12 Tips to Keep the Holiday Season Special

lead image for 12 Tips to Keep the Holiday Season SpecialYou know her. The woman with six children who glides effortlessly through the holidays turning out handmade gifts and edibles, entertaining family and friends, and all in perfectly polished outfits without being a complete wreck inside. Yeah, that’s not me. And I bet it’s not you either. Unfortunately, it seems that stress has become synonymous with the holiday season, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Remember that the holidays are yours to own—you can and should make them just the way you want them to be. So, take a deep breath and remember the reason for the season. My favorite tips to keep the season special will help you slow down and actually enjoy this beautiful time of year.


1. Reassess

Make a list of everything you do surrounding the holiday season and take note which activities trigger stress. In each of these situations ask yourself, “Who am I doing this for?” Your children? Your mother-in-law? Your husband? Yourself? If you’re going through the motions just to meet your own expectations and no one else, why not cross it off the list?


2. Bring the outdoors inside

Keep evergreens, holly berries, poinsettias and pinecones around the house. The delicious smell and bright colors are bound to make you happier.


3. Break out of the usual routine

Go ice-skating together as a family. Make a gingerbread house. Sing Christmas carols. It might sound hokey, but trust me you and the kids will have a blast doing it.


4. Do something for yourself

Get a manicure and pedicure or a massage (or both!). Whatever the indulgence, you deserve it and should take care of yourself.


5. Take some shortcuts

Don’t feel bad about taking shortcuts in the kitchen, especially if you are hosting a get together. Use pre-made chicken stock, canned pumpkin or any other convenience food. Anything to ditch the stress so you can have more fun—that’s what the season is all about!


6. Count your blessings

Gratitude always brings joy. Life is better when you see the glass half full instead of half empty.

7. Add some sparkle

Dressing up for a holiday party? Add something glittery—a hair accessory, nail polish or shoes. Glitter can be fun and festive around the holidays. Just remember a little goes a long way.


8. Exercise

It releases endorphins, which not only make you happy, but also make you want to eat healthier and stay on track this season.


9. Set the mood

Candles are a simple way to add a little glamour and ambiance. Create a candlescape on your dining table or mantel. Wrap the candles with garland and add a few ornaments. Voila! A beautiful centerpiece.


10. Check your perfectionism at the door

Are you a working mom who is comparing her baking and tree-trimming efforts to those of a stay-at-home mom with two full-time nannies? Are you visualizing a Christmas party right out of the movies? It’s tough not to put pressure on yourself, but seriously—stop.


11. Start a new tradition

If a huge family get-together is too complicated or torturous for you, why not suggest seeing relatives separately. You could meet for several intimate dinners on different nights making everything much more manageable. Or better yet, dine out! If travel logistics are overwhelming, celebrate a month later when travel is much easier and fares are cheaper.


12. Slow down

The season seems to fly by faster and faster each year. Remember to stop once in awhile and take a deep breath of that beautiful pine tree smell, enjoy a one-on-one cocktail with your husband by the fire, and roast a marshmallow or two with the kids. When you stop to enjoy the little things, suddenly everything seems just right.

What do you do to keep your sanity during the holidays? Any special traditions you would like to share? We would love to hear. Happy holidays to you and yours!

10 Tips for a Joyous Holiday Season

crismatsThe holidays should be a joyous time of the year. They provide opportunities for activities that are out-of-the-ordinary, the celebration of traditions, promote togetherness and simply offer a ‘warm and fuzzy’ feeling.  However, as the parent of a special needs child, the holiday season may present a few extra challenges.

Last week we talked about your children and how to help them through the holidays. This week, it’s all about you, the parents, and providing you with the tools to support yourself this season.

Celebrations and activities that are out of the norm can certainly cause confusion, which can lead to an upset child – and upset parents – during the holiday season.

If you are the parent of a special needs child, don’t greet the holiday season with worry at the thought of being stressed. With some proper planning, you can enjoy the holiday season with your child to the fullest.

Here are some simple, yet powerful tips that will make your holiday merry and bright.

  1. Live in the Moment:

It’s great to have plans, but when it comes to children, especially special needs children, plans can change at the drop of a hat. You can certainly make your holiday plans, but be willing to adjust them based on your child’s reaction. Live in the moment and go with the flow. Your kids will only be young and carefree for so long, enjoy it while you can!

  1. Make it Simple:

Yes, the holidays are often about elaborate celebrations filled with great fanfare; however, such events may not be received well by children with special needs. Remember that consistency is key with special needs children. Include some special activities for you to enjoy, but don’t go overboard, as to avoid unwanted stress.

  1. Prioritize:

What is most important to you during the holiday season? Is it going to church to celebrate? Decorating? Partaking in a traditional family event? Choose one or two things that are of particular importance to you and focus your energy on making those events a success.

  1. Have an Emergency Plan:

You never know when things can go awry; which is as true for parents of typically developing children as it is for parents of children with special needs. Have a plan in place, should things go sour to add extra security during the chaos of the holidays.

  1. Prepare:

The element of surprise isn’t always the best with special needs children. Taking your child to a parade that interrupts part of his or her daily routine can be quite upsetting. Prepare your child for the changes and discuss events early and in detail so your child knows what to expect in order to reduce the chances of a meltdown.

  1. Keep Track:

When preparing your child for upcoming holiday events, keeping track of when the event will occur can benefit both you and your child. Post a calendar and count down the days until the event happens. Having a goal in sight can create much excitement and help keep you focused on the positive.

  1. Think Twice:

Really think about an event and your child’s reaction before you decide to go. If your child is noise sensitive and the event includes loud noises, it might be in everyone’s best interest to avoid such an event. It is easy to get carried away with the planning of the holiday season, however, taking the time to carefully think about your plans may help you avoid much stress.

  1. Enlist Help:

Remember that there is no shame in asking for help. The holidays are stressful enough for anyone, and they can be particularly more-so for the parent of a special needs child. Ask for help from friends and family members. A little help can go a long way.

