With everything from overnight accommodations to flights, car rentals and food to consider, there’s no question that the costs of traveling can really add up for families. But there are lots of ways to visit even the most popular family vacation spots and still save money on some of the major components of that trip.
For family resorts and hotels, it starts with shopping around for better prices and choosing hotels that offer special perks (think complimentary breakfasts, free theme park parking and discounted admission to kid-friendly attractions). Where do you begin, though? Here are six tips for saving money when booking a hotel for your family.
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1. Use a price comparison tool to shop around for deals
It may seem self-evident to shop around, but there’s some important nuances here. Using every tool at your disposal, from TripAdvisor (which shows prices from multiple online travel agencies) to price comparison sites like Booking.com, can help you turn up hotel options that work well for your family and offer a price that fits your budget. “The best advice is to hunt around and look everywhere,” says Sally French, a travel expert at the personal finance site NerdWallet.
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And don’t forget to look at the hotel websites themselves in addition to the best hotel booking sites. “Sometimes [the hotels] offer the best deals and they are not picked up by other search engines,” notes Nicole Hunter, founder of the travel blog Go Far Grow Close.
In fact, if all things are equal on price, it’s often a smart move to book directly through the hotel. “If you want to make some special requests, like you’re booking three rooms and you want to make sure they’re all on the same floor, it’s often a lot easier to make these special requests when there’s no middleman you have to go through,” says French.
2. Be flexible with your travel dates (and destinations)
It’s no surprise to anyone who travels frequently that room rates are higher at peak vacation times like spring break and summer vacation. “Hotel prices will always be better during the lighter travel seasons,” says Keri Baugh, who runs the family travel blog Bon Voyage with Kids. For families who have to work around school schedules, traveling at off-peak times isn’t always doable. But there are a few tricks you can try to save some cash.
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“Consider shortening your trip by a day or two and staying from Sunday to Thursday or Monday to Friday to avoid peak weekend rates,” advises Dana Ravida, director of hotel commercial strategy at Priceline. “If you don’t have a specific destination in mind but know the type of place you want to go” – on a family beach vacation, for example – “do a broad search for beach destinations and book what’s on sale. This is a great way to save and to discover new locales.”
You can also try things like Priceline’s Pricebreakers deals if you don’t have your heart set on a specific hotel. Priceline shows you a discounted price and three possible top-rated hotels that could be booked at that rate but doesn’t reveal the exact property until after booking.
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3. Think bigger than a standard hotel room
Families with multiple children know it’s not always easy to fit the whole crew into one standard hotel room. Brands like Embassy Suites by Hilton and Homewood Suites by Hilton offer accommodations with more sleeping space (think multiple bedrooms and/or pullout couches), so it can be smart to focus on those kinds of properties where one suite might cost less than two rooms at a standard hotel.
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Kirsten Maxwell, who runs the family travel site Kids Are a Trip, often searches for options at sleeps5.com, which lists hotels that work well for families of five or more. “It’s a good starting point (for your search),” she says.
4. Look for special perks
Free breakfast is a hotel perk that can save money and time. “Just the decision fatigue alone of having to decide where you’re going to eat and what you’re going to order – I find that a hotel breakfast really eliminates that decision fatigue,” says NerdWallet’s French.
At Drury Hotels, you get free breakfast each morning and free dinnertime snacks and drinks each evening. “Those hotels that give little extras are the ones you really want to seek out when you’re traveling with a family, because every little bit helps,” says Maxwell.
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Expensive resort fees can be a hot-button issue, but the French recommend really looking at what the fees cover. A lot of hotels have their own water parks or indoor amusement parks on-site, for example, which means you could skip a pricey visit to an off-site water park in your destination.
“Often hotels with resort fees truly do have amenities that are resort amenities and provide free entertainment that’s often more geared toward children,” says French. “That could save you money in entertainment costs throughout your trip.”
Booking a hotel room with a kitchen could be a money-saving move in some instances, too. But you really have to know yourself and your vacation style. If you’re not going to maximize it, a kitchen could end up costing you more. In looking at almost 100 hotel rooms around the US, NerdWallet found that hotel rooms with full kitchens are 19 percent more expensive on average than equivalent rooms from the same hotel brand in the same area without kitchens.
“The reality is you’re on vacation: Do you want to be cooking and cleaning on vacation?” says French. “Just be realistic with yourself.”
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5. Make the most of your memberships and points
If you belong to AAA, AARP, or Costco, your membership could get you some decent hotel discounts. Credit card points can also help defray hotel room costs for families. Joining hotel loyalty programs is usually a good idea, but accruing enough points for free or majorly discounted rooms depends on how much you travel and whether you stay loyal to a certain brand. Even a basic-level membership can offer perks like free Wi-Fi and “member only” rates, though.
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If you do rack up points, it can help turn an average trip into something special. “Utilize points to upgrade or pay in points for a suite,” suggests Veronica Hanson, who runs the Nomad Veronica website. “The nightly rack rate for a suite might be outside of your budget, but using hotel points to secure those rooms is such a stress saver.”
6. Don’t stop looking for better deals
If you’ve booked a refundable room, keep looking for better deals. “Hotel prices are not fixed; they go up or down depending on supply and demand,” says Go Far Grow Close’s Hunter. “Once you book a hotel, you should periodically go back and check to see if the price of a new booking is less.”
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Hunter also recommends continuing to scout deals at hotels near the one you booked. “Another hotel might have a sale, or their room costs might decrease significantly from one search to another,” she says. “If that happens and if your hotel room is refundable, you can take advantage of it.”
How to save money when booking a hotel for your family vacation originally appeared on FamilyVacationist.com.
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FamilyVacationist.com covers family vacation ideas; family vacation spots; all-inclusive family resorts; and must-have travel accessories for families of all shapes, sizes and orientations. The views and opinions expressed in this column are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.