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Follow these rules when booking a hotel room

Planning a holiday getaway? “Today” travel editor Peter Greenberg offers advice for avoiding hidden fees and getting the best price for your stay.
/ Source: TODAY

On average, there are 2.8 million occupied hotel rooms on any given night in the U.S. this year. Experts say that's the highest it's been in almost 10 years. For the ongoing series, “Greenberg's Rules of Travel,” “Today” travel editor Peter Greenberg explains how to get the most bang for your buck when it comes to booking a hotel room.

Hotel rates and occupancies are way up. So is it a lost cause getting a great deal on rooms?

Not at all. It's really the very basic simple law of supply and demand. An unsold hotel room is revenue the hotel will never recoup once the sun rises. But third party web sites don't always have the best deals, nor do they control all the room inventory.

Rule #1: Talk to a hotel employee
Many of you have seen those web site price guarantees that claim that you can't find a lower price than you can find on a hotel chain's own web site. In my book, they're not really guarantees because I can almost always find a lower price than quoted on the hotel's web site (unless I'm looking for a room during SuperBowl weekend or New Year's Eve or another large event).

Don't call the 800 number for hotel reservations, instead call the hotel directly. When you do call the hotel directly, don't ask for reservations because you'll just be re-routed to their 800 number, which is really just a clearinghouse for rooms throughout the chain. Instead, ask to speak to the manager on duty or the director of sales. These two people are the best arbiters of their inventory, and if the Smith wedding or Jones reception just canceled, they're now stuck with an additional 60 rooms they have to dump and the chain's web site won't reflect that vacancy or the resulting drop in price.

Rule #2: For a better rate, negotiate!Remember that everything in a hotel is negotiable. But you need to do it before you check in. Ask the hotel if they will bundle your phone and internet charges. It's actually counterintuitive that Hampton Inns doesn't charge for internet access, but upscale hotels like The Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton do. My prediction is in the next 12 months, internet access at hotels will be free. But in the interim, bundling saves you money. For one charge — like $9 a day — the hotel will give you internet access, and local and domestic long distance calls. Paying upwards of $3 for a local call at some hotels is highway robbery.

Rule #3: Get a full price quote
Remember to get the hotel to quote you all the charges prior to making the reservation — the excise taxes, the occupancy taxes, the “let's have you build our sports stadium” tax — you won't get a discount on the taxes, but at least you can budget properly and know the real rate you're paying.

And speaking of extra charges, I checked into a hotel in Phoenix with no bags and went to my room. The next day, there was a charge on my bill for a mandatory bellman charge. I disputed it and it was taken off the bill.

At another hotel, I received a FedEx envelope, and tipped the bellman $5. The next day, there was a charge on my bill for the receipt of a Federal Express package. The hotel only offered to take it off my bill when they saw my name and title on the bill. I told them I would only allow them to take the $5 off if they took it off everyone else's bill. They didn't, and they still don't!

I'm a big fan of great water pressure in my bathroom. Here's how you can get it: Most high-rise hotels cannot maintain consistent strong water pressure. As a result, many of the hotels put in booster pumps, but not on every floor. So when checking in, ask the front desk clerk, before you get your keys, to call engineering and ask them what floors the booster pumps are on and then ask for a room on one of those floors. The good news — you walk into your bathroom, turn on the shower and it's the pressure of a fire hose! And speaking of safety, I always try to get a room below the 9th floor. Why? There's not a fire department in the world that can quickly fight a fire above the 9th floor.

Surprising fees and surcharges

  • Mini-bar restocking charges
  • In-room safe surcharges
  • Automatic gratuities/surcharges
  • Resort amenities fees
  • Energy surcharges
  • Baggage holding fees
  • Cancellation fees
  • Early departure/arrival charges
  • Internet surcharges
  • Telephone call surcharges
  • Increased fax charges
  • Handling charges for overnight packages