How to find a cheap hotel online

Learn the tricks of the trade to find low hotel prices, earn free stays and get complimentary perks.

Want to be that person who always scores the best deals on travel? We've come up with a list of sure-fire tips that will help you bag a bargain every time.

Hotels use complex formulas to set their room prices, usually tied to supply and demand and the time of year.

These tips can help you understand what causes those ups and downs in pricing a bit more, be it time year you're travelling or other factors.

1. Book directly with the hotel.

If you're seeing a cheap rate on a travel booking site, check and see what the hotel is offering direct on its website. The cheapest rates are often available direct as many properties, including Accor Hotels and Hilton have best price guarantees. So, even if you are seeing a cheaper price elsewhere, they'll match it to get you to book direct so they won’t be losing out on any commission that would be paid to a booking site

To sweeten the deal, the property may be willing to offer you an even lower rate than what you’re seeing online since or swing free breakfast or Internet access during your stay.

2. Use those best price guarantees.

Hotels aren't the only ones that offer best price guarantees in order to get your business. Many booking websites, for example hotels.com and lastminute.com.au offer price guarantees. Some even let you price match up until the day before you check-in, so if you see your hotel room drop, it's worth hitting them up for some extra money in your pocket.

3. Be mysterious.

If you’re not too fussy about which hotel you stay in, try booking a “mystery hotel”. Sites such as Hotwire offer unnamed-until-paid-for hotels in Australia, New Zealand and around the world at a discount of up to 60%.

You’ll get just enough of a description to have an idea of where you’re staying and the quality of the hotel, but you won’t be able to confirm the name of the hotel until you’ve made your booking and paid for your stay.

Here’s an example of the information you'll see on a hotel listing on Hotwire:

4. Use a booking aggregator such as our Hotel Finder search tool.

Working with a range of different hotel chains, booking engines and independent accommodations will show you the rate of a hotel that appears for your preferred dates across multiple sites.

It’s as simple as finding the best offer available for you on your dates and clicking through to that site to make the booking.

Here's an example of how it works:

We searched for a 4-star hotel on the Gold Coast on a random date 13 May 2017 and selected the Mercure Gold Coast Resort from the results. The tool then searched multiple hotel booking sites, and displays a few examples of rates, highlighting the lowest price available, which in this case was Wotif.com. To go ahead and book that rate, just click "View Deal" and you'll be redirected to a page where you can follow through with your booking.

5. Chance your luck with a last minute hotel.

Hotels absolutely hate empty rooms and if they have some spare for the night, they'll often sell them for a hefty discount. Sites such as lastminute.com.au and LateRooms were made for these kinds of deals.

If you're travelling on the fly, you can always chance popping into a hotel on the day and asking if they have room for you. If they do, you could get lucky and score a premium room for a budget price.

6. Check out that new hotel.

It might not have the reviews or recommendations yet, but popping the cherry on that new hotel has its benefits. Often hotels that are opening soon or have just opened will sport discounted launch fares as they teethe. This is a great way to get a hotel on a deal as well as try out a swanky new hotel that hasn't been broken into yet.

New hotels also appreciate feedback on how they can improve their services, so don't forget to leave them a tip.

7. Give your feedback (good and bad).

Being in the hospitality feedback, hotels are always appreciative of your feedback - both good and bad. Something wrong with your room? Don't be shy! Tell them! Hotels are often happy to oblige and may compensate by offering you another room, a room upgrade, free items or a discount on your stay.

8. Don’t be ashamed of a little schadenfreude.

For various reasons, people have to cancel hotel reservations, even ones that have already been paid for in full and aren’t refundable. That’s something you can take advantage of now. Sites such as Roomer work as a middleman to resell prepaid rooms at a discounted rate.

According to Roomer, the resold rooms are available for as much as 75% off the original price, which means you can save big if a room is available on your desired travel dates. While the site does take a cut of the sale, the majority goes back to the person who originally made the booking.

9. Find your home away from home.

Booking a central aparthotel with full cooking facilities and multiple bedrooms can often cost an arm and a leg. Luckily, you can use hosting sites like Airbnb to find homely accommodation around the world. You’ll come across a mix of options, including entire apartments, spare bedrooms, granny flats and even backyard camping spaces.

