This Is the Best Time to Book Your Hotel Room
Here's how to score a deal on your next stay.
It's a fact—traveling can be ridiculously expensive, no matter what your budget is. This is especially true of accommodations, which are often the priciest part of a trip besides airfare. Yet as with any form of shopping, there are a few ways you can search for the best rates. Start with picking the right time of year to travel, then consider one of two options: booking far in advance or leaving it up to fate with a last-minute deal. We're here to break down the details of exactly when you should book your hotel room in order to score a steal.
How hotel pricing works
It's actually a pretty straightforward system: Most hotels engage in dynamic pricing based on demand, much like Uber and Lyft, but at a much slower pace that spans the course of the year. The bulk of room rates are determined by seasonality, holidays, and weekdays versus weekends. And unlike airfare, these rates don't drastically increase and decrease at the drop of a hat.
Best time to book in advance
For most trips—especially major international ones—you're best off booking your hotel room at least a month in advance. When there's plenty of availability in a hotel, prices will remain pretty static, but within a month of your travel dates, you might see them start to creep up as inventory drops and demand grows. If you're afraid of missing out on a deal that may pop up later on, try to book a rate that has a flexible cancellation policy.
When it comes to clicking the book button, try to do it on weekends. According to a report by booking site Kayak, hotels display more expensive prices from Monday through Wednesday, and decrease the cost throughout the weekend. Remember, this schedule is just for booking, not for the dates you'll be traveling.
Best time to book last-minute
If you're willing to gamble on a stay, you might want to hold out for the day of travel. Given that most hotels have a 24- or 48-hour cancellation policy, extra rooms might pop up at the very last minute when guests back out of their reservations. Most hotels would rather see their rooms booked than stay empty, so they'll offer them at cheaper rates than usual in order to fill them. There are even apps to help you find the best last-minute deals, including HotelTonight and One:Night. Of course, there are risks involved with waiting—you might end up with no room at all, especially if you're staying in a super popular city like New York, Paris, or Tokyo. For those destinations, it's better to book in advance.
When to travel
If you're flexible with your travel plans, base your bookings on the time of year. Peak season will drive the highest prices—this varies greatly per destination. For instance, hotels in the Hamptons will be the most expensive in the summer, when New Yorkers flock to the beaches; ski resorts in Colorado will be the most expensive in winter when the slopes have fresh powder; and hotels throughout Florida and the Caribbean will peak in the winter as northerners fly south to escape the cold.
Logically, low season is the opposite of peak season, and that's when you'll find the best deals. The downsides to low-season travel are that many businesses might have limited hours or be closed altogether, and the weather might not be ideal. That's why the actual best time to travel is in shoulder season, in spring and fall, between peak and low seasons. You'll still find good hotel deals while facing smaller crowds and enjoying mild weather.
Getting even more granular than seasonality, days of the week do matter. If you have the option of traveling on weekdays rather than weekends, do it. Hotel rooms are often cheaper Sunday through Thursday, while rising with demand on Friday and Saturday.
Of course, holidays and major events throw all hotel pricing out of whack, regardless of the time of year or the day of the week. You'll find that prices go way, way up during Christmas break, New Year's Eve, or even for sporting events from the Olympics to marathons. You're not likely to find any stellar deals around those times.
And to find more vacation bargains, see how This Is the Best Time of Year to Book a Cruise.