Name your price
When it comes to cheap hotel reservations, it's hard to beat travel bidding sites like Priceline or Hotwire. These sites offer discounts of up to 80% off the rack rate in thousands of hotels worldwide.
The catch? Neither Priceline nor Hotwire reveal the hotel you're bidding on until your bid is accepted — and your credit card is charged. That's where sites like BetterBidding and Bidding for Travel — which can help you pinpoint the unnamed hotels you're bidding on — come into the picture. How do they do it? Thousands of site users post what their bids were, whether it was successful or not, and what hotel they received. In addition, each site maintains a database of hotels that have been awarded to users in each location and hotel class. Using this information, you can figure out just how likely it is that you'll score that 4-star hotel in a prime location. (Hotel reviews by these sites' users will also help you to realize if that 4-star is worth staying at.) It's not an exact system, but it will certainly help you to steer the odds in your favor.
Contact the hotel and ask for a price match
Hotel chains like the Marriott, Best Western, Starwood Hotels & Resorts (which includes the Westin and Sheraton chains), and Hyatt all offer low rate guarantees. This means if you find a lower price elsewhere, they'll honor the lower rate and in some cases offer a bonus discount. Read each hotel's terms and conditions and then use these price guarantees to help you score a cheap hotel reservation.
Book in bundles
Sites like Travelocity and Hotels.com can help you save money when you book air and hotel simultaneously. They may not be able to match Priceline's or Hotwire's rates, but at least you'll know where you're staying.
Find out what other people are saying
The best hotel recommendations come from friends or relatives who can vouch for hotels they've stayed at. But when word of mouth recommendations aren't available, we suggest checking out the user-generated reviews at TripAdvisor. While most travel sites let users rate hotels, we found the reviews at TripAdvisor somewhat consistent in that hotels with a 4- or 5-star rating (out of a maximum of 5 stars) were cleaner than those that scored lower.
Rent an apartment
If your travel arrangements require you to stay put for more than a few days, consider renting an apartment from sites like Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO), which lists dozens of apartments, condos, and homes that travelers can rent throughout the world. Aside from lower rates, some advantages to renting include better living facilities (like a well-equipped kitchen) and more room to breathe, which is especially helpful when traveling with children or larger groups. Some of these sites, like VRBO, list rentals for various countries while others, like Summer In Italy, specialize in specific countries and regions.
Get the most from hotel rewards programs
Like the airline industry, hotels offer special reward programs for their loyal customers. Subscribing to these programs is an easy way to save cash, especially if you tend to frequent one hotel brand over another. Marriott Rewards, Hilton HHonors, Best Western, and Choice Hotels all offer rewards programs. In addition to free nights, these programs can earn you room upgrades, priority check-in, free flights, and more.
Stay at a hostel
The word may conjure up images of backpacking college students, but staying at a hostel is a great way to save money when you're traveling abroad. One site worth noting is Hostelworld.com, which lists deals on hostels from Europe to Central America. The site lets you sort through hostels based on price or user rating. For those of you who don't like to share facilities, you can also search for hostels that offer private rooms and filter them by the amenities they offer.
Let aggregators do the research for you
Aggregators like Kayak, SideStep, and Yahoo's FareChase can pull hotel room prices from dozens of websites. Unlike sites like Expedia, which can only offer rooms for sites they're affiliated with, aggregators function as search engines and don't offer the option of buying directly from them. In addition to price information, these sites give plenty of details on the hotels they list. For instance, if you want to be near a specific tourist attraction, FareChase, Kayak, and SideStep let you filter your results by the hotel's distance to that attraction (it uses Google Maps to pinpoint the distance). Kayak and SideStep take that concept one step further by letting you type in custom addresses, which is a nice feature to have if you want your hotel to be near an address that's not a tourist attraction. For international travel, we recommend Mobissimo.
Take advantage of Web specials
From time to time, dealnews lists hotel coupons from sites like Expedia. They usually require a stay of more than one night, but these promotions can slice anywhere from $50 to 25% off your reservations.
Louis Ramirez is dealnews' Features editor.