How to Get Deals on California Hotels

How to Get a Deal on a Good Hotel

Jeremy Brooks/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0 

Getting a California hotel deal means different things to different people.

If you think a deal is the cheapest regular rate you can find, you may also be thinking you have to sacrifice cleanliness or comfort. Unfortunately, so-called "budget" hotels are rarely a real deal, generating the most customer complaints. And you don't have to stay there to save money.

If you think you have to spend hours to wring the last penny out of the hotel rate, you may be ignoring all the hidden costs that run up the total bill - and using a lot of your time in fruitless searches. We know how to get the best rates - fast.

Use this guide and you can quickly find a nice place at the lowest rate you can get for it.

The size of the California hotel deal you get depends on how much time you spend looking for it. If you have a busy life, you may be happy to find a nice place to stay for a reasonable rate, even if you could have saved a few more dollars by spending a bunch more hours.

What Kind of "Deal" Are You Looking For?

The Deal of the Day, a one-week-only website special or a fleeting coupon code: We wish you luck trying to find them, but we can't help you. Those seeming deals often include extras that you don't need or have so many restrictions that you'd never meet them all. And even worse, they can disappear faster than we could post them and you'd just end up frustrated.

A Real Deal That Meets Your Needs With No Useless Extras: You can get real deals on California hotels every day and that's what we're here to help you find. Follow the simple steps outlined in the next few pages and you'll end up in a nicer place than you thought you could afford, paying a fantastic price.

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Step 1: Get Ready to Go Deal-Shopping on California Hotels

Find the Most Convenient Area

You may be tempted to say: "I'll just go for the cheapest place I can find and deal with whatever the location is," but you might be kicking yourself all the way down the freeway when you're stuck in a traffic jam on the way to Sea World, Universal Studios or the Golden Gate Bridge. In fact, you can get a good rate almost anywhere in California's larger cities.

Here's how to find out what's where and get an idea of where you want to stay. Each guide includes maps and a discussion of the pros and cons of each area.

Figure Out How Much Money You Want to Spend

It sounds like the standard lecture that some old fogey is always giving to a young whippersnapper, but it's a good place to start.

When you're looking at hotels, look at the total cost, not just the room rate. Parking in downtown San Francisco, downtown LA, or San Diego's Gaslamp adds up fast - and most of those big, impersonal places charge for internet use or even worse, charge all guests a "resort fee," even if the guest never uses the services it covers. Find out some of the surprising gotchas that can drive up your hotel costs.

You're Ready to Start Shopping

Step 2: Decide if the lowest-cost approach is for you.

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02 of 04

Step 2: Get a Rock-Bottom Rate - If It's Right for You

No matter what you think about silly commercials featuring former starship captains, Priceline and Hotwire can help you bag the best hotel rates available.

During less-busy times, hotels still want to keep their rooms filled. Not wanting to advertise really low prices and let people start thinking those lower rates can be had any time, they turn to Priceline and Hotwire. By keeping the hotel name a secret until after you've made your reservation, they offer rates even lower than what you'd find at the hotel chain's website, even if they have a low-price guarantee (which only applies to rates that are advertised).


On a good day, you can get a room in a four-star hotel for the price of a one-star by using them. Posters at reported getting rates as low as half of a hotel's regular rates.

You won't get that rate in the middle of the busiest time of year or any time a lot of people are in town, though - and this approach does have some downsides.


  • You won't know the exact name of the hotel until after you've paid for it. You will know what area it's in and what level of amenities it will have.
  • It's not for you if you might need to cancel. Reservations are not refundable.
  • You can't ask for a specific room type, roll away bed or other extras. You're guaranteed a double room, but can't make any special requests.
  • You won't earn frequent stay points.

Next Steps

If the Cons are a problem for you, move on to Step 3: Get some tips for getting a great rate - quick.

If you're game to try Priceline and Hotwire: A simple strategy for using them is to choose the nicest hotel class available and bid $10 to $15 less than the best rate you've already found.

Continue to 3 of 4 below.
03 of 04

Step 3: Find A California Hotel Deal - Quick

Get Good Rates on Larger Hotels in California

Consumer Reports magazine reports that they find the best prices three-fourths of the time by going directly to a hotel website. In fact, many larger hotel chains guarantee you'll get the best rates online by going directly through them.

If you're looking at larger hotels, play those odds. Most big chains guarantee to give you the lowest published rates through their own websites.

Besides taking advantage of their guarantees, be sure to check for any discounts you're entitled to. We often find great rates for AAA members, but also try AARP, government, military or corporate rates. If you're a member of the hotel chain's rewards program, enter your membership number to check for special rates and extras.

Get Good Rates on Smaller California Hotels

Shop Around: For small hotel chains and independent hotels, best prices are often through a booking site or a specialty price comparison site.

Pay attention to the tax: In San Diego, hotel tax is 2% lower for places with fewer than 70 rooms. In the Los Angeles area, Long Beach hotel tax is 2% lower than most of the rest of the county and down at Disneyland, hotel tax in Garden Grove (which is right next door to Anaheim) is lower, too.

Pick the best rate that meets your needs, but don't be "penny wise and pound foolish" as the old saying goes. Make your decision based on the total cost of your stay, including all the fees and charges, and the value of anything they offer for free, as long as it's something you really need.

Make your reservation, grab your calendar and make a note of the last day you can cancel your reservation without a penalty, just in case things change and you forget. Take a copy of your confirmation email with you to the hotel in case of any questions. If you reserve by phone, write down your confirmation number and the name of the reservationist.

Call In Some Extra Savings

You might save a little more money by calling the hotel again on the day you'll arrive, asking if they've lowered their rates. It happens more often than you might think, and they'll often be willing to give you the lower rate.

Check out Step 4: Some super-saver strategies to save even more.

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Step 4: Spend More Time, Save More on Your California Hotel

Four Super-Saving California Hotel Strategies

  • Go to one or two booking websites and check their best rates.
  • Compare prices for California hotels online. I like Tripadvisor, which checks the rates at several booking services with one click and also provides guest reviews.
  • Consumer Reports also says they often get an even better hotel price by calling the reservations desk on the telephone. Call your top two or three choices, using our tips for how to get a better hotel rate on the phone.

Upgrade Strategies

Try these strategies to get a hotel upgrade, turning your already great bargain into a super-sweet one.

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