Sometimes it pays to work the system…

Getting the best rates on hotels often looks something like a bell curve. Hotel rates are usually very low far out, rise steadily for a while, and then drop again as travel dates approach. Turning excess room inventory into a hot “flash sale” is the new marketing trick for getting rid of rooms at the last minute, that would otherwise go unused – and that’s created a vibrant hotel market for procrastinators around the world. With new apps, new platforms and a few clever booking tricks, there are a few ways to work the last minute game to maximum effect, so here’s a systematic approach to score the best deals on last minute hotel bookings…

But First, Caveats

Playing the last minute game has caveats. It’s incredibly important to monitor seasonality, goings on and significant public events, since such things can block out virtually every hotel room in a given destination. For example, booking a last minute stay in the Super Bowl city, on Super Bowl weekend probably isn’t going to work out very well, nor will booking New York City hotels for the evening of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree lighting. Be aware, and only roll the dice if you can…

Last Minute Apps

Apps are the way forward in the travel world, and a few have focused almost exclusively on last minute travel, and negotiating special rates for unsold rooms. HotelsTonight, OneNight and Hotel Quickly are three excellent choices for scoring last minute deals. Hotels Tonight has the widest availability, One Night offers the best interface and Hotel Quickly is a great go to for Asia and Pacific. Each app works to negotiate easily bookable deals, with savings up to 70% off, based on last minute availability. In general, the longer in the day you wait, the better the rates become.

Put Points To Use

Have some hotel points, or perhaps Amex, Citi or Chase points? Points can be the ultimate key to unlocking great last minute hotel deals. Most points schemes operate regardless of cash price, so even if rooms are $500 a night at the last minute, if a room is available, you may be able to secure a spot starting at just 5,000 points and up, depending on property. Even if paying entirely with points isn’t available, cash and points rates can halve the cash cost or better – which is nice…

Semi Last Minute Bookings

Hotel brands love to clear room inventory without having to pay commission to booking sites and apps, so more and more frequently they launch “flash sales”. SPG Hot Escapes is a weekly sale, which offers discounts up to 50% off rooms for the next six weeks. This is a great way to play the “semi” last minute game, while receiving substantial savings. Look for similar offers from Marriott “eBreaks”, as well as Hilton, Hyatt and IHG flash sales. We cover most of them, under “deals”.

Credit Card Offers

More cards than you’d think can unlock buy two get one free and other great hotel offers for travelers all around the world, even on down to the wire bookings. Mastercard, Visa and Amex each offer hotel booking programs with rates you’ll probably find elsewhere, but free night offers, complimentary breakfast and or bar credits you won’t. Citi Prestige is a brilliant example for U.S. travelers, which can save thousands on last minute bookings via the 4th night free benefit on all bookings. Regardless of price, the Capital One Venture Card also offers a 20% rebate via their Hotels.com partnership, which helps to soften any last minute purchase blow.

Hotel Deal Websites

Before jumping on any “last minute” deal, it’s crucial to price compare. LastMinute.com, Expedia, Orbitz, Hotels.com and Expedia all work directly with hotels to secure exclusive last minute deals, just for them. This is where it pays to register for each site to unlock “private” sales, not available to travelers who are simply browsing without exchanging their email address. Who knew entering a few letters and numbers could save hundreds?

What’s your best trick to save on last minute hotels?