The evidence seems stronger every day that the best way to get a well-priced, low-cost hotel room is to place a direct phone call to the hotel itself. But you should do so, say all the travel pundits, only after you have first used an internet search engine--like hotels.com, getaroom.com, eurocheapo.com, expedia.com, orbitz.com, and the like--to learn which hotels are already offering big discounts off their normal rates.
In other words, if you have discovered that Hotel X, which usually charges $200 for a room, is charging only $150 when booked through hotels.com or expedia.com, then you know you have found a hungry hotel--one that is fearing a great many vacant rooms on the dates you desire. By then placing a direct phone call to that hotel, and speaking with a live reservations agent, you can often get that room for only $120 a night.
Now why is this? It's because the hotels have to pay a commission of as much as 20% to 30% on rooms booked through the big internet search engines. Faced with such an expense, the hotel would often prefer to grant a further discount of slightly less than 20% to 30% to you--they would still come out ahead.
So a two-step procedure appears to be advisable. You first check all the prevailing prices on the various websites that survey the hotel picture, and then, having ascertained who has the lowest price, you then phone the hotel directly to see whether they are willing to "deal".
But is this an ethical procedure? I've heard from several users of this site that they believe it's somewhat underhanded to use a general internet site first--like expedia.com or hotels.com--and then to phone the hotel directly after the internet site has given you the overall picture. You are "taking advantage" of those general internet search engines, some readers claim, using the hard, preliminary work they have done.
I doubt that many others will agree. Sites like Expedia.com and Hotels.com are maintained by billion-dollar companies, giants in the field, and to speak of "taking advantage of them" is wholly unrealistic. As a smart consumer, you are entirely permitted to sample all the information available to you and then to freely negotiate a price with the hotel.
You'll spend a half hour more than usual by following this course. But you'll end up with considerable savings.