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When is the best time to book a hotel? Experts weigh in — and debunk a few myths

Sept. 06, 2022
5 min read
large hotel room with bed, chairs and table
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Hotel deals are harder to come by than ever this year.

Every major hotel company CEO in recent weeks boasted on investor calls that the ability to command higher rates helped the industry recover from the pandemic at a faster pace than expected.

But there is some good news: The latest inflation data from the U.S. showed hotel rates declined 3.2% from June to July and were only up 1.3% from a year ago — a win for customers given that, earlier this year, the hotel industry was a driver of inflation with rates jumping more than 20% at times from 2021 levels.

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Still, that won't stop us from trying to figure out the best time to nab a deal for a hotel for our next vacation. Rates are still high, after all (7% higher on average than pre-pandemic levels, according to U.S. Consumer Price Index data).

We’ve heard travelers trying everything from booking hotels at specific times of day to certain days in the week to score the lowest rate. Should you book as early as possible, or wait until the last minute? What about those Friday specials some websites claim are always available?

There may be data to suggest more ideal times than others to book a stay, but hotel owners are now advised to change rates practically every day to help them bring in more revenue.

But don’t give up, experts say. TPG perused data and reached out to folks who track hotel rates, and it’s still possible to form a strategy and find a better time than others to make your next reservation.

Reserve now, pay later

No, I don’t mean this in the sense of payment installments. I mean use increasingly flexible booking terms and the ability to cancel a reservation with no penalty pretty close to arrival time to your advantage.

With rates fluctuating as much as they do, don’t fall for the temptation of a lower rate offered for those who pay at the time of booking — what’s a low rate today might end up being a high rate tomorrow.

"I agree that prepaying isn't worth it. I've gotten burned by that on a hotel stay and a rental car reservation, so I'm not doing it anymore. The small initial savings isn't worth it if you have to postpone your trip due to [COVID-19, for example]," said Ted Rossman, a credit card senior industry analyst at Bankrate, which is also owned by TPG's parent company, Red Ventures. "Maintaining that flexibility is key."

Waiting to pay upon arrival has two benefits.

The first is it prevents the headache of fighting for a refund in the event you have to call off your trip and cancel your pre-paid room reservation. The other is that, if rates drop closer to your arrival, you can just cancel the reservation you have with no penalty and rebook at the lower rate.

But Rossman also cautions travelers not to expect massive swings in pricing in the months ahead. There's too much economic uncertainty.

"If predictions pan out and we get a recession next year [let's say], then that might dampen demand and lead to lower prices. All of this pent-up leisure travel demand that has been unleashed could wane, too," he added. "But I don't think there's a lot of room for prices to fall considerably unless there's a significant economic downturn. We're probably looking at a relatively flat pricing environment."

Be flexible with your check-in and checkout times

There are a few analysts out there who previously touted that the best time to score a hotel deal involves waiting to book on certain days of the week or a certain length of time out from the reservation.

Kayak data once suggested Friday was the best day of the week for booking international travel and that Saturday was best for domestic reservations, Afar reported last year.

However, a lot of those trends happened before the pandemic. The hotel world is a changed one, particularly as it related to peak demand moments for rooms.

“What we're seeing in our data is that it's less the day you search or less the day of the week that you book and much more about the day that you check in and you check out,” said Matt Clarke, vice president of marketing for North America at Kayak.

Checking in on Tuesday and checking out on Thursday tend to offer more bargains when it comes to hotel rates as of late, Kayak data suggests. Tuesday check-ins typically had rates 16% below Friday check-ins while Thursday checkout dates led to rates 17% below those with Sunday checkouts, Clarke said.

“It's not so much that we're seeing any major differences in the day of the week that you search or book,” he added.

Book close to arrival

The early bird doesn’t always get the lowest hotel rate.

I’ll be the first to admit this from personal experience. I’m planning to head to New York in November to cheer on my friend running the New York City Marathon, and I’ve already canceled reservations and rebooked twice because rates keep coming down for that weekend.

That’s not just a fluke. Kayak data shows rates tend to drop the closer it gets to check-in time — but not too close.

“Our data shows that waiting until you're about two weeks out from checking in is when we do see prices sort of starting to drop,” Clarke said. “What we would ultimately recommend is, if you have your heart set on an individual property, like right over Central Park and you want to see where the marathon is finishing, maybe don't wait to book that. But, if you're willing to be flexible, you can get some deals by waiting.”

Featured image by The Roosevelt Hotel room (Photo by Tanner Saunders/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

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  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
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Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases