July 25, 2012 at 11:11 AM ET
When it comes to booking a hotel for vacation, families want comfort, cleanliness and amenities – and all at a budget they can afford. Can you have it all? Yes! By following a few money-saving tips, you can snag that resort of choice at a price that makes your wallet happy – while still leaving you with enough dough for the fried dough, pictures with Shamu, and extra round of mini golf the kids are sure to beg for during your trip!
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 of goodies and more 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. 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.
3. 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!)
4. 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. A search for a hotel near Disney World on Expedia showed me we could save up to $450 on a weeklong trip if we booked the flight and hotel at the same time.
5. Ask for a discount
Economic times are tough, which means 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.
6. Check hotel websites
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.
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