  1. Take a Deep Breath:

Remember that nothing in life is perfect. Stay as cool, calm and collected as possible. Your child will play off of your emotions and when your tensions are high, your child will react – and likely in a negative way.

  1. Go Easy on Yourself:

Contrary to popular belief, you aren’t a super hero. Despite your best efforts, things can go wrong. Don’t beat yourself up if a meltdown occurs or you can’t attend to everything you planned. Life happens, roll with it and make sure to take some time for yourself and take care of your needs.

The Best Ways to Book Cheaper Hotel Rates

cheaper hotel rates

Don’t hotels always seem to account for the largest portion of your travel funds? They certainly do for me. Even if you’re not booking a 4- or 5-star property, a few days stay in a hotel can easily set you back $500, if not more. I like a nice hotel as much as the next person, but when I’m on a budget, I want to make sure I have enough after airfare and lodging to actually enjoy my trip: have good meals, go sightseeing, and buy some souvenirs for my loved ones.

After years of working in the travel industry and having lots of personal travel experience, I’ve learned a few tricks and tips on how to book cheaper hotel rates that I wanted to share. Be sure to share any tips you might have in the comments below.

 

Use a Metasearch Engine

The popularity of hotel metasearch engines is on the rise and for good reason: it’s one of the most efficient ways to find affordable accommodations. If you’re unfamiliar with this concept, a hotel metasearch engine is a website that searches multiple hotel booking sites at once. For example, instead of running a search on Expedia, Orbitz,Priceline, and the hotel’s website, you can use a metasearch engine to search multiple sites at once to see which provider offers the lowest rates and best value. Kayak,Hipmunk, Room 77, TripAdvisor, and Trivago are just a few of the options available.

 

Call the Hotel Directly

If you have a particular hotel in mind, calling the hotel directly can often result in better rates. Since you’re able to speak with someone in real time, the staff will often be privy to rates that aren’t advertised online or, at the very least, they’ll be able to give you insight as to what’s affecting hotel room pricing. Events like conferences, concerts, and conventions can cause hotel room prices to skyrocket, and of course, certain times of year, such as the holidays, will see more expensive rates. If I’m traveling and I’ve found out there’s an event causing hotel rooms in the city center to be more expensive, then I’ll research hotels away from the city center to find lower rates.

Note: Be sure to call the hotel directly and not the 800 number, where you’ll just be routed through central reservations and end up speaking to someone who isn’t onsite at the property.

 

Book Cancelable Rates

Room rates can fluctuate as quickly as minute to minute because a hotel’s inventory is always changing. It’s simple supply and demand: the more people booking rooms at a hotel, the more the hotel can charge. One thing I like to do if I’m flexible with my hotel choice is to book a cancelable rate. It should be fairly obvious which rates are actually cancelable; there’s usually a call-out that states something like “FREE cancellation – PAY LATER,” as seen on Booking.com. I’ll book this rate (I plead though – double and triple check that it’s actually cancelable) and then monitor the price, as well as prices of nearby, comparable hotels. It may take a little bit of extra legwork, but this tactic has saved me as much as $100 per night.

Note: Not all hotels or providers offer cancelable rates. Look at a few different sites and properties to find a suitable hotel that provides a cancelable rate.

 

Book Last Minute

This is a trick best reserved for shorter trips, like romantic weekend getaways or impromptu get-togethers with friends in the city. I certainly wouldn’t advocate waiting till the last minute to book a hotel room for that expensive international trip you’ve been saving up for or leaving your lodging needs up to fate when there could be a major conference happening that results in a hotel room shortage. That being said, if you do a bit of research and are flexible, booking last minute can result in much cheaper rates. Last-minute booking apps like HotelTonight, which works with hotels to negotiate deep discounts on unsold rooms, are a great starting point, and many of the online booking sites, like Expedia and Priceline, have their own “Tonight” or “Deals Tonight” section.

Tip: Many sites offer last-minute deals sections, but are really just pulling the available inventory for the specified locale (not that this is a bad thing), as opposed to working with hotels to provide negotiated last-minute deals. Just be aware of this and shop around before committing to any last-minute deals.

Remember to use TripIt to organize all of your hotel confirmations (and any other trip confirmations) in one spot. You can also sign up for a free 30-day trial of TripIt Pro to try out premium features like alerts, alternate flights, seat tracker, point tracker, fare monitoring, and more.

7 hotel booking tips: from when to find the best deal, to saving cash through your smartphone

1 Hotel in New York
With so much choice, booking a hotel room can throw up as many problems as it solves, not least the uncertainty around knowing if you’re getting the best deal.

Many agents claim booking in advance is the secret to the best deals, however, others like Lastminute.com, contradict this – with cheap late deals all year round, as chains rush to fill rooms last minute.

In reality, it all depends on when, where, and why you are going to stay in a hotel, claim experts at LateRooms.com.

We asked the travel specialists for some top tips on how and when to book for the best hotel room prices, here’s what they found.

For more hacks, see our cheap holidays page, or our 10 money-saving travel tips, for how to save on flights, sightseeing and hotels.

For those looking for a cheap overnight stay, Travelodge has just kicked off its £35 or less airport sale, with a number of reduced rooms at 26 airports nationwide.

1. The early bird catches the worm

Going to a concert, festival, conference, or any other popular event? Book in advance. It’s basic economics – the higher the demand the higher the price.

So, if you’re headed somewhere everyone else is headed too, it’s better to get in there early if you want the best deal. You’ll also avoid the dreaded ‘No Availability’ notice from your favourite hotel.

2. It’s better late than never

If you are looking to steal a couple of nights away in your favourite city, go at a time when there isn’t a big event or occasion taking place.

This way you can monitor availability and prices in the weeks leading up to your stay and bag yourself the best deal.

The really brave jetsetters will leave it until the day before they travel (or even the day itself!) to find the best rate.

3. Get on your smartphone

Be tech-savvy about booking.

LateRooms.com has ‘app only’ deals and users can get between 10 and 40% off last minute getaways.

