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We're planning to do a roadtrip during may 2013 in southwestern USA. I'm wondering what's best way (read cheap without too much hassle) to book our hotels/motels for the trip? A few dollars more or less isn't an issue (so I'm not gonna check the rates every single day), but I guess 30-50$ difference a night is well possible depending on when you book. And what's the difference between big cities / national parks / smaller towns according to booking in advance/day itself?

I see 3 possibilities:

  • Book them now (9-10 months in advance)
  • Wait till a month / week / 2-3 days in advance
  • Check on the day itself (or 1 day in advance) online for the best rate.

A list of locations where we plan to book, but as you can see it's a widespread of big cities and small towns (so I guess it takes different booking approaches too).

Cities:

  • Los Angeles: 2 nights (landing there, so book in advance)
  • Vegas: 2 nights tue - th (so no weekend), preferably on the strip
  • San Francisco: 3 nights, arriving on memorial day

Smaller towns/cities (hotels/motels): San Diego(?) - Palm Springs - Kingman - Torrey - Lee Vining - Monterey - Morro Bay. The next or previous town on the road isn't a real issue, so it's just about finding a decent location to sleep at a good price. I suppose these aren't locations where a lot of people stay for a longer time (like e.g. Page, which I'll put together with the NP's).

National Parks:

  • Grand Canyon (lodge) on saturday

  • Page: 2 nights starting on sunday (big hub?)

  • Monument Valley

  • Moab: 2 nights (big hub?)

  • Bryce Canyon on saturday

  • Zion: 2 nights starting on sunday

  • Death Valley

  • Yosemite: 2 nights in the weekend (no difference in price as far as i can see)

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4 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

You might check the prices as of now for a similar period (e.g. looking for rooms as if your trip was in a month), and see how they evolve during the next weeks/months.

Having done a part of the trip you're planning last year, I'd say:

  • Book every night on National Parks as early as possible: there is less accomodation on offer than demand would like to have! Rooms are quite pricey for what you get, most of the time (the worst being in my memories at the Grand Canyon: small but decent rooms at a XXL rate, that we booked in advance and didn't get any better afterwards, as hotels just all got magically filled day after day!), but you have no choice.
  • Vegas has huge hotels, and here 99.9% (if not 100%) of the time there are empty rooms everywhere, so check promotions and pick a good fun/price rate! Being on the Strip is a big plus (but don't worry, it's long and has a lot of good and very good hotels).
  • SF can be quite full. Get a nice hotel while there is some room left!
  • Smaller cities: if you find a good rate a month before, go for it and avoid spending a fair share of your trip looking for the small hotel bargains you might have. Else you can indeed wait and see if prices drop. It depends on how the time spending / dollar spending ratio goes for you on this trip!
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If you've got a laptop, tablet, smartphone, and an internet connection then you can book places to stay the day of easily enough. I've found it best to book a room when I stop for lunch.

The 'gotcha's to this tactic of booking day-of is when there's a big conference or convention in town - you'll either have to pay through the nose or continue traveling to the next town to get a place to stay.

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Might work for the cities/towns, but "travelling to the next place" in a national park like Yosemite can mean 1-2h of extra travel. –  Bart Aug 27 '12 at 5:49
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First I'd say, well if you are sure of the dates, why don't you book in advance, I don't think it will get cheaper anyway.

But yeah I suppose you should book the bigger cities and National Parks like Grand Canyon (especially for a lodge) and Yosemite on weekends. Friends going to Yosemite at that time (May) weren't early enough to book and had to change their plans (i.e. they could only do day hikes).

I think Monterey Bay is also better to book, even though there are always small motels for cheap. And Las Vegas could be very cheap on Hotwire (down to $30) depending on the season so maybe by booking early you can have something nice.

But yeah I am still wondering, why would you postpone the booking? it's better only to sleep where you stop if you have a long drive, if you're low on money for now, or if you want to be free to go wherever you want whenever you want, but if you already have precise plans, I would say the earlier you book, the cheaper it is, isn't it?

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Does it have to be a hotel? Have you tried couchsurfing or airbnb? If you are looking for a hotel and a good price, you should rather alter the location and stay a bit away from city center, airport or other transport hubs, you will probably get a bitter price this way than changing booking dates.

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