Hotels.com coupon code

10. Choose your payment options wisely.

No matter how you book, booking fees and payment preferences differ widely and its good to verse yourself in your options before forking over the dollars.

Some hotels charge you to pay by credit card, so it might be worth hitting the ATM or money exchange for the right amount of bills to pay them in cash.

Sites like hotels.com often have coupon codes and deals but the only way you can redeem them is by paying upfront. If you're not quite 100% on the room but don't want to miss the bargain, choose a refundable booking. Even though you have to shell out some money to secure it, you'll get a full refund if you cancel within the free cancellation period.

11. Be flexible.

If you’re flexible about when you can travel, consider where you’re going when you’re trying to decide which days to travel.

Generally, city stays are cheaper from Friday to Sunday, as hotels cash in on business travellers during the week, while country and coastal stays are cheaper from Monday to Thursday, when accommodation is plentiful after the weekenders leave. During the less-busy days, rates drop to help fill empty rooms - and you may just get the hotel pool to yourself.

12. Travel in the shoulder season.

Not quite peak season and not quite low season, the “shoulder” season fits in between the two. If you’re not going to a destination that’s really weather-dependant, consider travelling during this period.

If you travel just on the outskirts of peak season, which we think is the best time to travel, you’re more likely to get the perks of peak season - like nice weather and - but with fewer crowds and less of a demand for accommodation, which often means lower prices.HotelPoolWide

13. Book your stay in advance.

Hotels like to know that rooms are going to be filled. So much so that often rooms booked and paid for in advance (usually somewhere between 15 and 45 days) are discounted by up to 30%. If your travel plans are set in stone, take advantage.

Here are some examples of hotels that offer such discounts:

Hotel Discount Number of days in advance you’ll need to book
Millennium Hotels Up to 20% 7
Sofitel Up to 25% 30
Pullman Up to 25% 30
M Gallery Up to 25% 30
Grand Mercure Up to 25% 30
The Sebel Up to 25% 30
Novotel Up to 25% 30
Mercure Up to 25% 30
ibis Up to 25% 30
Dusit Hotels Up to 25% for members 14
Red Carnation Hotels* Up to 30% 7-90
IHG 10-30% 7

*Red Carnation Hotels discounts vary from property to property.

14. Get with the program.

Join the rewards program offered by the hotel or booking site. While it may not always save you money at first, you can earn free nights, points that can be used towards free nights or upgrades, and perks such as complimentary upgrades and free Internet access.

Here’s a few examples of what rewards programs are offering:

Hotel Name or Website Perks you can get Cost to join the program
Hotels.com Rewards Stay 10 nights and get one free Free
Starwood Preferred Guest Earn points for free staysGet VIP access to eventsLate check-outRoom upgradesIn-room Internet access Free. Stay longer to upgrade your membership status.
Le Club Accor Earn points for free stays and discountsEarly access to salesOnline check-inRoom upgradesInternet accessWelcome drinks Free. Stay longer to upgrade your membership status.
Dusit Gold Up to 25% discount Late check-out10% discount at restaurantsInternet access Free
Expedia.com.au Earn points towards travelPrice guaranteeExclusive member dealsFree amenities at your hotel Free. Spend more on your stays to upgrade your membership status.

15. Flash your frequent flyers card.

Most frequent flyer programs let you earn points when you stay with their partner hotels. Stay loyal to these brands and flash your frequent flyer card when you book or check-in to nab points that you can later redeem for hotel stays, flights and more.

Showing your frequent flyer card is also a great way to drop some "loyalty clout" which could give you that extra edge to better service or even a possible upgrade.

If nothing else, you'll earn points.

16. Sign up for price alerts.

Don't waste your time checking sites day after day hoping prices will change. Instead, sign up for price alerts so that you'll get notifications direct to your inbox when prices fall.

Online booking sites such as booking.com and hotels.com have this functionality. Simply nominate the destination and dates you're looking at and they'll send you an email when the dollars start to shift. After that, it's simply a matter of jumping on the room when the price is right for your budget.