Tripadvisor also has a handy ‘bargain hotels finder’ with 25 of the best priced rooms in your chosen destination. See our Tripadvsior how-to guide for more.

4. Get on the bus

Happy travellers should always consider hotels in neighbouring towns and cities to their chosen location if a big event means that rooms are scarce (or scarily pricey).

5. City breaks are cheaper in summer

Bear in mind the season which you’re looking to go away. City breaks tend to be cheaper in the summer, as there are usually fewer events, fewer business travellers, and a mass exodus to the coast.

It’s worth pointing out that if you try and book a hotel for a June skiing break though, you’ll probably be left disappointed.

6. Secret hotels are the way forward

A lot of four and five star hotels like to remain anonymous when offering discounts and run ‘secret’ deals for their mystery hotel rooms, meaning you can get a great rate but you won’t know where you’re going to stay until night before you arrive.

Lastminute.com is famous for this, with their ‘Top Secret Hotels’ booking system.

LateRooms.com also has a secret system, type in ‘Secret hotel’ into their site and it’ll bring up a number of hotels in your destination.

7. Travel solo

Take advantage of travelling solo – a lot of hotels assume it’ll be two of you staying in a room, but some offer great rates for singletons.

Shop around for the ones that do and you, and only you, will thank yourself for it.

13 Tips for Sniffing Out the Best Deals on Hotel Rooms

Modern hotel room with double bed, TV and colorful pillows

What everyone wants to hear is that there are one or two apps or websites that will always find you the best deal on hotel rooms.

Sorry. It’s just not that easy.

What worked for last month’s business trip to Chicago may not work for this summer’s family vacation to Disney World – or even this month’s return trip to Chicago.

The reason for this lack of consistency is hotels are always in flux. The price of hotel rooms changes daily, often times hourly, based on demand. Sometimes one site has the best deal for the hotel you want, and sometimes another site does. You can often get the best rate by going old school and picking up the phone or just showing up.

“This drives techo-babble people crazy,” says Tim Leffel, author of “Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune” and editor of Hotel Scoop, a lodging review website. “They think you should be able to find the best prices on the Internet, but that’s not always the case.”

The Internet, however, is a good place to start. The first thing you want to research is location. If you’re visiting New York City, you probably want to stay in Manhattan. Before you can look for hotels, you need to know which neighborhoods you’re willing to consider and how you’ll get from those neighborhoods to the places you’re going to visit. After all, a lot of $30 taxi rides will quickly eat up any savings on lodging.

 

Start with the big names in the industry: Travelocity, Expedia or Orbitz. If you’re looking for a broader picture, Leffel likes websites that gather price quotes from a variety of search engines, such as Kayak or Trivago. From these aggregators, you’ll get a sense of hotel prices at the time you plan to travel.

Then check discount sites such as BookIt.com, Hotels.com or Booking.com, plus the named hotels at Hotwire and Priceline. If you find a hotel you like, check the hotel website before calling to see if you can find an even better deal directly from the hotel.

If you’d happily stay at any number of hotels in a specific neighborhood, consider bidding on rooms at Hotwire or Priceline. Both sites offer big discounts if you’re willing to buy a room without knowing which hotel you’ll be staying in. You can narrow your selection by neighborhood and by star rating, but sometimes the neighborhood boundary is pretty big.

Not only is there no magic website, but there’s no magic time to book to get the best price. Often, you can get the best deal at the very last minute. But this is not going to work in a popular location at a busy time. For those deals, you’ll do better booking earlier.

Here are 13 tips for getting the best deal on hotel rooms.

Call the hotel. Before you book a room, call the hotel itself (the specific location, not the chain’s 800 number) during business hours to see if the hotel will match or beat rates you’ve found online. Sometimes they’ll throw in extras such as free Wi-Fi, breakfast or late checkout. This gives you maximum flexibility because you usually don’t have to pay in advance, plus you won’t need to deal with a third party if something goes wrong or you come across a cheaper alternative.

Make sure you know the total cost. Some hotels charge a resort fee that may not be included in an online quote. Others charge for Wi-Fi, breakfast or use of the gym. In a city center, parking can cost $35 or more a day. To avoid unpleasant surprises, always ask about which fees are included and how much they’ll cost you.

 

Consider hotels that don’t appear on major search sites. Many small hotels don’t want to pay search site commissions, and therefore they don’t participate. When you call them, you’re often talking to an owner or manager who is empowered to offer a discount. TripAdvisor is a good site to use to identify these small hotels, but you should go directly to the hotel to make reservations.

Consider something larger. If you’re traveling with a family or planning a longer stay, look into renting an apartment or house. You can find listings at HomeAway, FlipKey and VRBO, among other services. Many of these lodgings charge a cleaning fee, so keep that in mind when you’re calculating total costs. But with a kitchen you may save on food because you can cook some meals.

Utilize coupon books. On a road trip, pick up the coupon books at rest stops and convenience stores. Those coupons, offered by the owners of individual franchises, often beat the national deals advertised on the chains’ websites.

Travel without reservations. This doesn’t work for Paris at the height of the tourist season, but often times it will get you the best deal at hotels that start the day with plenty of empty rooms. If you just show up, you can also see the room before you commit. Several apps, including Hotel Tonight, cater to travelers looking for a room on the fly.

See what others are paying. Sites such as BetterBidding.com allow you to find out what other travelers have paid at HotWire and Priceline and can sometimes identify the “mystery” hotels that keep their name and location secret until you book.

Check with local tourist offices. In Europe particularly, tourist offices offer room-finding services for same-day rooms. Even in the United States, some cities, such as Newport, R.I., get a list every morning from local hotels of rooms they want to sell for that night. “Think of this as an old-fashion version of Expedia.com, only a real-life person finds the accommodations that is right for you … at the right price,” says Andrea McHugh, marketing and communications manager of Discover Newport.

Be careful with advanced payments. If you book with a service that requires payment in advance, read all the fine print. And make sure you know how much it will cost if you have to cancel.

