Hotels, expensive and necessary to do some of your business. I have no problem with staying in 2 star hotels. I just need a clean room and a relatively quiet place to get the rest I need. The problem is that if there is any chance your client or the people you visit know where you’re staying then you have to go upscale.
Priceline is a great way to get a good deal on a high quality room but make sure you dig into what others pay. This can save you money because their bidding model gives you limited tries in a day. If you are not forced by a conference to a specific hotel you can narrow it to the required area and get the quality hotel you need. When I have gone to some conferences I used the following trick. I waited until I knew the main hotel was fully booked and they started suggesting alternates. This gave me the latitude I needed to book another random hotel in the area and still look acceptable. When other conference goers ask where I’m staying I share the hotel and a story about waiting too long to book.
Hotels are like airplane seats. They have a product that expires. Their business model is to extract the highest price from each customer. This means that the quality level and the location coupled with the demand at that time determines the maximum amount the hotel can receive from their service. But there is a lot of latitude at the check-in desk. I do two things when I check-in when I’m unable to book ahead of time. I make sure I project a good mood, and I am pleasant and engaged with the person behind the desk. I will ask if there is any deal or a room upgrade that is possible, making sure it is not a demand but a request that I would be happy to have but understanding if there is none.
Coming in late means they know if there is a large number of unsold rooms then it makes no difference to them. Being nice is just good business so they will often give you a better room and even a better rate. If you have the time and the mobility you can go to several hotels and ask at the desks. I have sat in parking lots looking for an online deal and received better ones at the desk. Consumer Reports has a nice list of ideas on how to work the hotels.
Learn The Tricks
If you only travel a few times a year it is still worthwhile to learn these tricks. They change as the years pass but once you learn where to go and what to look for you can use it over again without the upfront learning curve. These tricks change over time so you need to update your knowledge base but a little refresher is quick and continues to help you save money.