Want the secret for getting the best hotel deal ever in Washington? Easy: Come to Washington when Congress is out, when cherry blossom season is over, or during the blazing hot days of July or August or the icy-cold days of a noninauguration-year January or February. Not possible? Okay, let’s put it this way: Don’t try to negotiate a good deal for late March or early April (cherry blossom season); hotel reservationists will laugh at you. I’ve heard them.
Consider these tips, too:
- Check out hotels that are located away from big events taking place while you are visiting the capital. For instance, during cherry blossom season, look at properties in Georgetown, upper Dupont Circle, Woodley Park, or otherwise a few miles from downtown and the National Mall. When the Washington Nationals are playing home games at Nationals Park, consider hotels on the other side of town.
- Visit on a weekend. Hotels looking to fill rooms vacated by weekday business travelers lower their rates and might be willing to negotiate even further for weekend arrivals.
- Ask about special rates or other discounts and whether a room less expensive than the first one quoted is available. You may qualify for substantial corporate, government, student, military, senior, or other discounts. Mention membership in AAA, AARP, frequent-flier programs, or trade unions, which may entitle you to special deals.
- Book online. Because booking online is so often the best way to get a discount, we’ve devoted an entire section (below) to a discussion of how to get the best deals.
- Look into group or long-stay discounts. If you come as part of a large group, you should be able to negotiate a bargain rate because the hotel can then guarantee occupancy in a number of rooms. Likewise, if you’re planning a long stay (at least 5 days), you might qualify for a discount. As a general rule, expect 1 night free after a 7-night stay.
- Consider enrolling in hotel loyalty programs. In 2016, all of the major chains announced they’d be reserving special discounts for travelers who booked directly through the hotel websites (usually in the portion of the site reserved for loyalty members). They weren’t lying: These are always the lowest rates at the hotels in question, though discounts can range widely, from as little as $1 to as much as $50. Our advice: Search for a hotel that’s in your price range and ideal location, and then, if it is a chain property, book directly through the online loyalty portal.
- Finally, whether or not you’ve gotten the best deal possible on your room rate, you can still save money on incidental costs. D.C. hotels charge unbelievable rates for overnight parking—up to $50 a night at some hotels, plus tax—so if you can avoid driving, you can save yourself quite a bit of money. Avoid dialing direct from hotel phones, which usually have exorbitant rates—as do the room’s minibar offerings.
- Check out deals listed in the "Places to Stay" tab on the homepage of D.C.’s tourism bureau, Destination DC (www.washington.org; tel. 202/789-7000). For example, in Summer 2018, the Kimpton Hotel Monaco’s “Third Night’s a Charm” offer allowed guests booking at least 3 nights in a premier room or suite to stay free that third night.
- Subscribe to e-mail alerts. Alerts from your favorite hotels or booking sites can keep you informed of special deals.
- Even if you haven't gotten the best deal possible on your room rate, you can still save money on incidental costs. D.C. hotels charge unbelievable rates for overnight parking—more than $50 a night at some hotels, plus 18% tax!—so if you can avoid driving, you can save yourself quite a bit of money. Also resist the pricey minibar offerings.Keep in mind that D.C. hotel sales tax is a whopping 14.5%, merchandise sales tax is 5.75%, and food and beverage tax is 10%, all of which can rapidly increase the cost of a room.
Turning to the Internet or Apps for a Hotel Discount
It’s not impossible to get a good deal by calling a hotel, but you’re more likely to snag a discount online and with an app. Here are some strategies:
- Browse extreme discounts on sites where you reserve or bid for lodgings without knowing which hotel you’ll get. You’ll find these on Priceline.com and Hotwire.com, and they can be money-savers, particularly if you’re booking within a week of travel (that’s when the hotels get nervous and resort to deep discounts). Both feature major chains, so it’s unlikely you’ll book a dump.
- Review discounts on the hotel’s website. As we said above, the hotels are giving the lowest rates to those who book through their sites rather than through a third party. But you’ll only find these truly deep discounts in the loyalty section of these sites—so join the club.
- Use the right hotel search engine. They’re not all equal, as we at Frommers.com learned in the spring of 2017 after putting the top 20 sites to the test in 20 cities (including Washington, D.C.) around the globe. We discovered that Booking.com listed the lowest rates for hotels in the city center, and in the under $200 range, 16 out of 20 times—the best record, by far, of all the sites we tested. And Booking.com includes all taxes and fees in its initial results (not all do, which can make for a frustrating shopping experience). For top-end properties, again in the city center, both Priceline.com and HotelsCombined.com came up with the best rates, tying at 14 wins each.
- Try the app HotelTonight.com. It only works for day of bookings, but WOW, does it get great prices for procrastinators (up to 70% off in many cases). A possible strategy: Make a reservation at a hotel, then on the day you’re arriving, try your luck with Hotel Tonight. Most hotels will allow you to cancel without penalty, even on the date of arrival.
Consider Alternative Accommodations
If your luck and time are running out and you still haven’t found a place to stay, and/or if your budget constrains you from choosing one of the selections in this section, consider these alternatives:
- Hostelling International Washington, DC (1009 11th St. NW, at K St.; www.hiwashingtondc.org; tel 888/464-4872 or 202/737-2333) is well located in the Penn Quarter and nicely equipped, with free Wi-Fi, bike racks, and air conditioning. Breakfast is complimentary, and the hostel often hosts complimentary dinners. Guests are welcome to use the full kitchen. Self-serve washers and dryers are available ($1 to wash, $1 to dry, $1.25 for soap if needed). The hostel hosts free daily walking tours and other activities. In all, there are 238 beds, almost all of which are dorm rooms with shared bathrooms ($32–$62 a night per person). Of the 10 private bedrooms, two have their own bathroom ($129–$144 a night per person). The hostel has a staffperson on-site 24/7.
- Check out Airbnb, a website-based rental operation that matches people looking for a place to stay with locals interested in renting out space in their home, or sometimes the entire apartment or house, often for far less than you might pay at a hotel. According to the website Inside Airbnb (www.insideairbnb.com), D.C. has roughly 5,000 active listings, two-thirds of which are for entire houses or apartments. Wimdu.com is a similar, though much smaller, service. For rental of entire apartments/homes only (not just rooms), check HomeAway.com and FlipKey.com, among others.
- Consider house swapping. Try such organizations as Home Exchange (www.homeexchange.com) or HomeLink International (www.homelink.org), which offer tens of thousands of would-be swaps worldwide (take into account membership fees when looking at the overall costs).
- Call Washington’s tourism bureau, Destination D.C. (tel 202/789-7000), and ask the tourist rep for the names and numbers of any new or about-to-open hotels. If the rep isn’t sure, ask her to check with the marketing director. Up-and-coming hotels may have affordable rooms, for the simple reason that few people know about them.
- Consider staying outside the city. Arlington, Virginia’s, placement directly across the Potomac River from D.C. often allows its hotels to offer more affordable rates than the capital. Arlington’s close-in “urban villages” include Rosslyn, Crystal City, Pentagon City, Ballston, Clarendon, and Courthouse, each of which has a Metro stop, making access to D.C. a breeze. Rosslyn, located just the other side of Key Bridge from Georgetown, is most convenient, and some of its hotels even proffer spectacular views of the river and capital.
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.