Check daily deal sites. Groupon, LivingSocial and other deal-of-the-day services offer travel deals, but most of the time you must act quickly to snag one.

Go with a package. If you’re traveling to just one destination, look for a deal that includes hotel, airfare and car rental, which may be cheaper than buying these components individually.

Use travel rewards points. Many credit cards offer points equivalent to several nights’ hotel stays just for signing up, plus you can earn points when you use your new credit cards. “Last fall I went on a two-week vacation to Europe where my girlfriend and I visited Paris, Belgium and Amsterdam. One hundred percent of our hotel stays were covered by hotel points, and we stayed at very nice locations, such as the InterContinental Avenue Marceau, Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan and DoubleTree Suites Amsterdam,” says Kevin Barry, who publishes the website Frugal Mouse, about traveling to Disney parks. “Using hotel points for free stays is the best deal in the travel industry, one that many people don’t know about or take advantage of.”

Budget Tips for Booking Hotels

Hotel Reception Staff, Venice, Italy

The majority of Americans traveling in Europe want to sleep in moderately priced hotels. Most of the accommodations I recommend in my guidebooks fall into this category. Keep these things in mind when searching for a good-value hotel that suits your budget:

Comparison-shop. It’s smart to email several hotels to ask for their best price. This is especially helpful when dealing with the larger hotels that use “dynamic pricing,” a computer-generated system that predicts demand for particular days and sets prices accordingly: High-demand days will often be more than double the price of low-demand days. Compare their offers and make your choice.

Book directly with the hotel. Skip the middleman, such as a hotel-booking website or the tourist information office’s room-finding service. Booking services extract a commission from the hotel, which logically closes the door on special deals. If you book directly with the hotel, it doesn’t have to pay a cut to that intermediary. This might make the hotelier more open to giving you a deal.

Try to wrangle a discount for a longer stay or payment in cash. If you plan to stay three or more nights at a place, or if you pay in cash rather than by credit card (saving the hotelier the credit-card company’s fee), it’s worth asking if a discount is available.

If it’s off-season, bargain. Prices usually rise with demand during festivals and in July and August. Off-season, try haggling. If the place is too expensive, tell them your limit; they might meet it. Or consider arriving without a reservation and dropping in at the last minute to try to score a deal.

Think small. Larger hotels are usually pricier than small hotels or B&Bs, partly because of taxes (for example, in Britain, once a B&B exceeds a certain revenue level, it’s required to pay an extra 20 percent tax to the government). Hoteliers who pay high taxes pass their costs on to you.

Know the exceptions. Hotels in northern Europe are pricier than those in the south, but you can find exceptions. In Scandinavia, Brussels, and Berlin, fancy “business hotels” are desperate for customers in the summer and year-round on weekends, when their business customers stay away. Some offer some amazing deals through the local tourist information offices. The later your arrival, the better the discount.

Don’t consume above your needs. Know the government ratings. A three-star hotel is not necessarily a bad value, but if I stay in a three-star hotel, I’ve spent $60 extra for things I don’t need. Amenities such as air-conditioning, elevators, private showers, room service, a 24-hour reception desk, and people in uniforms each add $10 apiece to your room cost. Before you know it, the simple $90 room is up to $150. Then, additional charges can pile on top of this already inflated room rate. For example, most moderately priced hotels offer Wi-Fi free to their guests, while the expensive places are more likely to charge for it.

Check the prices on the room list, and figure out how to get the best-value rooms. Room prices can vary tremendously within a hotel according to facilities provided. On their websites (and near their reception desks), most places post a room summary that lists each room, its bed configuration, facilities, and maximum price (for one and for two people), sometimes broken down by season (low, middle, high). Also read the breakfast, tax, and extra-bed policies. By studying this information, you’ll see that, in many places, a shower costs less than a bath, and a double bed is cheaper than twins. In other words, an inattentive couple who would have been just as happy with a shower and a double bed can end up paying more for an unneeded tub and twins. If you want a cheap room, say so. Many hoteliers have a few unrenovated rooms without a private bathroom; they usually don’t even mention these, figuring they’d be unacceptable to Americans.

Put more people in a room. Family rooms are common, and putting four in a quad is much cheaper than two doubles. Many doubles come with a small double bed and a sliver of a single, so a third person pays very little.

Avoid doing outside business through your hotel. Go to the flamenco show and get the ticket yourself. You’ll learn more, save money, and be more likely to sit with locals than with a bunch of tourists. So often, tourists are herded together — by a conspiracy of hotel managers and tour organizers — at gimmicky folk evenings featuring a medley of cheesy cultural clichés kept alive only for the tourists. You can’t relive your precious nights in Sevilla. Do them right — on your own.

Avoid hotels that require you to buy meals. Many national governments regulate hotel prices according to class or rating. In order to overcome this price ceiling (especially at resorts in peak season, when demand exceeds supply), hotels might require you to buy dinner — or your choice of lunch or dinner — in their dining room. It’s generally called “half-board,” “half-pension,” or demi-pension. While this might not be expensive, I prefer the freedom to explore and sample the atmosphere of restaurants in other neighborhoods. Breakfast is often included in the room rate, but in some countries it’s an expensive, semi-optional tack-on. If you want to opt out of a pricey hotel breakfast, ask if it’s possible when you book the room.

The Ultimate Hotel Booking Guide

Post image for The Ultimate Hotel Booking Guide: 62 Tips That Will Save You Money

Fed up of paying through the roof for hotels? Check out these 62 industry tips guaranteed to save you money on your next trip!

Do you feel your entire vacation budget gets swallowed by hotels?

Does everyone else seem to find great deals but you?

Read on for 62 hotel industry gems, guaranteed to save you money on your next trip!

CHOOSING A HOTEL

1) Figure out what you want. Don’t pay for a swish reception and room service if you just want a room. Don’t go 4 star if 2 star facilities fulfill your needs.

2) Steer clear of half/full board hotels – they’re rarely cost effective, you’ll be better off finding your own meals.

3) Consider chain hotels. Their rooms are often the same price irrespective of size, a great budget choice for families.

