It's August and you forgot to take a vacation, didn't you?
We know better. You didn't forget; you're in cheapskate mode this year because of the economy. Unfortunately, when you think you can't afford a vacation, you've probably never needed one more.
FOR THE RECORD:
Hotel bargains: An article in the Aug. 8 Travel section on summer hotel bargains misspelled the last name of Internet expert Bob Diener as Denier. —
Take heart. We spent some time with Internet travel guru Bob Denier recently and asked him to clue us in on some cheap tricks. His tips will help you channel your inner tightwad into a late-summer adventure that's easy on the budget.
Denier is one of our favorite penny pinchers; the lanky former L.A. attorney has been helping travelers save money for more than 25 years. He co-founded Hotels.com back in the early '90s; now he has developed a new website, GetaRoom.com, that offers both Web rates and call-in specials (). The telephone deals — short-term specials that change rapidly — frequently cut rates by an additional 10% to 25%, he says.
What are his favorite picks for the next few months?
Las Vegas ranks No. 1. "So many conferences have been canceled in the past couple of years that Vegas is really hurting. As long as you have a few days off midweek, you can get really impressive rates," he said.
How low do they go? I checked GetaRoom.com specials for the upcoming week: Golden Nugget, from $40 a night; Hooters Casino Hotel, $22; Paris Las Vegas, $75; Orleans Hotel & Casino, $26.10.
Looking for something a little more deluxe? How about Wynn Las Vegas at $143 or MGM Grand's upscale hotel-within-a-hotel, Signature Suites, $92.94?
If you don't feel like making the desert drive in the heat, perhaps you'd enjoy a quick trip south to San Diego, where one of Denier's faves is Humphreys Half Moon Inn & Suites. GetaRoom.com lists the rate at $265 regularly but notes that it has fallen to as low as $159 for those traveling through Aug. 31. Also in San Diego, the Dana on Mission Bay, regularly $285, now has rates from $170.
Or you can save money on gas by taking advantage of these specials at Southern California hotels:
-- Rates start at $249 a night at Terranea Resort, a new oceanfront complex on the Palos Verdes Peninsula; book through Sept.30 (www.terranea.com).
-- Rates start at $89 a night at Knott's Berry Farm Resort Hotel; book and travel through Sept. 30 (www.knottshotel.com).
-- Rates start at $102 through Sept. 30 at the Radisson Los Angeles Westside (www.radisson.com/culvercityca).
-- Rates start at $127 at the Hotel Beverly Terrace, with a three-night stay. Book and travel through Sept. 30 (www.hotelbeverlyterrace.com).
To research hotels and travel trends, Denier, a Miami resident, crisscrosses the country looking for good deals. Any tips for travelers?
"Look for free breakfasts. They can save a family $40 to $50 each day." He should know; he has five kids and takes them along whenever possible. He also advises families not to reserve a suite. "Book two adjoining rooms instead. You'll save a lot, and everyone will be more comfortable."
And make sure the kids know they shouldn't use the hotel phone or touch the food and drinks in the mini-bar. "Telephone rates in hotels are outrageous; use your cellphone instead. And stay clear of the mini-bar; you can pay as much as $9 for a bottle of water and $6 for a candy bar.
"My mom always said to take along a couple of bottles of water, some peanuts and a candy bar. It's still good advice."
In the past few years, travelers have been told they often can save money by waiting until the last minute to book a hotel room. But Denier says that practice is no longer reliable.
"You're more likely to score a better deal if you book in advance. Many hotels are raising rates closer to check-in."
Other ways to save:
-- Don't just look at major chains. The best values can often be found at an independent hotel. Look at the customer satisfaction ratings, quality ratings and descriptions. Independent hotels often are bargains — and may be more interesting places to stay because they reflect the local culture.
-- Book the lowest rate available at a chain hotel and join the frequent stay program; you might get upgraded for free when you check-in.
-- The lowest rate may not be online. Pick up the phone and call — and not the 800 number — to check unpublished rates. These are typically 10% to 25% less at participating hotels.
-- Take advantage of timed promotions. These are special sales that usually have a long window to stay, but a short window for booking.
-- Be flexible about the days you stay — weekends cost less in some cities, such as Washington, D.C., and weekdays are lower in some cities, such as Las Vegas.
-- For major events, consider hotels by airports or in surrounding areas, where rates may be much lower.
-- Some hotels offer lower rates during slower booking times, such as late at night and weekends.
-- Take advantage of a strong dollar and lock in rates in U.S. dollars for overseas destinations such as London and Paris.
-- Consider staying an extra night. Many hotels lower the rates for the entire stay by booking an extra night.
-- Some destinations are off-season now and rates are much lower than other times of the year. Examples: Mexico, Caribbean, New Orleans, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa.
-- Many hotels offer nonrefundable rates at 10% to 20% off the regular rate. If you're sure you're not going to cancel, this is a great way to save money.
-- Rates can vary dramatically depending on the hotels, even for a comparable hotel in the same area. One may be booked for a convention or event — rates will be higher there. Always consider alternative properties.