4 Tricks for finding the best hotel deals outside of high season

Phuket Beach ChairsWhile some people are fine just picking out a decent hotel that seems affordable, there are many of us out there who really enjoy the process of finding the best possible hotel deal for an upcoming trip. As one of that group, and also as someone who spends half his time every week researching hotel prices for articles, I’ve come across a few surprising and effective tricks for any stay that isn’t in peak season.

Big cities usually only have low-season rates during the colder months, but many resort areas only have 3 months or so of “high season” and the rest of the year is wide open for promotions and discounts. As we’ll discuss below, during high season, hotels charge as much as they can for every room every night. If they know someone will be willing to pay US$200 per night, they won’t offer it for US$150, so real promotions are rare.

High season vs. Shoulder Season vs. Off Season

To start out, it’s important to determine which season your trip falls in, which is one reason we include that under “Hotel Advice” on every City page here on Price of Travel (Athens, Bangkok as examples).

Remembering that an overwhelming number of Europeans take either July or August off completely, those are the high season months in much of the world, even where June and September (shoulder season) have more pleasant weather. The Low Season is often associated with poor weather in a destination, but not always, and sometimes the discounts are so steep that it’s worth putting up with a few quick afternoon thunderstorms in a week.

4 Tricks for finding the best hotel deals outside of high season

1 – Focus on larger chain hotels

Renaissance PhuketThe single most interesting thing I’ve discovered, and the best trick I have, is that larger hotels that are part of international chains (Hilton, Marriott, InterContinental etc) will offer dramatic discounts outside of high season. If you only have the energy to do one of these, it should be to look for the cheapest chain hotel that you find appealing.

Especially in areas that are very seasonal like the Caribbean, you’ll often see that a US$250 high-season room at the Hilton is offered at US$125 per night a month or two later. Meanwhile, the family-owned hotel next door charges US$150 per night and US$120 in the off season. Most people see that the family hotel is cheaper than the Hilton, without realizing that the Hilton is probably far nicer for only $5 more.

Examples:

  • The 5-star Hilton Maldives – Iru Fushi Resort & Spa in the Maldives has large and luxurious water villas that are usually US$850 or more, yet as low as US$318 in off season.
  • The 5-star Renaissance Phuket Resort and Spa (a Marriott property) starts at US$259 in high season, but at US$94 in low season.

2 – Compare to high-season rates

This is the companion to the one just above, for people who have a bit of time and enjoy finding bargains. You are almost guaranteed to find some surprising results when you compare hotel prices from one season to another. Many smaller hotels don’t even lower prices in the off season, probably because it’s easier for them to lay off half the staff in the low season, and they don’t want to devalue their hotel by offering low rates.

On the other hand, larger hotels and hotels operated by chains usually prefer to stay open and fully staffed all year round, so they will discount rooms as low as they have to in order to be full enough.

Example: You are considering 3 hotels in Phuket in June (shoulder season)

  • Hotel A: US$150/night
  • Hotel B: US$160/night
  • Hotel C: US$140/night

Now you check for rates in February (high season) to see what they are charging

  • Hotel A: US$250/night
  • Hotel B: US$180/night
  • Hotel C: US$190/night

This is a very typical example of price spreads. Keep in mind that during high season, hotels will charge as much as they can to fill almost all of their rooms. So the high season prices are the truest way to compare hotels, as they all need to be full, unlike in the other seasons.

So in the example above you can see that Hotel A is likely to be the nicest of the three by far, while the other two are similar. If you just settle on the cheapest one in June, you’d be missing out on a great deal.

3 – Check multiple websites for promotions

Carlton CannesIn the age of aggregator sites like Kayak.com, it’s easy to assume that you are seeing all possible discounts in one place, but unfortunately that isn’t always true. Again, in heavily seasonal hotel markets, each hotel will charge the most they can for each room, so actual “deals” are rare, if not deceptive.

However, outside of high season, hotels will often offer discounts on only one booking site, or sometimes on their own (discussed below). Once in a while you’ll see these deep discounts on Kayak, but often they are restricted and only available on the site involved.

For example, Expedia.com will offer up to 50% off on a few hotels in some markets, but those prices don’t show up on Kayak. In Europe it’s often Booking.com that has a special deal, while in Asia it’s usually Agoda.com that has special promotions. To be sure, it’s worth a few minutes checking for rates on several sites, scanning for promotions mixed into the overall list.

4 – Check official hotel website, but probably ignore their rates

In the past few years it’s become common for large chain hotels to actually offer their lowest rate on their official website, so it’s worth a try for sure. Sometimes they’ll offer the same rate you see elsewhere, but with free breakfast or a premium room.

But still for the vast majority of smaller and independent hotels, and especially in resort areas where travel agents are still involved a lot, the rates listed on official websites are part of a scam. Fortunately, it usually only takes a few seconds on the website to figure it out, so it’s not a waste of time.

The fact is, that smaller resorts that mostly fill up with package tourists, have an incentive to list a “rack rate” absurdly high. They will list their Beach Bungalow at US$599 per night, so when your travel agent can get it for only $180 per night, you’ll think it’s an amazing deal. Meanwhile, it’s listed at US$180 per night on all the booking sites, so it’s not a deal at all.




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