4) Seek out suite hotels: their rates are lower and the kitchen facilities will cut down costs on eating out.

5) Look for small hotels and B & B’s: they pay less taxes so you pay less for your room.

6) Hunt out family-run establishments: they genuinely care about their good name so will be less likely to take you for a ride.

7) Consider “pod/micro hotels” for budget trips and airport layovers. A compact solution halfway between a hotel and a hostel.

8 ) Stay outside of city centers – and if the saving’s big enough hire a car with the spare cash.

9) Don’t dismiss the hotel touts who meet you off the train/bus – you may find some hotel gems that charge less as they’re simply not in the guidebook.

10) Ask around for recommendations – you can’t beat word of mouth, it’s often the best way to find the best value options.

11) Get online: social media sites, review sites and forums are great ways to get recommendations find the best deals and find out about real-life experiences.

HUNTING DOWN DEALS

12) Use price comparison sites to find the best deals online.

13) Seek out 3 for 2 night deals advertised in the press/online.

14) Stay in a business hotel off peak (Summer months and weekends) and get a room for a fraction of the usual price.

15) Ask your favorite hotel to keep you updated on deals and discounts as they come up.

16) Book last minute: you may get as much as 50% off.

17) Don’t dismiss package deals: all in flights and hotel arrangements can still save you money.

18) Shop around: check the price with at least 5 different sources and never go with the first quote you get.

GETTING DISCOUNTS

19) Find a great deal online, call the hotel and ask them to match it: it’s preferable for them to do the deal directly and cut out their commission fee to the agent (can be as much as 30%).

20) Search online for discount coupon codes that will save you money when booking online.

21) Haggle hard in low season: tell the hotel your upper limit and they might just match it.

22) Ask for a discount when paying cash: again preferable for the hotel who gets out of having to pay commission to the credit card company.

23) Mix business and pleasure: see what deals you can get for hotels where you’ve organized conferences/meetings/business trips.

24) Ask for discounts when traveling in a group: you’re buying in bulk so should get a better rate.

25) Ask for a discount for longer stays: longer than 3 nights and you’re well within your right to ask for a special deal on the price.

26) Get an International Hostel Card: a sensible move for long-term travelers, the card will pay itself off in little under a week.

27) Get an ISIC card: students, under 26s and teachers get great discounts on hotels and attractions across the world.

28) Ask about standing discounts for the armed forces/professional organizations – you don’t want to miss out on perks that you’re entitled to!

MAKING A BOOKING

29) Check for shows and large-scale events taking place in the area – the rates will shoot up so you’ll be better off to alter your dates.

30) Travel mid-week – your “weekend away” will cost you less if you don’t actually go on a weekend

31) Put more people in a room: a double with 2 extra beds will cost you less than 2 doubles.

32) Research room rates: twins or showers may be cheaper but you won’t know if you don’t ask.

33) Opt for a shared bathroom: many hotels have basic rooms that they won’t tell you about unless you ask. Sharing a bathroom will lead a nice saving on your room.

34) If you want the cheapest room, say so. That’s exactly what you will get.

35) Check the room rate for each night of your stay and switch hotels mid-way if there’s a big saving to be made.

36) Keep checking the room-rate even after you’ve made a booking. If it drops call the hotel and let them know, they certainly won’t call you to tell you.

37) Avoid room-finding services when booking on the road. They only deal with expensive rooms and also charge a fee.

38) Check the hotel’s cancellation policy. If you need to cancel give them the notice they specified otherwise you’ll get charged.

39) Re-confirm your booking 2 days in advance: mistakes happen and can end up costing you money.

AVOIDING EXTRA CHARGES

40) Ask about extra charges upfront: it helps to know what you’re paying for.

41) Opt out of breakfast if it’s optional: hotel breakfasts rarely offer value for money

42) Don’t pay hotel parking fees: park on the street or in a local garage.

43) Don’t pay for wi-fi: stay somewhere that doesn’t charge or go surf for free in the local library.

44) Don’t pay for laundry: take your clothes to the local Laundromat or hand wash them in the sink.

45) Pretend the mini-bar isn’t there!

46) Don’t change-up money in hotels.

47) Don’t buy souvenirs in hotel gift shops.

48) Travel with a partner: singles can cost more than doubles!

GETTING MORE FOR LESS

49) Join hotel loyalty schemes: rewards include free nights, upgrades and special treatment!

50) Stick with the same hotel chain: again, loyalty saves you money.

51) Check in later and ask for upgrade: your odds will be better later in the day.

52) Broadcast special occasions: birthdays, anniversaries, engagements – all great reasons to get upgraded and treated like a VIP.

53) If you’re not satisfied, say so – good hotels will make an effort to make you happy.

54) Get to know the staff – they’ll be more likely to knock off charges and throw in freebies.

55) Ask for something in return if you brought a hotel substantial business. Don’t be shy!

HOTEL ALTERNATIVES

56) Travel overnight to save on a night’s accommodation.

57) Rent a vacation villa: great for families and large groups.

58) Do a house swap: live in comfort and pay nothing!

59) Camp: not for inner-city stays but reputable, well-run campsites are perfect for outdoorsy, budget travelers.

60) WWOOF it! Willing Workers on Organic Farms offer full board and lodging in exchange for a full day’s work in dozens of countries across the world.

61) Couch-surf: a trend that’s spreading fast. Find a couch, stay for free and make new friends all over the world.

62) Look up old friends and acquaintances – be bolshy and see if you can bag yourself a free room.

How Much To Give Hotel Staff The Ultimate Guide To Tipping

Hotel tipping is one of those things that can paralyze even the most experienced of travelers with indecision. Who to tip? When? How much? The exchange can become quite awkward, even if you are prepared with a stack of dollar bills, and decidedly worse if you start over-employing the “I’ll get you next time” strategy. There’s also a question of expectations. At a modestly priced hotel, should guests tip at all? Freelance travel writer Renee Sklarew tackles the issue by going to the experts for this special Hotels Week report.

