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Save money on lodging while traveling

July 5, 2011

Who would have thought the captain of Star Trek would be giving us advice on hotels?

Save money on lodging for more affordable vacations

Have you ever taken travel advice from an 80-year-old man who has been married four times? If you have booked a hotel room or flight on Priceline because of a William Shatner commercial, then your answer is yes. Right about now, I imagine you just heard the “Priceline negotiator” jingle in your head.

Well, my family and I survived our trip to Chicago and are now back in Sterling. Thanks in part to Mr. Shatner and my hotel rewards program, we had a relatively inexpensive trip, with free and discounted lodging.

Lodging generally is one of the major expenses of any trip, and it was for ours. We needed a place to stay seven nights, two of them being during our travel there and back. I knew it was important to have a plan before we left so we could stay on budget.

We intended to stay with my brother and his wife in Omaha the first night going to Chicago and the last night on our way back; however, when we did not get out of Sterling to begin our trip until 9 p.m. mountain time, we knew we had to stop sooner. Fortunately, I am a member of Holiday Inn’s rewards program, and over the past year I stayed at the hotel chain enough to earn a free night. We got to stay in a very nice hotel for free.

Some rewards programs are just annoying — instead of rewards when you sign up, you mostly get bombarded with marketing material. With being said, there are some definite advantages to being a member of a few of these programs.

I have earned some free nights over the last couple of years through Holiday Inn and Choice Hotels with their programs. I also am a member of the Total Rewards program through Caesar’s in Las Vegas.

I only have been to Vegas once in the past two years, and I do not gamble a lot while there, but I was able to stay for free at Harrah’s on the strip for three nights the last time I went. It was a midweek trip, and with the sluggish economy, there are a lot more rooms than people to occupy them in Las Vegas. Just by being a member, they have been offering me free hotel rooms during the week for the last couple of years. If I did not have a 3-year-old daughter and a son on the way in the coming weeks, I think Kerri and I would have taken advantage of this a few more times.

For our Chicago trip we were able to get a better rate at the Hilton over the weekend since Kerri’s cousin’s wedding reception was held at the hotel. There was a time in my life when I would have found another hotel that would have given me an even cheaper rate, but there are two main reasons I did not do it this time.

First, for weddings, it is really nice to stay at the same place as the reception. If I were in college, it would be because I would not have to worry about driving after the reception. As a father, it is great to be able to take Quincy to the room down the hall after she fell asleep as I held her on the dance floor.

The second reason I chose to stay at the hotel is that one of Kerri’s favorite things about traveling is staying in a nice, safe hotel. It was nice to have some of the extra comfy pillows, beds and services a hotel such as the Hilton provides. $99 a night for Chicago is not bad.

After the wedding, the Hilton rate was more than double the special rate. Thankfully, I booked another hotel ahead of time on Priceline. As luck would have it, the Priceline hotel turned out to be another nice place — located directly across the street from the Hilton — for which we paid $65 a night.

For those who have not used Priceline, it can be a little intimidating at first. It is tough to decide what price to bid for a room, you do not have a choice on what hotel you actually get, and you have to pay for your room, even if you end up not staying there, unlike a hotel reservation, where you generally can cancel up to a certain point and not owe anything.

The first time we used Priceline was the summer after we were married seven years ago. We drove from Nebraska to Florida and stayed in hotels in Houston, New Orleans, St. Petersburg, Miami, Atlanta, Nashville, and Kansas City along the way. I booked our rooms through Priceline and we were able to stay in 3- and 4-star places the whole trip for around $50 to $80 a night.

If you want to use Priceline, there are a few tips to get the best deal you can. First, use Priceline or to see what the regular rates hotels have for the time period. Second, use the website to do more research. You can see the discussion board on what other people have been bidding across the country and what hotels they were able to book.

Lodging while you travel can be expensive, but a few simple tips can save you money. First, if you like a hotel chain, sign up for their rewards a program. A few paid stays can deliver free stays down the line. Second, if you are willing to take a chance, try your luck on Priceline. A little research and a little risk can help you save up to 50 percent on your stays. Last, but not least, stay with relatives and friends along the way. We were able to stay with my brother and his wife on the way back. Not only was it free; I think it was Quincy’s favorite part of the trip.



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