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Don't overpay for your overnight stay

Does anyone ever pay full price for a hotel room? • If you do, you shouldn't. • Savvy travelers have been using priceline.com for years to bid for rooms that hotels would rather heavily discount than leave unfilled. • Backbid.com, a Canadian startup, put the process in reverse, letting hotels bid for your business once you've already booked with a competitor, assuming you're up for canceling your reservation and starting over.

One thing is certain: You'll always find the best deals closer to the time of travel as hotels look for any way possible to put heads in beds.

For those willing to wait until the last minute, there's HotelTonight, a free app for the iPhone, iPad and Android market. Think of it as the digital equivalent of walking up to the front desk at noon and seeing what kind of a deal you can strike.

The app displays discounts for same-day stays at a rotating selection of hotels in 37 locations, from Seattle and Portland to San Francisco, Las Vegas, New York and Boston.

HotelTonight names the hotels, labels them as "hip," "solid" or "basic" and shows the price next to a crossed-out rate offered by hotels for comparable rooms. The discounted rate is available at noon or after for that night and sometimes longer.

Priceline, which lets you name your own price for hotels but doesn't disclose the hotel name until after your bid is accepted and credit card charged, also offers same-day deals as well as alerts on winning bids accepted within seven days of departure.

It's a crapshoot if you do it old school and phone hotels directly to ask if they offer last-minute bargains.

Some won't

The Maxwell Hotel, near the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation offices in Seattle, quoted a best-available rate of $139 on its website and on the phone for a same-day reservation. HotelTonight had rooms for $99, a rate the reservation agent said the hotel could not match.

The Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas quoted $199 on its website and by phone. No luck there, either, getting a reservation agent to match HotelTonight's rate of $159. Instead, she offered me a room for $151 at the Encore, its sister hotel next door.

But some will

I did better calling the Villa Florence hotel near Union Square in San Francisco. The agent offered me a best-available rate of $129 versus $135 on the website. When I mentioned that HotelTonight had rooms for $119, he agreed to match it.

Room Mate Grace, a boutique hotel in Midtown Manhattan, agreed not only to match HotelTonight's rate of $159 (versus $229 on its website and $189 quoted on the phone), but also offered an upgrade to a deluxe room that normally sells for $259.

Bottom line: There are lots of ways to score a better-than-expected rate on a hotel room. Prepaying too far in advance probably isn't one of them.

And a caveat: Hotel websites usually don't include taxes and fees in their initial price displays. Be prepared for the small print when you go to book.

Carol Pucci, Seattle Times

Check out

priceline.com, where you bid in the dark for rates

backbid.com, where they'll bid for your business

HotelTonight, an app that rotates deals like Groupon

Are you a globetrotter?

Take this quiz to see.

1. Do you know your passport number by heart?

2. Do you know the names of the airport parking lot drivers?

3. Do the TSA people know you — and not because you tried to smuggle a kitchen knife through security last week?

4. Do you have a suitcase in the closet that is pretty much always packed?

5. Do you have euros or yen or pesos or rubles in your wallet?

6. Have you achieved airline elite status for at least four years in a row?

7. Do you know the airport codes for obscure airports around the world, like Hanoi or Edinburgh?

8. Do you have enough hotel points to take your family to Hawaii?

9. Do front-desk managers at certain hotels welcome you like a long-lost relative?

10. Can you say "thank you" in multiple languages even if you don't speak them otherwise?

Quiz scoring

(No peeking.)

• If you answered yes to 7 to 10 of the questions, you are a god of the road and sky (even if your family can't remember your face).

• If you answered yes to 3 to 6 questions, you are a rugged traveler who knows the ropes — and where the best parking spots are at the airport.

• If you answered yes to 0 to 2 questions, you need to get out and travel more.

Source: McClatchy

Don't overpay for your overnight stay 04/24/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 4:30am]
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