At self-service hotels like Courtyard or Best Western, travelers typically wheel their suitcases to their rooms and help themselves to coffee in the morning. In those cases, tipping is less of an expectation. In fact, some hotels have policies that discourage tipping altogether. Helen Morton, the director of sales atSkyland Resort inside the Shenandoah National Park, says their employees do not expect to be tipped. “We want our guests to relax and unplug'” says Morton. “It’s a chance to get away from all that pressure.” Nevertheless, many guests tip the housekeeping staff at Skyland, and servers in their restaurants receive between 14-20% gratuities.

At upscale hotels in metropolitan areas, it is customary to tip several members of the staff. “There are guidelines in the industry where tipping has become an expectation,” explains Gabe Eveland, director of revenue management at the Park Hyatt Washington DC. “We tell our staff, tipping is a way of rewarding good service, and there’s no way to say what’s appropriate across the board. For our guests, we encourage tipping at their own discretion based on the service they receive, and how satisfied they are with that service.”

Most luxury hotel guests expect to dole out dollars. According to Eveland, some members of the front desk team have even been tipped, though it’s not customary. “Ultimately, the guideline is limited to the valet parker, shuttle driver, doorman, concierge and housekeeping. Those people are the ones providing a lot of services you take for granted, or you are doing on your own when you’re not in a hotel.” When tipping housekeeping, Eveland recommends you consider whether you’re staying in a standard room versus a suite, and whether you’re “very messy.” The bigger the room, and the messier you are, the more you should tip.

A concierge typically receives between $5-10 depending on the service provided, including making a dinner reservation or obtaining tickets to a theatre. At some upper-upscale hotels like Capella Hotels & Resorts, the concierge contacts a guest before arrival, then makes arrangements for transportation, in-room amenities, spa appointments or childcare. Often that same concierge welcomes the guest personally at the hotel entrance, addressing the guest by name and showing him or her to the room. When a concierge makes multiple arrangements, guests should tip an amount commensurate with the service—say between $20-$50—at the end of their stay.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association offers excellent advice on tipping standards in their Gratuity Guide. They list the staff members who should be tipped and a recommended amount. For example, it’s customary to tip $1-$5 to the bellman who takes your suitcase to the hotel room. You can decide how much, based on how heavy your belongings are, whether he showed you around, or provided you with useful information. Everyone appreciates a tip, but there’s another way to show your appreciation—take time to write an online review or letter mentioning a staff member’s exemplary service to the hotel’s general manager.

Here are tipping guidelines provided by the American Hotel & Lodging Association in partnership withForbes Travel Guide:

Hotel Courtesy Shuttle Driver: $1-2 per person, $5 per party.
Valet/Parking Attendant: $1-5 when car is delivered.
Bellstaff/Porters: $1-5 per bag when escorted to your room. Tip the same if you request bell staff service while checking out.
Doorstaff: $1-2 for getting a taxi. If they unload your luggage, tip in proportion to amount and weight.
Concierge: $5-10 depending on how involved the service, or lump sum upon departure.
Housekeeping: $1-5 per night, and tip should be left daily in the morning. If possible, leave a note saying the money is for housekeeping.
Delivery of Special Items: $2 for one item, $5 for more. Tipping is not required for someone fixing something broken or bringing something missing.
Room Service: A gratuity of 15-20% should be added if hotel did not include a room service charge on the bill.
Bartender: Tip 15-20% of total beverage tab.
Server in Restaurant: Tip 15% of total bill or 20% for exceptional service.

10 Hotel Secrets from Behind the Front Desk

By Jacob Tomsky

Jacob has worked on the front lines of hotels for more than a decade, starting as a lowly valet in New Orleans and ultimately landing at a front desk in New York City. He’s also the author ofHeads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality and a man with some hospitality secrets to spill.

1. HOTELS ARE RAKING IT IN.

The fact that a hotel could fail to be profitable astounds me. Why? The average cost to turn over a room, to keep it operational per day, is between $30 and $40. If you’re paying less than $30 dollars a night at a hotel/motel, I’d wager the cost to flip that room runs close to $5. Which makes me want to take a shower. At home. That $40 turnover cost includes cleaning supplies, electricity, and hourly wages for housekeepers, minibar attendants, front desk agents, and all other employees needed to operate a room as well as the cost of laundering the sheets. Everything. Compare that with an average room rate, and you can see why it’s a profitable business.

2. STAYING FOR JUST ONE NIGHT? YOU MIGHT GET “WALKED.”

The term “walking a guest” sends shivers down any manager’s spine. Since the average no-show rate is 10 percent daily, hotels will overbook whenever possible. The sales and reservations departments are encouraged to book the property to 110 percent capacity, in the hopes that with cancellations and no-shows they will fill every room. What happens when the numbers game doesn’t play in the hotel’s favor? Someone gets walked. The hotel will now pay for the entire night’s room and tax (plus one phone call—how cute is that?) at another comparable hotel in the area.

A guest is more likely to get walked if:
1. He booked using Expedia, hence he has a deeply discounted rate and is less important.
2. He never stayed here before and may never visit the city again.
3. He’s a one-nighter.
4. And this one is so much more important than all the others: He is acting like a jerk.

3. SMART COMPLAINERS WIN.

Though most complaints should be delivered to the front desk directly, in person or on the phone, keep in mind that most issues will not have been caused by the front desk at all. So briefly outline your problem, offer a solution if you have one, and then ask whom you should speak with to have the problem solved. “Should I speak to a manager about this?” “Should I speak to housekeeping about this?” Those are wonderful and beautiful questions to ask. Most of the time, the front desk will be able to solve the problem immediately or at least act as proxy.

Want to make sure that the agent doesn’t nod, say “certainly,” and not do a damn thing? Get his or her name. Nothing tightens up an employee’s throat like being directly identified. You don’t have to threaten him or her either, just a nice casual “Thanks for your help. I’ll stop by later to make sure everything has been taken care of. Tommy, right?” Whatever you asked me to do I am doing it. (Will screaming get you what you want? Well, probably. But it’s not nearly as effective.)