17. Lock it in.

If you see a refundable rate you’re happy to pay, book it, even if you have a hunch the price may drop. Since it’s refundable, there’s no obligation for you to stick with the booking. You’ll have the security of knowing you have somewhere to stay as well as the freedom to look for a better deal elsewhere.

18. Stay longer.

It costs a lot of money to change the sheets, towels and restock the minibar, so it’s no surprise hotels would rather you stay a bit longer. There’s often a huge benefit to staying three nights rather than two, five nights rather than four and so on. Hotels will sometimes offer discounts or free nights to guests who are willing to stay a bit longer.

Here are some examples of what discounts are offered:

Hotel chain Discount How long do you need to stay?
Sofitel Up to 25% Three nights or more
Pullman One free night
Two free nights
Four nights
Seven nights
Red Carnation Hotels One free night Three or four at most hotels
Millennium Hotels Up to 25% Three nights or more
Citrus Hotels Up to 40% Five nights or more
Citin Hotels Up to 40% Five nights or more
Compass Hospitality Up to 40% Five nights or more

19. To buffet breakfast or not to buffet breakfast?

This is a question. You'll find when booking your room you'll often be given a slew of extras you can opt in for such as buffet breakfast or romantic wine package for an added fee. This might sound luxurious and tempting, but before you commit do a quick search to see what the price of a local breakfast or bottle of wine costs and what exactly is on offer from them.

You may find the hotel is ripping you off for your eggs and toast in the morning. Or, you may find that their buffet breakfast is an amazing bargain.

20. Tell your friends

Referral programs are a dime a dozen these days and the hotel industry is also playing the game. Before you book, check to see if the hotel or booking site you're on has a referral program that can score you bucks when friends book through them.

For example, hotels.com offers a massive $50 off your friends' first booking with it and pays you back in kind by giving you $50 off your next stay. Airbnb has a similar program that gives you $22 travel credit when your friends take their first stay of $97 or more.

Pro tips: Combine a few of the hints above and become a hotel booking superstar.

1. Choose your shoulder season dates and destination far in advance.

2. Check an aggregator for your preferred rate.

3. See which of options offer the lowest rate and the most rewards.

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Ready to test your new hotel booking skills? Check out these hotel deals:

Otel.com Otel.com

Extra 8% off hotel bookings

Valid on hotel stays worldwide on all dates, including over holidays like Easter, Christmas and New Year's Eve.

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Accor Hotels Accor Hotels

$25 off each night + $1 breakfast

Valid for stays from 1 June - 11 November 2018. Redeemable at 190+ hotels across Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and French Polynesia.

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Deal expires

Swiss BelHotel Swiss BelHotel

Up to 30% off Bali stay

Valid for stays until 31 December 2018 at Swiss Belhotel Tuban, Bali, Indonesia. Must book 60 days in advance to get the discount. T&C's apply.

Last verified

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Deal expires

Swiss BelHotel Swiss BelHotel

Up to 15% off Auckland stays 3+ nights

Valid for stays on select dates until 30 December 2018 at Swiss-Belsuites Victoria Park, Auckland. Minimum of 3-night stay to redeem offer. T&C's apply.

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Agoda Agoda

Extra 10% off London hotels

Valid for stays from August - September 2018. T&Cs apply.

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Wotif - Deals Wotif - Deals

Lord Howe Island stay from $235

Valid for stays from September - December 2018. T&Cs apply.

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Dusit Hotels Dusit Hotels

Up to 20% off luxury hotels worldwide

Valid for stays until 31 December 2018. Includes free WiFi and welcome drinks upon arrival. Destinations include China, Kenya, Maldives, Philippines, Thailand, UAE, USA and more. T&Cs apply.

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TFE Hotels TFE Hotels

25% off stays across Australia and New Zealand

Valid for stays between 19 August 2018 - 22 August 2019 on all participating hotels across Australia and New Zealand. Offer excludes bookings for The Calile Hotel Brisbane. T&Cs apply.

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Hotelopia Hotelopia

Maldives stay from just $62

Valid for stays on select dates. Sample savings is for Ul Inn Maldives. T&Cs apply.

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Hotelopia Hotelopia

Majorca stay from just $41

Valid for stays on select dates. Sample savings is for Arcadia Majorca. T&Cs apply.

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