Budget Tips for Booking Hotels in Europe

By Rick Steves

If your accommodation costs are adding up, consider some ways you can scale back. These tricks work for me.

Don't consume above your needs. A three-star hotel is not necessarily a bad value, but if I stay in a three-star hotel, I've spent $50 extra for things I probably don't need. Amenities such as air-conditioning, elevators, room service, a 24-hour reception desk, and staff in uniforms each add about $10 to your per-night rate.

Stick with smaller places. Larger hotels are often pricier than small hotels and guesthouses, partly because of taxes (for example, in Britain, once a B&B exceeds a certain revenue level, it's required to pay an extra 20 percent tax). Hoteliers who pay high taxes pass their costs on to you.

Hotels that cater to the expense-account crowd can be especially bad values. For example, while small hotels generally offer free Wi-Fi, expensive business-class places may charge heartily for it. One exception: In many northern European capitals, you can sometimes land a deeply discounted room in an upscale business-class hotel if you're there when the corporate crowd is not (summer and weekends year-round).

Ask for the best price and cheapest room. Room prices can vary within a hotel according to facilities provided. If you're looking for the cheapest possible room, scour the hotel's website for pricing details. You may find that a room with a shower costs less than one with a bathtub, or a double bed is cheaper than twins. If you would be happy with either, let the hotelier know when you book.

Don't dismiss bathrooms down the hall. While demand has pushed many hoteliers to cram a tiny bathroom into the corner of every room, some older places — especially guesthouses — may have one or two rooms that lack an en suite bathroom. Instead, the room has a "private bathroom," which means that it's not attached, but it's for your use only. If you'd happily cross the hall for a shower or toilet to save about $20 a night, say so when you book.

Try to wrangle a discount. Prices can soften if you stay three nights or longer (fewer bedding changes), pay in cash (saves the hotelier credit-card fees), pay in full in advance (be careful, though, as these deals are almost always non-refundable), or visit in low season (when prices are discounted anyway). It doesn't hurt to ask. Outside of high season (July and August in much of Europe, though this can vary by region), try haggling: If the place is too expensive, tell them your limit; they might meet it.

Skip the hotel's breakfast. Check to see if room rates include breakfast; if so, ask what you'd save by skipping it. Especially in northern Europe, hotel breakfasts can be a great value and a fun chance to sample some regional treats. But in countries where the hotel breakfast is skimpy — or if you're not a big breakfast person — ask for the rate without breakfast when you book. You can buy a thriftier breakfast at the supermarket or corner bakery.

If you're a small group, put more people in a room. Many doubles come with a small double bed and a tiny single, so a third person pays very little (usually about $30 extra). If there's room for a cot, they'll cram it in for you. Family suites with two private bedrooms are a fine option for two couples who don't mind sharing a bathroom, as it's much cheaper than paying for two separate doubles.

Avoid room-and-board deals. Some hotels offer room rates that include dinner in their dining room (called "half-board" or "half-pension"); a few places (often resorts) even require it, especially in peak season. While it might not be that expensive, it does limit when and where you eat. I prefer the freedom to explore and sample local restaurants or shop for picnics. On the other hand, if half-pension is required, but the charge is less per meal than you'd pay for an average restaurant meal, it can be worth considering — especially if the chef is good or if you're in a village with no convenient alternatives.

Check out discount-hunting search engines. Sites such as HotelsCombined and Trivago compile prices from travel agencies, consolidators, and hotel websites, while EuroCheapo specializes in budget hotels. If your travel dates are flexible, consider the deep discounts available on sites such as Priceline and GetaRoom. It's also worth checking out the cost of "air plus hotel" packages available on Kayak, Expedia, and similar sites. Just keep in mind that what you save in dollars you'll likely lose in customer service.