Taking a family vacation is never cheap, but it is possible to cut costs at your hotel, freeing up cash for fun adventures! Here are 10 ways to save on hotels for your next getaway.
1. Enroll in a Loyalty Program
Many hotel chains offer free loyalty programs with incentives like earning free rooms after multiple stays. If you travel often and stay at the same chain or one of its participating partners, you can save on future family vacations. If you're a business traveler, enroll in these programs and consider using your free nights for a family vacation.
But even if you aren't a frequent traveler, becoming a member can still save you money. Often, loyalty members receive free Internet service, bottled water, newspapers, spa access and room upgrades. Discounts and special rates are also a perk, as well as early check-in and late check-out. At the Omni Hotels, where kids can receive backpacks with goodies as a part of the Omni Kids program, our free enrollment in the rewards program saved us $9.95 per day in Internet fees.
2. "Like" Your Favorite Hotels and Chains
In today's social media age, hotels want to increase loyalty and shares with your friends and give back to those who "Like" them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, pin photos on Pintrest and more. By following the chains and brands you prefer, you'll see special sales and deals only offered to followers of the hotel's social media sites.
3. Stay Where Kids Stay and Eat Free
While less hotels charge for children staying in a room with their parents, there are some that do, such as all-inclusive resorts that charge per person, due to food and activity charges. Look for hotels that offer kids-stay-free incentives, especially chains like Holiday Inn, which never charges for kids sharing a room with their parents.
Free meals for kids is an even better perk. Sure, it's a way to keep paying adults eating on the hotel premises, but when you're traveling with a family of five and three of those meals are free three times a day, the savings really add up. (Note: Eat-free packages often require one free child per one paying adult, so large or single-parent families may have to pay for additional children.)
And don't forget to watch for hotels providing complimentary breakfast, where the entire family can eat cold and hot breakfast items daily. Don't be afraid to grab a couple of pieces of fruit or a muffin to take with you as a mid-morning snack.
4. Eat In
Food can be a big expenditure on a family vacation, which is why we look for hotels with in-room refrigerators and visit the local convenience store for snack items and drinks to keep the family well-stocked. Even if the hotel only offers a mini bar, you can ask to clear it out so you have an empty fridge to store the basics, like soft drinks, milk, fruit and yogurt. When you buy a six-pack of soda at the local convenience store, you'll cut half the cost of soft drinks from the vending machines. And mini boxes of cereal and a half gallon of milk go a long way -- they'll ensure your kids will have something to eat anytime, including while you're still in the shower. (This, in and of itself, can be a godsend if your children are anything like mine and cannot wait more than five minutes for breakfast!)
5. Book a Club Level
Many hotels, especially those with luxury name brands, offer a special Club Level where guests of the floor receive special amenities. Sure, you'll pay extra for the room, but the extra costs may be worth it when you utilize the benefits, such as breakfast, lunch, snacks and beverages included. Whenever I'm lucky enough to stay on a Club Level with the kids, we oftentimes just utilize the lounge for all of our meals and don't ever have to eat out at pricey city restaurants. Club Levels also typically include Internet fees, alcoholic beverages and newspapers.
6. Combine and Save
Web sites like Expedia provide discounts to vacationers who book both their airfare and hotel in one reservation. While a flight and separate hotel booking may list just one price, it will bring the total cost down when combined.
7. Ask for a Discount
Depending on the time of year, hotels are often not able to reach full capacity. Their loss can be your gain if you ask for a discount on your room rate. If you see another less family-friendly hotel with a lower rate, ask your preferred hotel for a similar rate. If you're traveling to a city or you don't expect to spend much time in a hotel, consider hotels that cater mostly to business travelers -- on weekends, the hotels offer steep discounts to lure more bookings.
8. Check Hotel Web Sites
Although sites like Travelocity usually show the lowest hotel prices, hotel Web sites sometimes provide even lower rates. Hotel Web sites will also list special packages and promotions, as well as discount codes and coupons. While planning a recent trip, I found the best rate for a moderate-priced hotel chain to be $150 per night when I reviewed hotel booking sites. When I visited the hotel's website, I discovered the same room for under $100 per night.
9. Stay Longer or Midweek
Staying midweek can cut the cost of a hotel room in half versus booking a hotel over a weekend, but how do you get to travel with the kids is you can't stay over a weekend? Consider checking in on a Saturday and checking out Monday (if you can miss a day of school and work) over a Friday through Sunday stay and you'll still get away for the weekend, at a lower price. Many family-friendly hotels know we like our weekend trips, and to counter it, offer special free nights if you tack on a fourth or fifth night. Look for these deals when planning a week-long getaway. (Many are listed in our Deals section.)
10. Avoid Hidden Fees
You may have secured a low rate on a room, only to be surprised at checkin (or worse, checkout) by the various additional fees you'll need to pay nightly. Often, these extra fees come in the form of "Resort Fees," where a hotel may charge you a flat rate to enjoy its pool and grounds, Internet, and use of the fitness center, and more. Ask at checkin if the hotel charges any additional fees on top of the room rate, and then negotiate on those fees. If you are not using the Internet and don't have any plans to hit the gym, you may be able to get the hotel to waive some of the fees. This one is a long-shot, but it never hurts to ask!
You'll also save money, obviously, by scouring for deals. We've done the work for you and found specific deals for families (rather than deals geared for two adults), and list them in our Deals section.
This article was updated January 13, 2014.
More on Family Vacation Critic
10 Best Budget-Friendly Family Resorts
Ways to Save on Family Travel