The ultimate guide to finding great accommodations for cheap.
Remember back to the vacations of yore, when trip-planning consisted of calling up your trusty travel agent and cramming the fam into a Sandals for a week of sun, sand and third-degree burns?
Fast forward to 2016, when it’s not enough to have speedy Wi-Fi and a clean bed-bug record—your hotel room better come bedecked with a fiddle-leaf fig tree, a rattan hanging swing chair, and an apothecary’s worth of tiny Malin & Gotez products lining the rain shower.
We’re not gonna lie, having champagne taste without a mini-bar budget takes its toll on the old credit card. But we’ve picked up a few tips over our years of coast-to-coast Coveteuring—from scoring a room in that new boutique hotel with the rooftop infinity pool, to snapping up the lowest possible rate at That Place Rihanna Stayed That One Time, here’s how to guarantee a stylish stay without ending your trip a broke joke.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
…And also a foolproof way to get blogger-approved digs. For me, step one is always to find that #goals-worthy spot, and not sure about you guys, but there are certain Instagrammers whose tastes are pretty in tune with my own (i.e. I want everything they have and I want it right now). These aspirational gold mines are my first stop when it comes to choosing where to stay. I’ll just hit the little photo map icon (the one that looks like a tiny teardrop) on their Instagram profile, zoom into my destination, and see where they stayed when they visited (and trust, they’ve visited). A quick Google search of the hotel name will produce a cross-referenced list of booking websites and lowest prices. Ah, 21st-century vacationing.
Book a brand-new spot.
So your be-all-end-all hotel is out of the budget. Time for Plan B: researching any brand-new hotels opening in your destination. Oftentimes the prices will be lower before the hype machine starts churning, and if they haven’t been able to fill all their rooms, you can often score a cheaper rate.
Big spender? Frequent flyer? Time to check up on those points you’ve been collecting every time you swipe. How this works depends on your credit card and reward system, but chances are you can shave some precious dollars off your stay. (Last time I traveled, I used my points to get two nights free at an out-of-my-league hotel in California—Egyptian cotton never felt so good).
Give ‘em a call (or, the ‘you used to call me on my hotel phone’)
What with all the travel-pun-dot-coms to choose from, it can sometimes slip our minds that the people running these establishments are actually people—and people whose greatest professional fear is a sub-par TripAdvisor review, no less. Cut the middle man and give the hotel a call. Tell them what you were hoping to spend, and that you’ve been getting mixed-messaged pricing online and wanted to book directly through them to ensure the lowest rate possible. Lastly, flaunt those assets (if you’re celebrating a special occasion, tell them; if you’re a blogger and will be writing about your trip, slip it in there; if you’re mildly Instagram famous, make that sh*t known).
Same goes with Airbnb. If you’ve found the perfect place, but they have a three-night minimum stay and you only need one, just reach out to the owner. You’d be surprised how accommodating nice people can be.
Remember to clear those cookies.
You know how that pair of shoes you’ve been stalking on Net-A-Porter pops up in your Facebook feed to remind you of their shiny-perfect existence/test the boundaries of human willpower? Same goes with hotels—if you’ve been checking up on one destination in particular, you’ll start seeing some seriously jacked-up prices in your browser. Every so often, cookie-cut and clear that cache.
Don’t just consult TripAdvisor’s Top 10.
There are so many other awesome accommodation-centric sites that may appeal to your taste sensibilities (read: a little more Ace Hotel, and a little less hotel-motel-Holiday-Inn). My first stops are always Jetsetter.com—the sole reason my boyfriend and I managed to score rooms in the Ace Hotel & Swim Club AND the Parker Palm Springs last fall without liquidating a mutual fund—and HotelTonight, an app that shows all the last-minute deals at hotels, ranked with lingo we can understand (i.e. “hip” vs. “standard” vs. “luxe”).
Opt out of a hotel altogether.
If you’re even the slightest bit outdoorsy (and we’re talking more Central Park than “Wild” here), check out Glamping Hub for out-of-the-shoebox accommodations, like a tricked-out trailer park in Texas, a sun-drenched A-frame cabin in California or a geodesic dome in Georgia.
They’re often a little off the beaten track, and as such, more affordable, than their downtown counterparts. So if you divide your trip into, say, five nights in the city and two nights in an awesome tree house in a nearby state park, you can save some dough and get to explore more of your destination.
When in doubt, use good old-fashioned Google.
You, with the eye rolls. Just hear me out. There’s a reason my apartments have come equipped with exposed brick statement walls, rooftop patios and one glorious instance of Scandinavian-inspired chevron wood flooring, and it’s not because I’m ballin’. It’s because when it comes to finding Instagrammable accommodations, I have major OCD.
It’s all a matter of getting those word combinations that will circumvent SEO and weed out the bland and the less-than-beautiful. Basically, make a list of whatever terms you’d use to describe your dream place and type them into Google rather than the Airbnb search bar. It should look something like:
“Airbnb + [name of destination] + trendy/exposed brick/loft/charming/terrace/treehouse/etc”.
Sometimes this will pull up an Airbnb-aggregated best-of list, or sometimes you’ll stumble upon a dreamy new listing that got buried on page 13 of the site.
Psst. This trick also works if you’re house hunting—I have Google alerts set up for Craigslist + apartment + various adjectives. Call me crazy. I’ll respond from the depths of my vintage clawfoot tub.