8 Hotel Booking Hacks Every Traveler Needs to Know

Sure, you know how to book a hotel on your own because you've got a credit card and the Internet. But chances are you're not booking a hotel as well or as cheaply as you could. To turn you from hotel amateur to hotel pro, we've probed the minds of lodging experts to hear their tips on saving the most money and maximizing every hotel stay you book.
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Sure, you know how to book a hotel on your own because you've got a credit card and the Internet. But chances are you're not booking a hotel as well or as cheaply as you could. Don't feel bad about your amateur mistakes. All you need is a little instruction, and, well, a credit card and the Internet.

To turn you from hotel amateur to hotel pro, we've probed the minds of lodging experts to hear their tips on saving the most money and maximizing every hotel stay you book. These are their essential hotel hacks.

Credit: Shutterstock.com

Set up price alerts.

You've actually decided to go on vacation. Congratulations! You're one of the Americans who actually take time off.

Now you're scouring the Web for the best hotel deals. Usually this entails visiting every booking site under the search bar, possibly multiple times a day, just to see if you can squeak out some chunk of savings. According to travel advisor Katelyn O'Shaughnessy, the CEO and founder of TripScope, each time you visit a travel site, the prices will go up. So don't do that.

Start by deleting your browser cookies before you buy hotel rooms. This goes for airline tickets too and is part of this entire process called "dynamic pricing." That's a fancy way of saying prices will go up. The good people over at Kayak suggest setting up price alerts to keep track of low prices. This means deals in your price range, to your desired destination, will come straight to your inbox on either a daily or weekly basis. Other sites with similar functions include Hipmunk and Airfarewatchdog.

Book at magic hour, six weeks out.

O'Shaughnessy also recommends booking airline tickets and hotel rooms on Tuesdays after 3 p.m., six weeks out. This, she says, is the "magic hour." Additionally, she says waiting until after midnight to book flights or hotels means there will be more inventory (industry-speak for available rooms and seats) and better rates because many of the rooms and seats are put on a 24-hour hold. At midnight, much like for Cinderella, the spell is broken and the hold is lifted. No glass slippers or pumpkins in this one, though.

Avoid cancelation fees by switching dates.

Of course, your college roommate decided to get married on the exact dates you booked your dream trip to Bangkok. Now you've got a cancel your trip or miss out on all the joys of being in a wedding party. But all is not lost.

Most hotels give you a window after which they'll charge for canceling your reservation. But so long as you haven't paid in advance, which is sometimes an option, you can keep your money. O'Shaughnessy says if you've got a reservation and need to cancel but you're already past the drop-dead date, just reschedule for a future date; there's usually no penalty for that. Then, call the hotel back and get a different representative and cancel the room free of charge. She's so sly!

Of course, your mileage may vary on this one, depending on the property. But it's worth a shot.

Visit hot climates in hot months.

Yes, it's August and Mexico is hotter than a set of twin babies in a Mercedes Benz with the windows up, when the temperature goes up to the mid-80s... anyway. Many destinations that're hot year-round are not ideal during summer months. But that's probably the best time to book hotels in said hot climes, as they'll be in low season, which will translate to lower prices, thanks to higher inventory (there's that term again!), according to the folks at Kayak. They have no opinion on the Real Slim Shady, however.

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Before You Go

Fez, Morocco
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For more than a decade, Marrakesh has been the Moroccan destination on everyone’s list. Fez, about 240 miles northeast, was often an afterthought. But slowly, quietly, a sophisticated scene is taking root. It started with expats and locals restoring riads, and continues as hotels, restaurants, and galleries pop up. The biggest news is the Hotel Sahrai, with a hip rooftop bar and 50 rooms, many overlooking an infinity pool. Other notable places to stay include the medina’s Karawan Riad, whose seven renovated suites offer a modern alternative to more traditional riad hotels, and Palais Faraj, a 19th-century palace transformed by architect Jean-Baptiste Barian. On the culinary front, Restaurant No. 7 is making waves with a rotating series of acclaimed guest chefs. It’s the brainchild of British food writer Tara Stevens and American Stephen Di Renza, part of a group of expats who are encouraging experimentation. So far, overdevelopment isn’t an issue. Whether this will last—especially with the 2015 debut of an upgraded airport, set to accommodate 2.5 million passengers, five times the current volume—is anyone’s guess. Don’t wait to find out. This is the moment to see Fez. Find out more about T+L's top pick for 2015. —Richard Alleman

Photo: Céline Clanet
Catskills, NY
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The region that welcomed Jewish families in the ’50s, hippies in the ’60s, and soon, perhaps, casino gamblers is also making room for a new tribe: hip, design-crazed travelers. A string of stylish B&Bs have opened, many of them by transplants from Manhattan and Brooklyn (call them “hicksters”) who value buzzwords like local, authentic, and handmade. Among them are the bohemian-chic Hotel Dylan in Woodstock, the Arnold House in Livingston Manor, with its tavern and diminutive spa, and Phoenicia’s Graham & Co., where the retro amenities include Tivoli radios, bonfires, and a badminton court. Area farms provide the ingredients for inventive restaurants like Table on Ten, in Bloomville, which just added a trio of whitewashed rooms upstairs. The blackjack tables—and a few megaresort proposals that envision the return of the area’s Borscht Belt heyday—may be only a few years off, so now is the time to enjoy fly-fishing, hiking, antiquing, microbrewery-hopping, and other placid pursuits. —Peter J. Frank

