You’ve decided where you should go on your vacation and booked your airline tickets. Now what? I suppose having a place to stay is high up on your list. I know a lot of people don’t even bother making hotel reservations and just wing it when they get to their destination. This is scary to me because, 1.) I like to be prepared and 2.) I don’t want to end up in a dump. Although, I guess staying anywhere with a roof is better than getting there and not finding anything and having to sleep on a park bench or the train station. In any case, I like to do my research ahead of time, make my reservations and also get the best deal possible. If you travel on a whim and just choose a hotel when you get there, how do you know you aren’t settling? You can’t really shop around at that point.
In any case, I know you budget travelers are also planners, because that’s how you end up with a smokin’ deal that gives you extras and is located conveniently (usually). I have loads of websites I like to hit up, as you can see by my favorite links list on the right sidebar and you will also get the entire list when my book comes out*, but today I’m going to talk about my top five go-to sites. Why do I use them and why are they useful? While I’m sure you have plenty of your own preferred sites, you might find a new one with this list, especially when you see that they all offer something different.
Hotels.com – Yes, they are one of the most popular hotel booking sites, but with good reason. They have a fantastic low-price guarantee and also offer the Welcome Rewards program where after staying a collective 10 nights in hotels booked through their site, you receive a free night. Of course, it’s not just ANY hotel. You can’t have stayed in Motel 6s and put in a claim for a free night at the W. They add up what you’ve spent all 10 nights and then take the average of those. You can either spend a night for free within that budget or use that as a credit towards a higher-end lodging. Hotels.com is always having some promotion going, so it’s a lot easier to save than you think. Right now you can get 30% off participating hotels and a $50 gas card. That’s awesome if you plan to rent a car or go on a road trip. And if you don’t, use it at home to save money driving to and from work or taking the kids to camp.
Venere – I found this website when it was first starting out and only had accommodations in the UK and big cities in Europe. It’s come a long way since then – I found several hotels in Seaside, Oregon the other day – with worldwide listings. There are many great things about Venere, but my top three include not having to prepay, excellent hotel reviews from travelers and listings for accommodations that you can’t book online. Now, that sounds tricky, but usually, if you can’t book a hotel online, you also can’t FIND it online. Now, Venere doesn’t have the no prepay deal on all their hotels. It depends on where you are traveling, but about half of what I’ve searched now doesn’t require you to put down anything when you make a reservation. I love this! As much as I like to have everything paid for by the time I leave, what if I find a better deal elsewhere? I’m not saying I will, but I might. It’s a pain to have to cancel a booking, wait for your card to be refunded and then rebook elsewhere. To be clear, I’ve used Venere many times and have always been happy with my choice of accommodation and their rates and have never had any issues at all. They have a larger selection to choose from than a lot of sites, especially when you’re looking for places to stay in Europe and the UK. They even include apartment-hotels and B&Bs.
HotelClub – This is another site that has grown successfully over the last few years. Now covering worldwide destinations instead of just the UK, HotelClub offers a new twist on booking your accommodations. They give you cash back (which I call cash forward) towards your next booking with each completed reservation you make through them. At first, this may seem like a ploy to get more of your money – let’s face it, it’s mostly that – but you can also see the value in getting a discount on hotel rates after making just one reservation through the site. Unlike other booking sites, HotelClub has attainable tiers that give you even more for your money. Your very first booking gets you 4% cash forward and puts you at Silver Club Membership. Bookings 2-5 put you into Gold Club Membership and get you 5% cash forward. On your 6th booking you become a Platinum Club Member and get 6% of all bookings as credit toward your next one. The only break in these is when you make a last-minute reservation, which only garners you 2% credit. You must keep your account active over a 24 month period in order for your credit to not roll off your account, but that’s easy enough if you take at least one vacation a year. Even better, you don’t even have to use your club bucks on your next booking. You can save them up and choose to use them towards any reservation you choose. 2.5% cash back
BookIt – You hear me say again and again how many great deals can be found on BookIt. I don’t say this because they pay me to. I say it because it’s true. I just told someone on Facebook that I have used them and recommended them to friends and family and we’ve all had excellent experiences with them. She was checking with me, because their prices were so low, she thought they might be too good to be true. I’ll admit, that was smart of her to be concerned, because not all sites out there are legit. BookIt partners with hotels and airlines to bring you the best deals on popular tourist destinations. Book just your hotel, book a package with airfare and even add activities. I found their prices for Disney tickets were even BETTER than those for AAA, which had by far been the best deal I’ve found, and they even had a small, but significant discount on Universal tickets. All in all, great value can be found on BookIt, whether you’re going to Jamaica or Las Vegas. If it’s a beach destination you’re after, I would definitely check here first, though they cover much more than sandy locales.
BedandBreakfast.com – I just discovered this gem a few months ago, because I never thought I’d actually want to stay in a B&B, or that I could afford one. Amazingly, BedandBreakfast.com has a lot of affordable options in very convenient locations. Some of the participating B&Bs are even cheaper than hotels. I’ve seen rates as low as $45 per night for beautiful home in a quiet neighborhood. The benefit of staying in a B&B over a hotel is that a meal is included in your price, making it an even better deal that many hotels. The accommodations are usually homey and also offer the peace and quiet of being in a lovely neighborhood instead of next to a busy freeway or bars, though they are still close enough to get to shopping and nightspots by foot or on public transportation. In addition to included breakfast, some B&Bs offer more extras, like cocktail hour or tea time. If you like to get to know new people everywhere you go and get treated like one of the family, a bed and breakfast is certainly for you. Traveling with your dog? Don’t worry. There are many pet-friendly accommodations on the site, too!
