On our recent trip to the US we spent the bulk of our time in a gorgeous apartment in Las Vegas. The rest of the time we stayed in 4-star hotels. Typically our accommodation costs were around US$80 a night. There is a big difference between the accommodation we got for US$80 and what was on offer for US$50, usually an outdated room in a Motel6.
How did we afford to do all of this on a budget? We never paid the rack rate for a hotel room. Who would? There’s is absolutely no need to when there are numerous ways of you can find accommodation deals online.
Staying in multiple places for a night or two at a time?
Living Social and Groupon are excellent places to look for accommodation deals. You buy a voucher online within a set time period, pay in advance and then book directly with the hotel quoting the voucher number. You can usually book multiple vouchers for stays on consecutive nights. We also asked the hotel to honour the rate we’d paid on Living Social when we wanted to stay an extra night at one place and they obliged.
We typically got between 50-60% off the price of a hotel room plus extras thrown in like breakfast, champange & strawberries and coupons for hotel restaurants. It does take a bit of work and advance planning to get the vouchers. A month before we started our road trip I signed up for email alerts and scoured them whenever they hit my inbox. Make sure you check reviews of the hotel on TripAdvisor before you buy the voucher and also check if the hotel imposes a “resort fee”on check-in or charges for parking. We generally only booked with the hotel a few days in advance. We never had a problem, even when travelling around Thanksgiving, as tourism is pretty slow in the US at the moment.
Staying somewhere a few nights but can’t find anything on LivingSocial or Groupon?
We waited and waited for deals to come up for Palm Springs, San Diego and Los Angeles but we either didn’t have any luck or they were too expensive or got terrible reviews online (it definitely pays to check, we could’ve ended up at a party hotel in San Diego if we weren’t!).
We turned to Priceline when we couldn’t find a deal we liked elsewhere. For those not familiar with Priceline it’s basically a blind bid to find hotels that meet your search criteria – i.e. we asked it to give us a room in Beverly Hills at a 4-star hotel with a pool and then input the price we were willing to pay for it. If your bid is successful your credit card is charged immediately and you can’t change your hotel once your bid has been accepted. It’s a good idea if you’re looking for a hotel in a specific area but aren’t too set on exactly which one – though you can work out what the options are by using a site like booking.com to specify amenities.
If Priceline doesn’t work then look for a hotel with a good rate through Hotels Combined – this site allows you to compare prices for hundreds of hotel booking sites. Again, check the reviews and also for any other sneaky charges like parking and resort fees.
Staying somewhere for more than a few nights?
Rent an apartment. Even for stays of a few nights, renting an apartment can work out cheaper than staying in a hotel. An apartment gives you and your family more space to spread out and allows you to cook meals which saves on the cost of eating out. Apartments usually come with a parking space which can be a huge additional cost if you’re travelling by car, especially in California where parking cost us between US$20-35 a night!
We rented our Vegas apartment through VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) but AirBnB is a similar site and a lot easy to search. It cost us US$3500 for six weeks. You deal directly with the owner by email, negotiate terms and sign a lease and pay a security deposit, in our case US$3000, to secure the apartment. The only downside is you are usually required to make payment for your entire stay in advance of arrival, which can be a big lump sum. It can be a bit scary handing over so much cash so you need to be comfortable with the person you’re renting from. I suggest you chat to them on Skype or on the phone and get a feel for how professional and trustworthy they seem. Hopefully they will have rented before and will have reviews on the site. It’s a good sign if they ask YOU for references too, it means they care about their apartment.
Craigslist is good for looking for short term apartments, particularly in big cities like New York, where you might people sublet their apartment for short periods. My sister regularly takes a sublet in Brooklyn for 4-6 weeks over the summer via Craiglist and gets great, one bedroom apartments for around US$1500 a month.