Advice on hotel room reservations.
July 20, 2004 11:43 AM   Subscribe

Hotel reservation advice needed! We are going on a long car trip that needs to be spread across 2 days. What option will generate the best price? Should I guess where the halfway point is and make a hotel reservation or should I just wing it and just get a room wherever we stop (assuming there are a few hotels at the exit)?
posted by internal to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total)
Priceline it.
posted by gramcracker at 11:50 AM on July 20, 2004

I assume that your roadtrip is taking place in US.

If you don't care where you are stopping for few hours of sleep then I would just wing it. In most parts you always find reasonable price outside of bigger cities in either motels, holiday inns and such. Plus this way you can decide when to stop for the night -- if road is clear and everything is going fine you can keep driving for couple extra hours and have less driving to do on the following day. Try to start looking for places an hour or so before you want to stop and you should find something quite reasonable.

On the other hand if you want to stay in some bigger city itself and go out for dinner etc. then I recommend making reservations in advance as the prices tend to be higher and without reservations you can end you driving around city for hours before finding somewhere to stay.

For longer roadtrips I like to leave either after 8 PM at night or get up early (~4 AM). This way you get out of the familiar area quickly and get the feel of real progress vs. spending the first 4 hours of your trip in morning/ evening rush hour. On a several day roadtrip you're likely to get stuck in traffic at some point, but this way you're at least stuck somewhere that you don't know from every day commute.

on preview: If overnighting out side of bigger cities $20 or even $50 savings are not really worth the fixing yourself to one specific place. You could be either well ahead or a lot behind your schedule and in both cases having a prebooked room is more heachache than worth.
posted by zeikka at 12:04 PM on July 20, 2004

I'm assuming you're on a road trip to "get somewhere", as opposed to "seeing the land."

Assuming that's the case (and it's not a major holiday weekend), just wing it. Get a AAA guide, and just pay attention to the amenities markers along the highway. You want the flexibility to go as far (or not) as you want on the first day, rather than be stuck either driving really late to get somewhere or getting there much earlier than you expected.

I've done this when I've done long road trips and never had a problem finding a cheap, decent motel.
posted by mkultra at 12:05 PM on July 20, 2004

The only downside to winging it, learned as a tyke taking long road trips with my parents, is that sometimes there is something in town that uses up all the hotel rooms. Something big that you have no way of knowing ahead of time. And then you have to drive an extra hour to find a hotel when you really, really want to stop.
posted by smackfu at 12:09 PM on July 20, 2004

You can also stop at the border information centers when you get to the state you think you will be sleeping in. I've always had pretty good luck with securing coupons at these places for motels along the highways. Plus if the staff is knowledgeable, they may even know of better places off the beaten path. At the very least you'll secure some travle guides and your passenger can call around for the best deal as you drive. (You say "we," so I assume you are not traveling alone). And this also assumes you have a cell phone.
posted by archimago at 12:48 PM on July 20, 2004

I have done the "wing-it" thing for years esp. when I was travelling through towns where I didn't know anyone [since first choice is to stay with friends for me]. I have brought a AAA guidebook with me, looked at all those foofy little coupon books at highway rest stops to gauge relative prices, and walked in to hotels at 11-midnight and still been able to get a room. Rooms at side-of-the-highway type places range from $25-45 in my recent estimation. They have air conditioning and TV and usually not a lot more in the way of amenities, but the doors lock and if you just need to sleep and get up, it's a fine solution.

My only word of advice is that in the places I was staying in [Erie PA and some place I don't recall] the Super 8's were by far the cheapest but also the dirtiest/oldest, much more than any other place I'd been to. I don't know if they're like that everywhere. On the upside, many had something in the way of "breakfast" like coffee and donuts which meant that I could drive 100 miles or so before having to stop for proper food. In more touristy spots especially in the Midwest, you can find some really excellent Mom and Pop places that are head and shoulders better than chain motels. Often these low-end places do not show up in the AAA guides. You do need to be somewhat flexible though, smackfu is spot on about timing.
posted by jessamyn at 12:55 PM on July 20, 2004

The other downside to winging it is that you'll see a sign for a hotel that's part of a chain that you've patronized in the past and think "Oh, okay, a Supiltonadason Hotel, I know them, that's a place to go." and you get there and it's skanky. Or full. Or there's a bunch of bikers staying there on their way to a rally and there's evidence of a lot of noise, beer and who knows what else and plans to pull out on two dozen glass-packed bikes at 5 a.m. Then, as smackfu said, you're now forced to either endure skank or a very unrestful night or keep on driving after your body has said "Ah, relief." That sucks. (This happened to me on my last road trip when I was trying to get home after a week's vacation that turned into a week's hospitalization. 3 hotels in 3 towns, all filled with bikers. Good times.)