4. THERE’S A BETTER WAY TO CASE A PILLOW.

To put on a pillowcase, the housekeepers throw a solid karate chop right down the middle of the pillow and then shove it in, folded like a bun. This method is preferred to the civilian method of tucking it under your chin and pulling up the pillowcase like a pair of pants because these ladies have no interest in letting 50 pillows a day come into contact with their faces.

5. ENJOY YOUR LEMONY FRESH GLASSES.

You know what cleans the hell out of a mirror, and I’m talking no streaks? Windex? No. Furniture polish. Spray on a thick white base, rub it in, and you’ll be face-to-face with a spotless, streak-free mirror. However, I am not recommending you take this tip and apply it in your own home. Though using furniture polish is quick and effective, over time it causes a waxy buildup that requires a deep scrub.

The housekeepers kept this move behind closed doors along with another dirty secret I didn’t discover until I walked in on ladies with Pledge in one hand and a minibar glass in the other. Keeping those glasses clean-looking was also part of the job. So the next time you put a little tap water into the glass and wonder why it has a pleasant lemon aftertaste, it’s because you just took a shot of Pledge.

6. NEVER, EVER PAY FOR THE MINIBAR.

Minibars. Most people are appalled at the prices. However, you never have to pay for the items in the minibar. Why not? Minibar charges are, without question, the most disputed charges on any bill. That is because the process for applying those charges is horribly inexact. Keystroke errors, delays in restocking, double stocking, and hundreds of other missteps make minibar charges the most voided item. Even before guests can manage to get through half of the “I never had those items” sentence, I have already removed the charges and am now simply waiting for them to wrap up the overly zealous denial so we can both move on with our lives.

See Also: 19 Secrets of UPS Drivers

7. BOOK ON A DISCOUNT SITE, GET A DISCOUNT EXPERIENCE.

Reservations made through Internet discount sites are almost always slated for our worst rooms. Does this seem unfair? First of all, we earn the slimmest profit from these reservations. And honestly, those guests didn’t really choose our property based on quality; they chose based on value. We were at the top of a list sorted by price. But the guest behind them in line, the one with a heavy $500 rate, she selected this hotel. When she comes to New York, she goes to our website to see what’s available. Since we have no reason to assume Internet guests will ever book with us again, unless our discount is presented to them, it truly makes business sense to save our best rooms for guests who book of their own volition.

8. BELLMEN HATE YOUR SUITCASE—BUT NOT BECAUSE IT’S HEAVY.

Bernard Sadow: the man all bellmen hate, though they’ve never heard his name. In 1970, he invented the wheeled suitcase, the bane of the bellman’s existence. Before that, the bellman was a necessity, a provider of ease and comfort, a useful member of society. When Sadow sold his first prototype to Macy’s in October 1970, he instigated a catastrophic change in the hospitality environment, causing the once noble species to retreat, rethink, and reemerge as a hustler fighting for survival. Sadow might as well have invented the phrase no bellman wants to hear, the phrase that leaves bills unpaid and ruins Christmas: “No, thanks, I got it.” Or that surprisingly prevalent and ignorant phrase: “I don’t want to bother him.” Don’t want to bother him? The man has a family. No one is being bothered here!

9. FRONT DESK AGENTS CAN ALSO BE AGENTS OF KARMA.

Any arriving guest should receive what are referred to as initial keys, which are programmed to reset the door lock when they are first inserted, deactivating all previous keys. Not until the keys expire or a new initial key enters the lock will the keys fail to work. With a “key bomb,” I cut one single initial key and then start over and cut a second initial key. Either one of them will work when you get to the room, and as long as you keep using the very first key you slipped in, all will be well.

But chances are you’ll pop in the second key at some point, and then the first key you used will be considered invalid. Trace that back to me? Not a chance. Trace that back to the fact that you told your 9-year-old daughter to shut her mouth while harshly ripping off her tiny backpack at check-in? Never.

See Also: 10 Flight Attendant Secrets

10. THERE’S ONE SUREFIRE WAY TO GET AN UPGRADE.

Here is one of the top lies that come out of a front desk agent’s mouth: “All the rooms are basically the same, sir.”

Bull. There is always a corner room, a room with a bigger flat screen, a room that, because of the building’s layout, has a larger bath with two sinks, a room that fits two roll-aways with ease, a room that, though listed as standard, actually has a partial view of the Hudson River. There is always a better room, and when I feel that 20 you slipped me burning in my pocket, I will find it for you. And if there is nothing to be done room-wise, I have a slew of other options: late checkout, free movies, free minibar, room service amenities, and more. I will do whatever it takes to deserve the tip and then a little bit more in the hope that you’ll hit me again.

Some people feel nervous about this move. Please don’t. We are authorized to upgrade for special occasions. The special occasion occurring now is that I have a solid 20. That’s special enough for me!

33 Ways to Sleep Better at a Hotel

Rattling ice machines. Dinging elevators. Bachelorette parties down the hall. The sleep gods have their work cut out for them if you’re expecting to snooze well while staying at a hotel.

We’ve compiled one of the most comprehensive guides available to sleeping in a hotel, covering everything from what you should ask when you’re booking the room to how you can swiftly take care of noisemakers so you can get back to sleep.

man sleeping at hotel

When Making Your Reservation

1 – 7. Ensure that you get a quiet room. Two requests are absolutely vital and pretty widely known when selecting your hotel room: a room on an upper floor and away from the elevators. But some other tried-and-true tips from frequent hotel guests could doubly ensure a peaceful experience.

They include:

– Booking a room midway down a hallway. This is generally the quietest part of the floor, as it’s away from the ice and vending machines, guest laundry facilities, exits, housekeeping closets, and other places where noise can be made.

– Asking for a room on the concierge or suite level, if the hotel has one. Sometimes those rooms have taller ceilings, giving you a little more air space from the people above you.

– Avoiding rooms facing a pool. While the view might be pretty, pools can be late-night gathering places — despite posted closing times — and noise echoes off water.

