8 Ways to Save on Accommodations Online


The online accommodation landscape is changing quickly. New websites are popping up every day, each with a unique way to search for different types of lodging. But sometimes sites like Airbnb have hefty service charges, while booking engines like Expedia and Booking.com often take a 25% cut from the hotel, which is sometimes passed on to the guests. I've traveled for over six years and have stayed in over 400 different hotels, hostels, and apartments around the world, and I've found a few ways to get cheaper (or even free) accommodation online. Here they are.

1. Try House Sitting

The idea of house sitting, while gaining traction, is still very foreign to most people. When I tell people that I've house sat in beachfront villas on the Caribbean Sea and in casitas in the jungles of Costa Rica, they often expect that I knew the owners or that I've somehow solicited myself door-to-door.

The fact is, finding beautiful homes to house sit all around the world is easier today than it's ever been, thanks to websites like TrustedHouseSitters.com. This site has the largest collection of available house sitting jobs on the web and it's really easy to get started.

All you have to do is sign-up for their yearly service ($8.25 per month) and you'll have access to thousands of potential house sitting gigs around the world. I've seen everything from mountain top bungalows in Fiji, to vineyards in France, and even castles in the UK. It seems too good to be true, but it's really not.

To better your chances of landing that perfect job, create a profile with your picture and a brief write-up about yourself, get some reviews from other people you've house sat for in the past, and complete a police check (usually done at your local police station for a fee).

Once you've created your profile, you'll receive an email in your inbox every couple of days with potential house sitting jobs. Then all you have to do is wait until there's one that suits your needs, send the owner a message, and hope to get chosen!

If you are chosen, you typically do a quick Skype call and then a few weeks later, you'll be flying off to your temporary dream home... where you'll stay for free.

Usually the listings include pet sitting, so you'll have to take care of an animal during your stay, but sometimes there aren't any pets and you just get the house to yourself. The jobs typically don't pay, but we have had some experiences where the owners give us a small salary for staying.

2. Use Local Property Sites

When big companies like Expedia and Airbnb charge a fee to the hotel or apartment owners, that cost is usually passed on to you, the guest. To avoid this, you can sometimes find the name of the property owner on these sites, and then run a Google search to see if you can find the same property listed on a local website.

Local websites generally have much lower fees, so you can potentially save 10%-15% off of the total cost of your accommodation. In Malta, for example, you can find many apartments online through large websites, but Malta also has a few locally run sites like ShortLetsMalta.com, where you can find the same properties much cheaper. In Guatemala, there's Atitlan Solutions, and in pretty much every town or country, there's a local website that will have cheaper accommodations than the big search sites.

3. Contact the Owner Directly

This is a particularly good trick if you're looking for short let apartments around the world. The way to contact the owner directly is similar to finding local websites in the previous tip. You just have to go into Airbnb or Villas.com and find a place you like, then look at the owner profile and see if they list their name or the name of their property management company.

Once you have that, you can run a Google search to see if you can find the owner directly online. Sometimes they have their own website for the property, and sometimes they don't. If they don't have a website, they probably won't show up in Google, but there's another tactic you can use.

Head to Facebook and search their name and the destination where the property is located. For example: "John Doe Puerto Vallarta."

Facebook will show a list of people by the same name in or around that city. You can match the person's profile photo to their picture on the booking site, and then send them a direct Facebook message asking them about the property.

4. Check the Hotel Website

A lot of hotels don't like the fact that when they have 100 rooms occupied in their establishment, they're paying 25% of their total revenue to big booking sites.

This is why many hotels offer financial incentives for booking directly on their websites. Once you find a hotel on a booking site, consider running a Google search with the hotel name and see if you can go directly to their site.

Compare the prices between the booking engine and the direct website and you'll often find that you can save upwards of 15% by booking directly with the hotel.

5. Haggle, Haggle, Haggle

Once you contact the local rental agency, the apartment owner, or the hotel's website, you can bargain. With hotels, they may not have as much leeway to give you more of a discount, but you can send the owner an email and ask for a percentage off the room rate if you're staying more than a couple nights.

Usually with rental agencies and apartment owners, there's a fair amount of negotiating space. You can save a lot of money, especially considering that you'll already be saving the fees from the big booking sites. I rented an apartment in Malta for two months and I ended up saving nearly 30% of the cost by contacting them directly and bargaining for the price. It really works!

6. Consider Couch Surfing

Saving money is great, but free lodging is even better. The term "couch surfing" is becoming more mainstream, but there's still a misunderstanding of what's involved.

Many people hear it and think, I don't want to sleep on someone's couch!

But in reality, there are thousands of couch surfing opportunities where you have your own room, a queen-sized bed, and even your own bathroom. Couch surfing is now a universal term for staying in someone's home for free, not just crashing in someone's living room.

The great thing about couch surfing is that you get a real local experience when traveling to a new destination. What better way to immerse yourself in the culture than by staying in a local's home?

To start couch surfing, head to CouchSurfing.com and sign-up for free. You can then browse through 400,000+ hosts around the world, and in no time at all, you can arrange to stay with somebody overseas. It's a great service.

7. Try Home Exchange

Another great way to get free accommodation is to do a home exchange. Made famous by the 2006 movie: The Holiday, home exchanges are a really cool concept. Head to LoveHomeSwap.com, sign up for $20 per month, and start swappin'!

Of course, some downsides of this option are that you have to own a home, and you have to be willing to let a stranger stay in your home in exchange for getting to stay in theirs. But if it means you can fly to London and stay in the historical city for free... why not?

8. Check Out Volunteer Exchange

Websites like WorkAway.info and HelpX also offer travelers a great way to earn free accommodations all around the world, while helping out the local communities along the way. Basically it's an exchange. You sign up for a fee and then you have access to all of the volunteer opportunities on the website, and there thousands in over 135 countries.

Browse through the listings, find a rewarding placement, and enjoy free accommodations (and sometimes food) in return for your services. Whether you decide to work on organic farms in South America, teach children in Asia, or help out at orphanages in Africa, your lodging will be earned, but the experience will be priceless.

Have you tried any of these accommodation hacks? Let us know in the comments!

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