In the hotel listings, I’ve tried to give you an idea of the kind of deals that may be available at particular hotels. But there’s no way of knowing what the offers will be when you’re booking, so also consider these general tips:
- Choose your season carefully. Room rates can vary dramatically—by hundreds of dollars in some cases—depending on what time of year you visit. Winter, from January 4 through mid-March, is best for bargains, with summer (especially July–August) second best. Fall is the busiest and most expensive season after Christmas, but November tends to be quiet and rather affordable, as long as you’re not booking a parade-route hotel on Thanksgiving weekend. All bets are off at Christmastime, New Year's, and the weekend of the NYC marathon—expect to pay top dollar then.
Bizarrely enough, when the city fills up, lesser quality hotels will often charge prices that are equal to or even higher than the luxury hotels. It makes no sense, but it happens quite often. So it’s important to NEVER try and assess the quality of a hotel by the price it’s asking. Instead, read the reviews carefully and compare the prices you’re being quoted to make sure you’re not getting taken.
- Go uptown, downtown, or to an outer borough. The advantages of a Midtown location are overrated, especially when saving money is your object. The subway can whisk you anywhere you want to go in minutes; even if you stay on the Upper West Side, you can be at the ferry launch for the Statue of Liberty in about a half-hour. You’ll not only get the best value for your money by staying outside the Theater District, in the residential neighborhoods where real New Yorkers live, but you’ll have a better overall experience: You won’t constantly be fighting crowds, you’ll have terrific restaurants nearby, and you’ll see what life in the city is really like. Lodgings in Brooklyn and Queens offer particularly good savings.
- Visit over a weekend. If your trip includes a weekend, you might be able to save big. Business hotels tend to empty out, and rooms that go for $300 or more Monday through Thursday can drop dramatically, as low as $150 or less, once the execs have headed home. These deals are prevalent in the Financial District, but they’re often available in tourist-saturated Midtown, too. Also, you’ll find that Sunday nights are the least expensive. Check the hotel’s website for weekend specials.
- Buy a money-saving package deal. A travel package that combines your airfare and your hotel stay for one price may just be the best bargain of all. In some cases, you’ll get airfare, accommodations, transportation to and from the airport, plus extras—maybe an afternoon sightseeing tour or restaurant and shopping discount coupons—for less than the hotel alone would have cost had you booked it yourself. Most airlines and many travel agents, as well as the usual booking websites (Priceline, Orbitz, Expedia) offer good packages to New York City.
- Shop online. There are so many ways to save online and through apps, I've devoted several paragraphs to the topic (see below this bulleted list).
- Choose a chain. With some exceptions, I have not listed mass-volume chain hotels in this chapter. In my opinion, they tend to lack the character and local feel that most independently-run hotels have. And it’s that feel, I believe, that is so much a part of the travel experience. Still, when you’re looking for a deal, they can be a good option. Most hotels—particularly such chains as Comfort Inn and Best Western—are market-sensitive. Because they hate to see rooms sit empty, they’ll often negotiate good rates at the last minute and in slow seasons. You can also pull out all the stops for discounts at a budget chain, from reward points to senior status to corporate rates. Most chain hotels let the kids stay with parents for free. Ask for every kind of discount; if you get an unhelpful reservation agent, call back. Of course, there’s no guarantee.
Two chains with franchisees in Manhattan are: Best Western ([tel] 800/780-7234; www.bestwestern.com), though their rack rates for New York hotels are higher than you’d expect, and Howard Johnson ([tel] 800/446-4656; www.hojo.com; its brands in NYC include Wyndham, Night, and Tryp). There’s a Best Western at South Street Seaport and at two Midtown locations, and a Howard Johnson in Soho, three in Queens, and two in the Bronx. Check their websites for all the details.
At these and other franchised hotels—such as the ones run by Apple Core Hotels (www.applecorehotels.com), a management company that handles the Comfort Inn Midtown, the Ramada Inn Eastside, the New York Manhattan Hotel (p. ###), the Hotel Times Square, La Quinta (p. ###), along with several others—doubles can go for as little as $109. Scan the chains' websites for the best discounts.
A good source for deals is Choice Hotels ([tel] 877/424-6423; www.hotelchoice.com), which oversees Comfort Inn, Quality Hotel, and Clarion Hotel chains, all of which have Manhattan branches.
- Avoid excess charges and hidden costs. Use your own cellphone, pay phones, or prepaid phone cards instead of dialing direct from hotel phones, which usually incur exorbitant rates. Don’t be tempted by minibar offerings: Most hotels charge through the nose for water, soda, and snacks. Finally, ask about local taxes and service charges, which can increase the cost of a room by 15 percent or more. If a hotel insists on charging an “energy surcharge” that wasn’t mentioned at check-in, you can often make a case for getting it removed.
- Make multiple reservations. This strategy is only necessary in high season. But often then, as the date of the stay approaches, hotels start to play “chicken” with one another, dropping the price a bit one day to try and lure customers away from a nearby competitor. Making this strategy work takes vigilance and persistence, but since your credit card won’t be charged until 24-hours before check-in, little risk is involved.
Consider Alternate Accommodations to Hotels. I discuss this strategy in a separate area of this website called "Alternative Accommodations".
Turning to the Internet or Apps for a Hotel Discount
Before going online, it’s important that you know what “flavor” of discount you’re seeking. Currently, there are four types of online reductions:
1. Extreme discounts on sites where you bid for lodgings without knowing which hotel you’ll get. You’ll find these on such sites as Priceline.com and Hotwire.com, and they can be real money-savers, particularly if you’re booking within a week of travel (that's when the hotels get nervous and resort to deep discounts to get beds filled). As these companies use only major chains, you can rest assured that you won’t be put up in a dump. For more reassurance, visit the website BetterBidding.com. On it, actual travelers spill the beans about what they bid on Priceline.com and which hotels they got. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the quality of many of the hotels that are offering these "secret" discounts to the opaque bidding websites.
2. Discounts on the hotel’s website. Sometimes these can be great values, as they’ll often include such nice perks as free breakfast or parking privileges. Before biting, be sure to look at the discounter sites below.
3. Discounts on online travel agencies as Hotels.com, Quikbook.com, Expedia.com, and the like. Some of these sites reserve these rooms in bulk and at a discount, passing along the savings to their customers. But instead of going to them directly, I’d recommend looking at such dedicated travel search engines as Booking.com, Hipmunk.com, HotelsCombined.com, Momondo.com, and Trivago.com. These sites list prices from all the discount sites as well as the hotels directly, meaning you have a better chance of finding a discount. Note: Sometimes the discounts these sites find require advance payment for a room (and draconian cancellation policies), so double check your travel dates before booking.
Another good source for discounts, especially for luxury hotels is Tingo.com, a site founded by TripAdvisor. Its model is a bit different than the others. Users make a pre-paid reservation through it, but if the price of the room drops between the time you make the booking and the date of arrival, the site refunds the difference in price.
4. Try the app HotelsTonight.com. It only works for the day on which you use it, but WOW!, does it snare great prices for procrastinators (up to 70 percent off in many cases). A possible strategy: make a reservation at a hotel, then on the day you’re arriving try your luck with HotelsTonight. Most hotels will allow you to cancel without penalty, even on the day of arrival.
What I’ve just discussed involves a lot of surfing, I know, but in the hothouse world of Big Apple hotel pricing, this sort of diligence can pay off.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.