– Asking what time the trash is collected if there are dumpsters or recycling bins outside your windows. If the time is too early for your liking, get a different room.

– Requesting a room at the back of a low-rise hotel. They are generally quieter (especially if they’re away from the parking lot). Even if the view is poor, the peace is worth it.

– Getting a room at least two or three levels above banquet rooms, bars or other public spaces if the hotel has them. You’d be surprised how many floors a pulsating and thumping bass beat can penetrate.

How to Get the Best Hotel Room

8. Ask if the hotel is undergoing or has recently completed renovations. Usually these are done in segments — a floor or section at a time. You want to avoid floors that are adjacent to those currently being updated. But you do want to be on a renovated floor — which will usually be cleaner, smell better, and have newer beds and linens.

9. Inquire whether guestrooms have blackout shades. These are the heavy, thick curtains that keep the light out, and you want to have them.

10. Make sure yours is a non-smoking room. If you’re not a smoker, the scent of old cigarette smoke will keep you from feeling at ease (awake or asleep).

11. Ask about pillow options. If you’re vulnerable to neck or back pain from using the wrong pillow, find out if pillows with different levels of firmness are available. Some hotels stock firmer ones in guestroom closets, or have a secret stash at the front desk. If the hotel doesn’t offer what you need, consider bringing yours from home.

12. Request two beds if you’re traveling with a friend. You’ll get a more peaceful night’s sleep if you snooze alone than you will if you bunk with someone you’re not accustomed to being next to.

Five Things You Should Never Do at a Hotel

Packing for Your Stay

13. Pack earplugs. Uncomfortable as they can be, wadding little bits of foam in your ears is far less annoying than being kept up all night by noise.

14. Bring eyeshades. They are for your eyes what earplugs are for your ears — and they’re especially important if your room doesn’t have blackout curtains.

15. Bring your own sheets. If you have space to pack them, your own set of sheets could help you sleep better, as you’re already used to their feel and scent. They also are helpful for folks with skin sensitivities who are worried about the detergents or bleach used to clean hotel linens.

16. Or at least bring your own pillowcase. If packing a whole extra set of sheets isn’t an option, bring the pillowcase from your bed back home, to enjoy its worn-in feeling and familiar smell.

hotel pillows

17. Spray your room. The chemicals used to clean hotel rooms or launder sheets can be a little overpowering. Add your own scent with a spritz or two of a gentle linen spray you bring from home. (Consider one with a lavender scent, which is known to be soothing; here’s one travel-size optionfrom Amazon.)

10 Travel Essentials You Can Find in the Trash

Preparing to Hit the Hay

18. Don’t read, eat or work in bed. Admittedly, this is not always possible, as seating can be limited in a hotel room. But try not to use your bed to do anything but sleep.

19. Don’t eat a humongous dinner late at night. A belly that’s churning away digesting a big meal interferes with your ability to sleep soundly.

20. Ready a small nightcap. Nearly a quarter of all respondents to a recent IndependentTraveler.com poll say a glass of wine before bed helps ensure a good night’s sleep at a hotel. Too much alcohol can inhibit sleep, though, so keep it moderate.

21. Sip tea. A small cup of chamomile tea or other warm, non-caffeinated beverage can induce sleep. Don’t drink too big a mug, though, else you’ll get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.

22. Silence your cell phone notifications. Especially if you’re in a different time zone than your friends and family, people could be trying to contact you when you’re trying to sleep. Turn off notification sounds for texts, emails and calls before you go to bed so you’re not disturbed.

23. Decide how you’ll mask outside sounds. Commonly referred to as white noise, sound masking involves adding a non-intrusive artificial sound to your sleep environment in order to drown out other noise. Running the fan in the room’s air-conditioning unit is one option. You can also bring your owntravel-size white noise machine, download a white noise app onto your smartphone or stream white noise from your laptop on a free website like SimplyNoise.com.

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Just Before Bed

24. Hang the “do not disturb” sign on the outside doorknob. This is especially important if you’re planning to sleep in. Some housekeepers start their service at 8 a.m. or earlier. If your room doesn’t have a “do not disturb” sign, request one from the front desk.

25. Set backup wakeup calls. How many times have you set an unfamiliar alarm clock, only to wake up the next morning in a rush because it never went off (or awakened in the middle of the night worrying it wouldn’t work)? For greater peace of mind, use two alarms — such as the hotel’s wakeup call service, or your cell phone, wristwatch or travel alarm clock.

26. Take a warm bath. In addition to providing relaxation, a bath lowers your body temperature slightly (once you get out and come back to a cool hotel room), which can help you sleep better.

27. Adjust the room temperature. Generally speaking, most people sleep better in a cooler room. Set the thermostat to just slightly cool — you don’t want to shiver. If you prefer an open window (not always an option), just open it a crack — too much could allow cold air and noise to waft in.

28. Turn the bathroom light on. If you get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom at home, you know you can make it there, do your thing and get back to bed half asleep. That’s harder to accomplish in an unfamiliar hotel room. Keep the bathroom light on and shut the door, just to help you see your way with minimally intrusive light. Alternately, you could bring a small nightlight with you.

29. Choose a non-controversial show or soothing music if you must keep the television or radio on before bed. That means no horror flicks, war documentaries or Rage Against the Machine on your iPod. And keep the volume down so you don’t disturb your neighbors.

15 Things Your Hotel Won’t Tell You

Once in Bed

30. Breathe deeply. Being out of your element can be stressful. Take some deep, slow breaths before bed to help you relax and unwind tense muscles.

31. Don’t wait to report noise. Hotel rooms have notoriously thin walls,you’re your neighbors may not realize their conversations are crystal clear to you. Sometimes a quick pound on the wall will do the trick to quiet down a noisy neighbor. (See When the Hotel Guest Next Door Won’t Shut Up.) If you’re not comfortable doing so, just ring the hotel front desk. They’ll phone the guest or send security personnel to the room with a warning. Excessive noise or repeated warnings could result in the guest being asked to leave.