If you haven’t yet signed up for Ebates, it can really help you save even more on your travels (and everyday purchases). In fact 3 of these 5 sites are eligible for cash back with Ebates Travel: Hotels.com gets you 3.5%, HotelClub gets you 2.5% and BedandBreakfast.com gets you a whopping 5%. And not only hotel booking sites are on the list. There are dozens of fantastic travel merchants that partner with Ebates to get you the best deals around, including AmericanAirlines, Orbitz, Club Med, Courtyard, Enterprise rent-a-car, Delta, Golden Tours and Luggage Point. You’re seriously losing money by booking with the participating sites and NOT using Ebates. Just because you think two to three dollars isn’t worth your time, think about adding up several $3 worth of cash back. It doesn’t take long for a few dollars to be ten dollars and then even more. I’ve earned hundreds of dollars in cash back over the last 8 years I’ve been an Ebates member. That extra money has come in handy when traveling, too. I’ve used it toward spending money on my trip or for paying for things before I go!
*Shereen Travels Cheap will soon be a book! Do you want a free copy? Of course you do! We can help each other, because my book is LOADED with amazing travel tips, money-saving tactics, awesome sites, packing tips and suggested products. You want a free book, I want your great feedback: If you have praise for Shereen Travels Cheap (as a site) or if you’ve saved a good deal of money because of my tips or deals via this site, Facebook, Twitter or a guest post, leave a comment on my blog – or use the email me button – with your quote, first name and last initial and city/state or country. If I use your quote, which is highly possible, as I have very few to work with, I’ll contact you for your shipping address and you’ll get one of the first copies. I’ll even sign it for you!
Join me and Kristin from BonBonRoseGirls on Monday the 18th at 5pm PST/8pm EST for a live chat on travel fashion for your upcoming late summer and fall trips. Learn how you can incorporate the latest trends into your travel wardrobe while still packing light and flying with only a carry-on. The Savvy Living Community on Ebates is where it’s at!
There will be a lot of useful information and you can share your own ideas and fab finds with us! Like I shopped the Betsey Johnson BOGO sale last week and got two amazing necklaces that are definitely making it into my travel bag for Hawaii. They will be fantastic for dressing up my outfits when I go out in the evening. It’ll save me room, because I won’t have to pack any extra clothes! Kristin is a wonderful blogger and is on top of all the new trends, be it clothes, shoes, jewelry or makeup. It’s going to be a fun hour, for sure.
I’ve been slacking on your cool “gadgets” and deals lately, so I feel like I should make it up with a couple extra things for you to ogle over. Look fantastic, smell fantastic and prepare fantastic food with these fun goodies.
Stila make-up palettes – Take all your make-up staples with you in one slim palette. Stila includes an eye shadow quad (great for a fabulous smoky eye and a pop of color), blush and a bronzer in a sleek, easy to pack case. It even includes instructions on how to get a perfect look every time. You just supply the applicators – or use your fingers like I do.
Soak wash – You don’t always know if you’ll be staying in a hotel that has or is close to laundry facilities, and even if you do, who’s to say that there will be enough to make doing your laundry convenient during waking hours? Soak Wash is a revolutionary detergent for hand washing your clothes on your trips (though you can probably toss it in the washer, too) that requires absolutely no rinsing. No more squishing your clothes forever trying to get all the suds out. Throw some Soak Wash into the sink with your clothes, let it set, wring it out and hang it up to dry. Easy!
Travel spice kit – If you find that a lot of places you go could use some spice, or simply plan to cook your own food, the travel spice kit is a must for you. With 15 spices included, you can make nearly everything you want just as you would at home. Most vacation rentals or hotels with kitchenettes only have the basics in their spice racks, if they have anything beyond salt and pepper. Kick your travel cooking into high gear and dine with flavor!
Did you miss getting an Entertainment Book this year, or need one for a travel destination? Right now you can buy 2 books for just $10. You can't lose with this deal, because even if you only use one coupon, you've already paid for the book!
Everyone wants a relaxing vacation in an exotic locale. How does and Italian spa vacation sound? Totsy has decided to offer travel deals and one of the first ones sounds awesome: a 6-night stay for two at the Grand Hotel and La Pace Spa that includes 8 spa treatments for each of you, free WiFi and free unlimited soft drinks for $2,532. Purchase this package by Thursday July 21 and stay by January 9th, 2012. (With each travel package you book on Totsy, you'll receive a $100 Totsy credit.)
Take a break in Morocco from KGBDeals: £99 for a three-night break for two at the stunning Dar Tassa Moroccan guest house – an eco-friendly mountain retreate – in Marrakech worth £265, including breakfast and taxi transfers. Purchase by Wednesday, July 20th.
Do you need some new walking shoes for your trips? Get an extra 25% off sale shoes on Shoes.com through 6/18 with promo code: 25SALE They have popular shoe brands for men, women and children. You also get free shipping!
Visit Hawaii and Waikiki Beach with this awesome Living Social Deal: 5-night stay for 2 in the Waikiki Gateway Hotel, which includes daily breakfast, free parking, free internet access, Hawaiian chocolates and a $25 activity credit. Blocks to the beach and close by major shopping and dining. Book by Tuesday July 17. Must stay by November 1.