Photo: Alessandra Mattanza / The Hotel Dylan
Rotterdam, Netherlands
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If Amsterdam is a study in old-world elegance, then the scrappier port city of Rotterdam is all big, futuristic ambition—and its constantly unfolding city center has become one eye-popping explosion of style. The latest attraction, and reason enough to visit, is the MVRDV-designed Markthal, an igloo-like horseshoe that houses 96 stalls (Dutch cheeses to Moroccan spices, reflecting the polyglot city), 20 shops, nine restaurants, and 228 apartments. It also happens to feature Holland’s largest artwork: a trippy nimbus of mammoth, tumbling fruits and vegetables arching across the market ceiling on 4,500 aluminum panels. Other recent starchitect landmarks include the multipurpose Rotterdam Central Train Station and native son Rem Koolhaas’s nhow hotel, sitting like a pile of stacked metal boxes on the south bank of the Maas River, the city’s reigning cultural hub. After visiting the neighboring Netherlands Photo Museum and the lipstick-red New Luxor Theater, toast a trip well-taken with a Dutch Blossom cocktail in the hotel bar. —Raphael Kadushin

Photo: Stuart Forster / Alamy
Puerto Plata, D.R.
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Far from the resort-clogged beaches of Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic’s less-frequented northern shore has remained largely under the radar. But developments slated for 2015 in Puerto Plata are bound to lure well-heeled sun-seekers. First up is The Gansevoort, offering three-bedroom apartments with private pools and four-bedroom penthouses equipped with rooftop hot tubs. Later in 2015, Aman Villas will become the second Caribbean outpost from Singapore-based Amanresorts and the first golf-integrated Aman Resort. It’s the first phase of a development that aims to introduce some 400 residential villas, along with sports and equestrian facilities. Each is a welcome departure from the island’s cookie-cutter all-inclusives—and a promising sign of what’s to come in the luxury circuit. —Lindsey Olander

Photo: Gansevoort Hotel Group
Wasatch Mountains, Utah
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You can craft a linear story arc from the first edition of Robert Redford’s film festival in 1984 to the summer 2014 purchase of Park City Mountain Resort by Vail Resorts—the behemoth operator’s second recent foray into Park City (it bought the Canyons in 2013). Along the way a small mining town became a cauldron of Olympic athletes, Hollywood’s A-list, and luxury hotel brands like St. Regis and Waldorf Astoria. But a ski region blessed to have won the geographical lottery—seven world-class resorts span three parallel canyons in the rugged Wasatch Mountains, all within an hour’s drive—remained second fiddle to neighboring Colorado, whose star has shined brighter. That’s about to change. Where Vail’s vaunted Epic Pass goes, a legion of loyal snow junkies follows. The new year brings new restaurants, high-speed chairs, and lifts, including one that connects Canyons to PCMR, making it the largest ski resort in the U.S. And the industry is buzzing over a proposal that seems headed for approval called One Wasatch, which would link all seven ski areas in a European-style mega-network spanning 18,000 acres and 100 lifts. The project will have major tourism implications, introducing a new flock of riders to what locals proudly declare on their car license plates: the greatest snow on earth. —Nathan Storey

Photo courtesy of Canyons Resort
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You can’t walk through a neighborhood in Istanbul these days without stumbling upon a debutante hotel primping for its grand entrance. Political unrest hasn’t deterred visitors, with tourism numbers soaring to new highs and hotel groups rushing to meet growing demand. In September 2014, Raffles moved into the business district’s glitzy Zorlu Centre, one of many sleek additions to the ancient city’s sinuous skyline, featuring a mall, office space, and a $350 million performing arts center. Up next: St. Regis in tony Nisantasi and Soho House in trendy Beyoglu. The Vault Hotel debuted in March in Karaköy, Istanbul’s neighborhood du jour, with stately interiors befitting its provenance as an erstwhile bank: an ornate façade, an old-fashioned cagelike elevator, a steel vault–turned–liquor cabinet presiding over the bar. In November, the Morgans Hotel Group unveiled 10 Karaköy nearby, steps from a bevy of new restaurants (join the throngs of stylish locals grazing at Colonie). Even hallowed Old City isn’t immune: Morgans’ next venture, the Mondrian Istanbul, will glam up prime real estate amid Fatih’s Ottoman domes. —Sarah Khan

Photo courtesy of The House Hotel
Chengdu, China
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Famous for its 1,600 pandas, most of which still live in the wild, Chengdu has introduced a 72-hour no-visa policy that makes it easier for Americans to drop in on one of the city’s three major panda research facilities. (For seeing the black and white bears without turning blue, the best months are June to October.) But it’s worth sticking around longer to experience what’s doing in Chengdu, a city on the rise. One of the shiniest attractions is New Century Global Centre, the world’s largest building, complete with an artificial beach. And there’s a slew of new hotel addresses. London-based Make Architects wraps a three-dimensional woven façade of timber, brick, and step stones around The Temple House, which also incorporate a thousand-year-old Chinese Buddhist temple and restored Qing dynasty courtyard building. Swire’s third “House” hotel opens in January 2015 with 100 rooms, while Six Senses opens the sustainable timber doors at Six Senses Qing Cheng Mountain, with 113 whitewashed suites, 30 minutes outside town in the still-unspoiled bamboo forest near the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Qingcheng—the birthplace of Taoism and the Dujiangyan irrigation system, an ecological engineering feat dating back to around 256 B.C. —Cynthia Rosenfeld

Photo: An Qi / Alamy

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