Hotel Hacks From Professional Travelers

AAA Membership

Chris Guillebeau travels the world (all of it — having recently completed his mission to visit every country), and is a New York Times bestselling author, founder of the Travel Hacking Cartel, and writes for a small army of remarkable people at When he’s not staying at a hotel for free with frequent flyer miles, Chris says a simple membership with AAA can go a long way.

“A small investment in AAA membership (which anyone can join, from anywhere in the world) can save an average of 5%-10% on many hotel stays. Even if it doesn’t save money, rates booked through AAA are usually cancellable until the day of arrival, which helps a lot with flexibility.”

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Use Hotel Credit Card Sign-Up Bonuses

Matt Kepnes aka Nomadic Matt is author of How to Travel the World on $50 USD Per Day, and has been traveling the world since 2006. Matt advocates applying for hotel credit cards with hefty sign-up bonuses that will afford you up to a week’s worth of free accommodation. (See also: The Best Credit Cards for Hotel Deals and Rewards)

Transfer Miles From Universal Credit Cards

Although Matt likes the occasional sign-up bonus, his steadfast hotel hack surrounds the use of universal miles, using travel rewards credit cards that allow you to transfer points to any number of airline and hotel programs. “You can transfer those points to hotel loyalty programs and redeem them for free rooms.” (See also: The Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards)

Get Automatic Status With Your Credit Card

Al-Nawaz Rajan generally pays 2-star prices for 4-star hotels and shares his travel hacking tips on Credit Walk. He’s a fan of using platinum cards that get you upgraded status at hotels just for being a cardmember. Some of those cards come with a hefty fee, but the upgraded status is worth its weight: “Some of the benefits of higher status include late checkout, free breakfast, Internet, upgrades to suites/better rooms, additional point-earning, and welcome gifts.”

Get Your Status Matched

Once you have status with one hotel or brand, you can get that status matched with other hotels. Elizabeth Houck has flown over a million miles in search of budget premium experiences and has lots of great advice to share at She says getting your status matched is as simple as calling the loyalty line and requesting a Status Match or Challenge.

“Brand Y will want a copy of your most recent status statement from Brand X faxed or emailed (sometimes mailed) to them. Follow Brand Y’s requirements and instructions and usually within a couple of weeks you will have status.”

Email the General Manager

Elizabeth Houck is now consistently upgraded to the king suite at one particular hotel because she emailed the general manager after having a mediocre experience at their hotel. “I wrote the GM about the experience and he was happy to extend a fantastic rate for me to give the hotel another chance. Needless to say, the upgrade to the king suite on my next visit was well worth the few minutes it took to write the email.”

Once she had a relationship with the GM, Elizabeth wasn’t afraid to ask for more. “In a follow-up a phone call before my next arrival, I asked for exactly what I wanted — a good rate, no resort fee, and a king room. I then emailed him confirming my stay.”

Use Bidding Sites

Dalene and Pete Heck of sold everything in 2009 to travel the world, and have been named 2014 National Geographic Travelers of the Year. They enjoy the deep discounts offered by using hotel bidding sites.

“We are recent converts to and — two sites that have allowed us to save big money on hotel rooms. While we never know the exact hotel we will be staying at before we book it — we only choose by location and “star” rating — their prices are deeply discounted we have never been disappointed.” (For more information on how to bid on hotels, see 3 Ways to Get Hotel Deals).

Go Last-Minute With Groupon

If you have some flexibility (and nerves of steel), wait until the last minute and use sites like Groupon to nab a deal. This tip comes from Kristin Addis, a former investment banker who quit her job to travel full-time, and now blogs about her nomadic adventures at Be My Travel Muse.

“You can get a room somewhere like Las Vegas the day of or the day before for much, much less, but of course you must be very flexible!”

Use Country/Currency Arbitrage

A few professional travelers polled use country/currency arbitrage to nab a hotel deal. Kristin says “sometimes looking at booking engines specifically geared towards Australia, for example, can result in savings if booking in Australian Dollars. If I’m using a travel credit card that doesn’t charge fees for foreign transactions and has fair rates for currency conversion, it can be a great way to save some money on a room.”

Erin Bender of Travel With Bender concurs. “Search in different country-specific versions of the same website and also try an incognito browser window. For instance, can be cheaper than even when you take the currency exchange rate difference into consideration.” Erin has traveled the world since 2012 with her husband and two young children.

Slip ‘Em a $20

Elizabeth Houck once read that the easiest way to get an upgrade in Las Vegas is with a $20 tip at check-in.

“I tried it and jackpot! I’ve literally done this dozen of times and only once was I not upgraded. At check-in, you always provide ID and a credit card. I simply pull out a $20 bill, fold it, and place it under my cupped hand at the counter; reception always notices. If I get a special view, or upgrade, or some other perk, they get the money; if nothing is available I’ve not committed myself. One time I asked for an upgrade and only had a $5 on me, but it was enough to get a king corner room.”

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