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This Travel Hack Might Seem Crazy…But It Works

Posted by The Savvy Retiree on March 12, 2020 in Save Money

Here’s one of those “this makes no sense” stories…

A few years back, my husband Dan and I had driven from our home in Mérida—in Mexico’s Yucatán state—to the neighboring state of Quintana Roo and the city of Cancún. We decided to spend the night and we pulled into one of the major resorts in the famous hotel zone.

Since it was low season, I figured we’d get a bargain rate, so I hopped out of the car and went inside to inquire about that.

Even though this wasn’t all that long ago, it was before I had a smartphone. (I had resisted getting one for longer than I care to admit.) Had I had one, of course, I could have simply looked up the nightly hotel rate for this particular hotel and its many nearby competitors.

As it was, once I was at the front desk, the price quoted by the desk clerk was crazy high. And by this time, Dan had parked the car and was hanging around in the lobby with our overnight bags, having assumed this was where we’d be staying.

But I was having none of it. I’ve traveled a lot and I knew the rate was way out of line. It made no sense.

And so I motioned Dan to follow me to the hotel business center where I jumped on one of their computers. Within five minutes, I’d found a bargain rate for that very hotel—at one-third the price I had just been quoted at the front desk. And then I went to another website I often use and found an even lower rate. I quickly made a reservation through that site.

You should have seen the look on the desk clerk’s face when I walked back up to him and handed over my confirmation number.

On the surface, it makes no sense that you can get a better rate online than in person at the hotel… But it works.

Here’s why. The online travel aggregators, known as OTAs, often offer better rates than hotels themselves—especially the big hotel chains. That’s because the marketing contracts hotels have with OTAs often state that the hotel can’t offer lower prices directly over those you might find through the OTA. That’s how they stay in business. They find the customers. And to do that, they need to offer competitive prices.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to find even lower rates. You just need to know where to look. And with smaller hotels, of course—those that don’t have big marketing budgets—you sometimes can get better rates by booking directly through their websites or by calling them directly and using a few key negotiating points.

And nowadays, since almost everyone has a smartphone or portable device of some kind, there are even more ways to find all kinds of travel bargains—especially when booking either far ahead or very last minute, as I was that day in Cancún.

I’ve made it my mission to figure this all out…how the OTAs work and how to track down alternative resources offering the best travel bargains.

For the last 20 years, it’s been my job to travel, as I’ve been living overseas, traveling, researching, and reporting about the world’s best retirement destinations for International Living. Even before that, I was a lifelong traveler, committed to getting the best deals…the lowest airfares, the best hotel rates, car rental prices, bargain cruises, you name it.

I love nothing more than getting the best possible deal.

And of course, I know that being a savvy traveler isn’t just about saving money—especially as you get older and crave those creature comforts. It’s also about traveling in the smartest, most stylish, and most efficient way possible.

For sure, I’ve given in to the conveniences of my smartphone. I augment my travel planning by using it to make travel more convenient, safer, and yes, even more affordable.

I am now an avowed ride-share user, for one thing. I’ve used Uber, Lyft, MyTaxi, Cabify, and more on three continents and counting. I can’t live without WhatsApp and Google Maps, and, for sure, I have some secret, in-the-pocket apps that I use to save even more money and reduce some of the frustrations of travel.

Once you understand the filters, functions, and features of these sites and apps, you can easily manipulate them to save time, save money, and ensure an overall better travel experience.

Making travel easier…that’s always the goal. If it’s also more affordable…that’s a story that makes sense.

Written by Suzan Haskins