vacation sleeping in a hotel bed. Yet, you’ll spend more than a quarter of your travel budget on it.

According to financial data site ValuePenguin, hotels make up 26 percent of Americans’ total travel costs.[1] For frequent travelers, that number will probably be going up soon.

HotelBusiness, a hotel news site, expects that hotel prices will spike by 3.7 percent this year – but fret not: There are simple ways you can combat the increase without having to stay in the area’s token rickety motel.[2]

By using your travel rewards credit card wisely and scoping out the flight less traveled, you can actually take advantage of all your vacation days unlike 52 percent of Americans, according to Project Time Off.[3]

How a hotel rewards card can help you save on travel

For Americans that want to start saving on travel, it can be tough to choose between an airline rewards card or a hotel rewards card. Though both can help you in the long run, a hotel rewards card has some leverage over its airline counterpart…

1. The best hotel reward cards have no blackout dates or capacity restrictions

Airlines are making it increasingly harder to use frequent-flyer miles for award seats at the lowest mileage levels. Travelers have to plan their trips long in advance and be extremely flexible – and even then it can be nearly impossible to find awards to some popular destinations.

In contrast, many hotel programs – such as Hyatt, Starwood, and Hilton – offer award nights for any unsold room with no blackout dates. You can even cancel a hotel award in advance, usually with no penalties.

2. Hotel reward cards offer substantial perks

Many hotel credit cards offer customers “elite status” in their frequent-guest programs, before even staying a single night at the hotel. For example, the Hilton Honors Reserve card from Citi offers cardmembers Gold status, which is good enough to receive free Internet, free breakfast, and room upgrades.[4]

Although airline credit cards do offer some nice benefits, such as free checked bags, they’ll never offer elite status just for having the card.

3. Hotel reward cards work for everyone, no matter where you live

If you live near an airport that’s dominated by one airline, you’re pretty much committed to flying that carrier if you want to fly to most destinations without having to change planes. That means you have essentially just one airline credit card to choose from, perhaps in a few different flavors.

With hotel credit cards, you can go in any direction you want. If you don’t like any new changes made to your favorite program, you can just jump ship and go to a competitor’s.

Other ways to cut down travel expenses

Getting a hotel rewards card is a step in the right direction if you’re trying to travel cheaply. But there are more ways you can tack on to your savings than just using points…

Skip the paid “premium” Wi-Fi options

If you’re staying at a hotel with shoddy free Wi-Fi, you might be prompted to pay for a faster connection. Chief Marketing Officer Brian Caskey of Zhone Technologies, a telecommunications equipment company, told a financial news site called TheStreet that around 90 percent of hotels have poor WiFi.[5]

Yaroslav Goncharov, a representative from the WiFi speed- and rate-comparing site, said, “[The hotel] says ‘Free Wi-Fi’ on a booking site, but in reality, that free WiFi is so slow and unstable that you need to pay for the premium Wi-Fi service.”

Instead of paying the daily fee for quicker WiFi, try bringing your own hotspot or fewer electronic devices.

Stay at hotels with free breakfast

Make sure to double-check, because the list can change, but here are some hotels that offer free breakfast. These are known as “limited service” or “select service” hotels and don’t offer as many amenities as full-scale Marriotts, Hiltons, or Hyatts.

  • Residence Inn
  • Fairfield Inn and Suites
  • Springhill Suites
  • Embassy Suites
  • Homewood Suites
  • Holiday Inn Express
  • Hampton Inn
  • La Quinta Inn and Suites
  • Country Inns and Suites
  • Sleep Inn
  • Comfort Inn and Comfort Inn and Suites
  • Quality Inn
  • Clarion
  • EconoLodge
  • Mainstay Suites
  • Hyatt Place (some have recently switched to a $10 per room fee for breakfast, so make sure to check!)
  • Hyatt House

Some “full service” hotels give you free breakfast if you are an “elite” member of the hotel chain – meaning you’ve signed up for their free loyalty card and have stayed in their hotels for a certain number of stays or nights. If you don’t mind the emails, it can be worth it.

Vet hotels closely

Part of the reason hotel costs are rising is because of soaring consumer expectations for high-quality coffee, linens, breakfast, and more says hotel industry research company CBRE.[6] But you don’t need to sacrifice those items to save a few extra bucks.

Finding a hotel on the more affordable side doesn’t mean it has to be skimpy. To vet out the quality of these inexpensive gems, here are some tips…

  • Check reviews. Search online for the hotel and “reviews” to find the truth. Does the complainer sound like someone who got annoyed with a desk clerk for some trivial reason or does it sound valid?
  • Call the hotel directly, not a corporate representative. Ask when that specific hotel was last renovated. To be on the safe side, go with hotels renovated within the last three or four years.
  • Check out the neighborhood online. You don’t want to arrive and find that your hotel is in a sketchy neighborhood. Before you book, check out the area on free sites like CrimeReports[7] or Google Earth.[8]

For more information on saving on vacation, find out How to Save Money on Flights.

Kristen Grau contributed to this report.

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About the Author

Michael Koretzky

Michael Koretzky

I’ve covered a Democratic and Republican national convention, a couple of Space Shuttle launches, and music festivals in Istanbul and the Cayman Islands. What did they have in common? At some level, they were all about money. Now I'm a PFE-certified debt management professional who’s cut out the middleman and writes about money for a living. Sometimes that means explaining the difference between DTI and DMP. Other times, it means writing about student loan memes.

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