The world of booking hotels can sometimes seem opaque. What kind of room am I getting? What type of rate should I buy? Where is the best place to book? These are all valid questions that every traveler finds themselves asking at least once. We’re here to answer them for you.
We’re going to walk you through the ins and outs of hotel rates so you won’t have to wonder those questions anymore. By the end of this guide, you’ll know exactly what your room will be like, how much it’s going to cost, and where you should go to get the lowest rates. You’ll be an expert at hotel hunting so you can get the best deal, every time.
Most hotels have three main room types: King, Queen (or Double), and Suite. Some hotels word it slightly differently (one bed or two beds) but they mean the same thing: your room will either have one bed (likely a king size) or two beds (either both queen or double size). For most hotels, the rates for a King room will be the same as the rates for a Queen room because they are about the same size.
Hotels have a few terms to differentiate room size. This is important to pay attention to especially if you’re traveling with others for more than one night. Get to know the most common room sizes:
- A standard room or studio is often ideal for a couple or a solo traveler.
- A deluxe room is typically a little bigger and would be more comfortable for a group that needs space to stretch out. (FYI: If you’re traveling with a group, pay attention to the fees. Hotels sometimes charge extra for more than two guests per room.)
- A joint room is a room that connects to another room. This is best for families or groups traveling together who want to be nearby but still have their own space.
- A suite is the largest room most hotels offer. It has a living room, a kitchen, and one or more bedrooms. Suites will cost more than a standard Queen room, but might be cheaper than booking two rooms separately.
Of course, room sizes can differ from hotel to hotel, especially when traveling internationally. Call the hotel before booking your stay to determine what room types they offer and which will be most comfortable for you.
A room rate is the price charged by the hotel for one room for one night. Each room has a baseline rate and a few other rate options that we’ll describe below. These different rate types apply to every room in the hotel, so each type of room could be sold at several different rates. Here are the most frequently used rate types. Not all of these may apply for every property, but they’re commonly used throughout the hotel industry.
This is the regular rate for each room. It is the base rate that all other rate types are calculated from. Read our post, “How Hotel Pricing Works,” to learn more about how hotels determine their standard rates.
Booking a standard rate usually means that you can cancel or modify your booking for a refund up to 24 hours before check-in. But each hotel has a different cancellation policy, so be sure to check the hotel’s website before you book if you think your travel plans might change.
Prepaid (a.k.a. Advance Purchase) Rate
By booking a prepaid rate, you can save a few bucks per night. You’ll pay for your room at the time you make your reservation instead of at check-out. But be aware: most prepaid rates are non-refundable. You trade in your ability to cancel for a lower rate. For travelers who know their plans won’t change, booking a prepaid rate is a great way to save money.
This is the rate you get as a member of the hotel’s loyalty program. As we’ve mentioned before, loyalty rates are the hotel’s only opportunity to give you a discount below the fixed minimum rate that hotel chains and third-party booking sites are bound to by rate parity agreements.
Loyalty rates are offered as flexible as well as prepaid. By booking a prepaid loyalty rate, you can get a double discount on that room versus if you booked the flexible standard rate.
Other Rate Types
- Membership Rate – Members of groups like AAA and AARP may qualify for a reduced rate at some hotels. Reduced rates can also apply for certain credit card holders, frequent flyers, Costco members, and more. Select this rate option as you book, and present your membership card to the hotel upon check-in.
- Special Rate – Certain groups of people qualify for a reduced rate with some hotels. These can include military personnel, educators, government officials, travel agents, and flight attendants or other flight crew members. You usually have to have a special rate code in order to book these rates.
- Group Rate – Hotels can offer a discount for groups that book a block of rooms together, depending on the number of guests and the length of stay. If you’ve ever been to a wedding where the guests got a discount by mentioning the couple’s name while booking, this was a group rate.
- Family Rate – This isn’t always offered, but some hotels have a rate that gives families a discount for booking more than one room. If you’re traveling with your whole crew and need multiple rooms, check with the hotel before booking to see if they offer family rates.
- Package Rate – Some hotels offer different packages to guests. These can cover everything from airport pickup and spa packages to sightseeing and meals. They might be restricted to a certain length of stay or season.
- Off-Season Rate – Most common with resorts, these are discounted rates offered in the off-season when the hotel is less popular.
Where to Book
Once you’ve chosen your hotel and room type, you have two options for where to book your reservation: using a third-party booking site like Expedia or Priceline, or booking directly on the hotel’s website. Here are the pros and cons of each:
Booking Through a Third Party
Online travel agencies (OTAs) like Hotels.com and Travelocity are useful aides in your hotel search because they enable you to search across all hotel brands on one site with one search. However, beware of what you’re getting into by using a site like this. We’ve mentioned it before, but these sites are not actually on your side. They’re designed to convince you into booking one of their hotel listings as soon as possible so they can make more money. Their search results are confusing and sometimes purposely leave out valuable information that would help you make a better decision.
A recent report about Booking.com has us pretty skeptical about what’s driving their business decisions. Last November, Skift wrote about how Booking.com has made a major pivot toward selling more prepaid hotel bookings. As we mentioned earlier, a prepaid room might be a great way for travelers to save money, but be careful who you’re giving your money to. When you select a prepaid/advance-purchase rate through an OTA like Booking.com, that upfront payment doesn’t go directly to the hotel. Skift reports that Booking.com will hold onto that money (sometimes for months) and use it to invest in other projects for their company. Your hotel won’t see any of that money until you arrive, and by that point, Booking.com will have taken a substantial chunk of it as part of their commission for selling you that hotel room. If you’d rather see your money go where you actually intend, we recommend booking direct.
Booking directly with the hotel is always your best bet. Not only will you get the lowest rates available by booking one of their loyalty rates, but your reservation will be safer in the hands of the hotel itself. Ever heard a story of someone who used an OTA to book their trip only to find that the hotel had no record of their reservation once they got there? That’s because OTAs are middlemen. They’re supposed to pass your details over to the hotel once you book, but that doesn’t always happen. If that occurs, you’re out of luck. Book your stay on the hotel’s own website and you’ll never have this problem.
Roomkey: The Best of Both Worlds
Of course, searching each and every hotel’s website to compare all your options is a pain. That’s why we created Roomkey. Roomkey is a hotel search site that is the best of both worlds. It takes the convenience of a combined search experience (à la the OTAs) and combines it with the security of booking direct. When you search on roomkey.com, we show you all of your hotel options in one place. We even allow you to compare loyalty rates from all of our hotel partners—no OTA can do that. When you’re ready to book, we take you straight to the hotel site to complete your booking. You’ll secure your room, your rate, and your loyalty points too.
With Roomkey, there are no gimmicks and no shady money practices (we’re looking at you, Booking.com). You find easy-to-navigate search results and all the information you need, presented in a way that makes sense. At Roomkey, we get straight to the truth so you can get straight to your travel.