With scores of mobile apps pointing you to the nearest vacancy, last-minute bookings can yield fabulous results. Plus, far-flung destinations (think Europe or Asia) are offering deals on lodging that help balance out high airfares.
-- Grab a last-minute deal. If you book a hotel room and the price drops, you can get a refund of the difference. One way is to book a room with a refundable rate in advance, then check in a few times -- including a week or so before you leave -- to see whether the price has fallen. If it has, cancel your reservation (be careful not to do so within the no-cancellation period) and rebook at the cheaper rate. If you reserve a "Money Back" room through Tingo.com, the site automatically registers when the price drops and credits the difference back to your credit card.
-- Go off-season. One secret to snagging cheap lodging is to select a destination that's designed for large crowds, then visit in the off-season. Desperate to fill rooms, hotels will slash rates or throw in perks, such as free Wi-Fi or spa credits. For example, consider business or convention hotels after the suits have departed for the weekend; and beach resorts in the spring (after spring break) or fall.
-- Switch hotels mid stay. Say you're booking a hotel for a five-night stay starting on Saturday night. If Saturday and Sunday are more expensive than Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, you'll typically pay for all five nights at the highest price. Consider switching hotels midway through your trip if you can find a comparable hotel for a cheaper weekday rate.
-- Visit the concierge. You'll get the inside scoop on discount theater tickets, two-for-one restaurant deals and other entertainment. Or get help before you check in. Travelocity offers free concierge service if you book vacation packages through its site. Expedia offers "Local Experts" to give advice on popular vacation destinations. And Room 77, a hotel aggregator start-up, offers concierge service to help you locate the right room at three- to five-star hotels.
(Susannah Snider is a staff writer at Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. Send your questions and comments to email@example.com. And for more on this and similar money topics, visit http://www.Kiplinger.com.)