I'd agree with Priceline or Hotwire recommendations. Another benefit of that is that you'll save time because you'll know where you're going and you can use Mapquest/RandMcNally/mapping of your choice to have directions right to the door. The other good thing about that is that if you run into a traffic jam or some other delay, even though you'll have to spend still more time on the road, you'll be assured that there's an accomodation awaiting your arrival.
posted by Dreama at 1:03 PM on July 20, 2004

We just did the "wing-it" thing on a long trip out and back, and on the way out, it worked fine, but on the way back, we couldn't find anything. Didn't realize we'd find ourselves in the Poconos on a summer weekend when we wanted to stop, and spent over an hour looking for rooms till we finally decided to have a cup of coffee and push through for the extra couple of hours.

My parents pointed out that when they've done long drives, very often the chains will either take a reservation, and move it to another spot for you if you guessed wrong. Ir if you wing it and their full, the front desk at a broader chain can often find you another room a little further down your route (if they're so inclined).
posted by LairBob at 1:11 PM on July 20, 2004

Wing it, with a cell phone and the 800 numbers of Super 8, Motel 6, etc. on hand. You might not need them if the mom-n-pop places are available, but they're handy to have. You can get huge price differences, within the same chain, for a 30-minute drive difference [example: Mall of America region is up to 2x the price as ex-suburbia]
posted by yesster at 1:22 PM on July 20, 2004

If you're going to Priceline it, you should use to figure out exactly how much you should bid. I can usually hand-pick my hotel using the info on this forum... it really takes the guessing out of Priceline.
posted by vorfeed at 1:30 PM on July 20, 2004

...these places for motels along the highways.

Yup....just stop at a rest area on the interstate, and pick up the coupon book.
(they're like that site) There are options for each exit (at least here in the northeast). Usually tho, the best deals are for midweek, and you can't call ahead. You just drive up and show the coupon and that's it.
posted by amberglow at 1:42 PM on July 20, 2004

Consumer Reports suggests calling the individual hotels themselves -- not the chains 800 numbers, but the individual locations. That got the cheapest rate 75% of the time (even beating online sites)

CR also suggests, as others have mentioned, using BiddingForTravel in conjunction w/ Priceline.
posted by herc at 7:23 PM on July 20, 2004

Another random option, especially traveling in pricier areas, is thiefing a Motel 6 directory or similar item. They list all the Motel 6's across America by state/region, and even say what the price is during regular times or peak times. It's a good way to get a guaranteed $30 to $40 room without having to do any advance work. (But perhaps online is better, I don't know.)
posted by Happydaz at 10:13 PM on July 20, 2004

Motel 6 does have online web bargains, where you save about 5-20% off list price. But you can book them the day of your stay, so if you found a wireless access point, hooked up your cell phone to your computer, or called in a friend, you can still get the Internet rate. And Motel 6's aren't that cheap everywhere. The Oakland Motel 6 my parents stayed at during my graduation cost them about $75 a night or so before tax.

On the other hand, though, with the exit books, you can get something at about the same rate as a Motel 6 but slightly more upscale, say at a Travelodge level (with inroom coffee and some muffins and orange juice in the lobby in the morning) or at a one or two diamond level. Not only can you find exit books at rest stops and visitors' centers, but also at restaurants like Denny's (but usually not at fast food joints), gas stations, and chambers of commerce. Make sure you take all of the exit books available, as the quality does vary.
posted by calwatch at 10:28 PM on July 20, 2004

You might find some further helpful Ask MeFi advice here. I'd say give Priceline at least a shot, in conjunction with I broke up a trip from Columbus, OH to Minneapolis by staying in Madison, WI. I used Priceline and got a nice room at the Crown Plaza with indoor pool, etc., for the same price I would have paid for a crappy Motel 6 room.
posted by Otis at 9:14 AM on July 21, 2004

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