10 Years in the Hospitality Industry Taught Me These Genius Holiday Travel Tips

Going on vacation? Take the advice of this travel insider.

After spending 10 years working in the hospitality industry at every level, from front desk to corporate management, I learned a lot of tips and tricks. I use these insider tips to get the most out of my travel experiences. If you’re looking to go on vacation but don’t want to break the bank, follow these simple tips to travel on a budget.

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Know Your Hotel’s Weakness

The first is a big secret that most hotels won’t ever tell you, and it can save you big bucks on your holiday travel: Unless you’re traveling to a resort area or major destination, most hotels will be empty on the holidays.

Yes, that’s right; holidays–especially family-related holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter–are dead for hotels. I remember a time that at one of the largest hotels in our area, they only had one guest reserved for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. They chose to close and instead paid for that guest to stay at another hotel (upgraded, of course).

How can you parlay this into savings for you? Room costs, upgrades, even meeting space can be arranged on a smaller budget. The key is to call the hotel directly and negotiate with the front desk manager or general manager. At one property I oversaw, we hosted a family that planned their reunion over Thanksgiving. After paying less than half of our going rate for the 10 rooms they rented, they also received a free meeting room for the duration of their stay. At the very least, you should be able to score major room upgrades.

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Call the Hotel Directly

Another tip that most people don’t know is that you can almost always get a better room by calling the hotel directly. Hotels usually have a block of rooms that are specifically for the online reservation services; they’re generally rooms that aren’t the best view, location or can be weirdly shaped or arranged. If you call the hotel directly, you’re just about guaranteed to get a better room simply by asking for that rate and the type of room you want. Hotels pay a fee that ranges from 15 to 30 percent to advertise their rooms on these discount travel sites.

The key to getting the best deal is to be knowledgeable about rates and then dealing the hotel directly. Start by checking one of the online reservation sites to see what they’re charging. Choose a couple of hotels that meet your requirements, then call the hotel directly to negotiate a better rate or room. The hotel would much rather keep the percentage they pay to the online booking sites or pass the savings on directly. Calling direct, not the corporate 1-800 number, allows them to keep that fee.

Don’t Forget the Discounts

When you’re calling, be sure to also ask the hotel for other discounts they may offer, such as AAA, military or AARP. Those can really pay off.

Additionally, an often overlooked discount is a student rate. This is especially applicable if there are colleges in the city. Sometimes the student rates are the most deeply discounted available.

And, if you work for a large company, check to see what discounts they offer, as well.

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Kindness Is Key

Even when a location is part of a large chain, the individual hotel property has a great amount leeway in what rate they can charge and upgrades they can offer. A polite request is always a better choice than a demand. If you’re staying at a hotel that offers a loyalty program, ask if the hotel can offer extra perks, points or an upgrade. This is the time to speak up and let them know you’re a supporter of their brand.

Remember, too, that a hotel generally has at least a half dozen people on staff at any given time and the holidays are no exception. These employees are there to make your holiday stay happy and comfortable, while they’re missing out on family time of their own. Most hotel workers will go out of their way to make your stay great. Don’t forget to tip them.

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