Here’s what I do to get a good night's sleep at a great price.

I had a friend once who quit her job and went on a three-week traveling spree, financed solely with credit cards — from the Midwest to the entire West Coast and then on to Vancouver, British Columbia.

“I only stay at Hyatts,” Linda announced once during a phone call from the mountains of Montana. “I don’t stay at cheap hotels.” All those plush-towel-and-pillow-top nights went on Linda’s credit cards until she maxed them all out.

Linda moved away shortly after she returned. A few years later, I bumped into her one afternoon in downtown Kansas City. Linda was back for a special occasion.

“I’m in town to file bankruptcy,” she told me, and then headed off to the federal courthouse.

While Linda is an extreme example of living beyond your means via credit cards, she isn’t alone in her hotel snobbery. My brother jokes that you should never stay at a hotel with a digit in the name. However, if you’ve got some flexibility and a tolerance for the occasional thin pillow, you can still find a low-priced hotel at a decent price.

I learned this last summer when I traveled for three days from Kansas City to Tampa. I’d booked an Airbnb house for a month to scout the city for possible relocation, so most of my money went toward the rent.

Still, I needed four hotel nights for the drive roundtrip, so I restricted my hotel search to the cheaper side. After all, I just needed a bed where I could flop. However, I’ve been burned enough times at the “digit” hotels, and even pricier chains, that I’ve learned a few tricks to help prevent unwittingly booking a hotel that looks like it was featured on an episode of the old TV show Cops.

Here are my favorite methods for vetting a low-priced hotel.

1. Check reviews

Don’t simply believe the reviews about the “amazing management” on the hotel website. Search online for the hotel and “reviews” to find the truth. On my recent trip, I read positive reviews for a Motel 6 in Tennessee. Then I read a few that said, “Don’t ever stay here.”

This is where you have to go with your gut. Does the complainer sound like someone who got annoyed with a desk clerk for some trivial reason or expects more than a comfortable bed, a secure, well-lit parking lot, and bad lobby coffee in the morning for that $55 rate? Or does the person have a genuine complaint?

I ignored the whiner reviews and stayed at the Motel 6 anyway. It was spotless and had a super-comfortable bed. I liked it so much I stayed there on the way back too, paying less than $60 per night. I had the same conflicting-reviews experience with a Red Roof Inn, but it was also recently remodeled, clean, and had everything I needed for a night of relaxation before hitting the road the next day.

2. Call the hotel directly

Forget about interrogating reservation center workers stationed in North Dakota or some other remote state. That person is reading information from a screen. Call the hotel directly and ask when the hotel was last renovated or upgraded. That’s crucial when it comes to bed comfort and puffy pillows. To be on the safe side, go with hotels renovated within the last three or four years.

3. Check out the neighborhood online

You don’t want to arrive and find that your inexpensive hotel is in a sketchy neighborhood. Before you book, check out the area on free sites like CrimeReports, which pulls up types of crimes committed within a specific zip code. For crime statistics, search the hotel’s zip code at sites like Sperling’s Best Places.

4. Get the street view

Check Google Street View for a virtual walk around the block and an idea of the hotel’s surroundings.

I’ve stayed at my share of nice hotels, particularly when there’s any chance of an ocean view. However, when it comes to grueling road trips, I’d rather spend my money on dinners out at my destination or something I’d enjoy more than paying an extra $100 a night for a hotel name and amenities I won’t have time to use.

So, next time you make a road trip research less expensive hotels along the way. You could save hundreds of dollars that would otherwise get charged to your credit card. You can even bring your own pillows, and once you suck down a few sips of that hotel coffee the next morning, you can pack up and hit a Starbucks on the way out of town with a few extra bucks for your vacation.

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Meet the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp


Hipp is a freelance writer based out of Missouri.


credit cards, hotels, save money, Very Personal Finance

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Article last modified on October 4, 2018 Published by, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: 4 Ways to Check Out a Cheap But Nice Hotel - AMP.