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How to Find a Great Last-Minute Hotel Deal

When you’re on the road, last minute doesn’t have to mean full-price.

It’s a common misconception that you’re going to end up overpaying if you don’t have the chance to book your hotel room in advance. You can actually save money by booking last minute. Here’s how:

Check out Hotelcoupons.com.

A booklet available in rest areas, Hotelcoupons.com, evolved into a website and a free app for iPad, Android, and iPhone. The site offers walk-in rates for hotels and motels to use the same night. Simply type in the city you’ll be in, the distance you’d be willing to travel, and you’ll find a list of hotels that are a fraction of what they usually cost. Keep in mind there is some fine print with these rates, including specific days you can’t use them.

Use all of your favorite hotel search apps.

Many of the hotel search sites out there offer a last minute deal feature on their apps. Hotels.com, Kayak, and Priceline all have an app that based off your current location, will generate the lowest available rates for hotels surrounding you for that night.

Search on the Hotel Tonight app.

Although traditional apps work well, try the free Hotel Tonight app for the specific purpose of finding a hotel on the fly. You can find hotel rooms up to 70 percent off throughout the U.S., Canada, and parts of Europe. Search by your current location or choose from a list of cities. But keep in mind: You have to be pretty spontaneous since many times deals aren’t generated until noon that day.

Call the hotel directly.

After knowing the price online, call the specific hotel you’re interested in to ask about the lowest available rate for that night. Sometimes if a manager realizes there are a lot of empty rooms, they’ll offer a lower price than what’s currently online or on the deal sites. I’ve even had a hotel ask me how much I was looking to spend for that night, and they matched it.

Join hotel reward programs.

Most hotel chains offer a free reward program where you earn points by staying at one of the affiliated hotels. The membership also allows you to make a reservation through their special “members only” line. If you book here, you can let the agent know you are a rewards member, the general area you will be in, and he or she can find you the lowest rate nearby for that particular day.

Visit rest stops.

Driving along the highway, you’ll come across welcome areas and rest stops along the way that are more than just a place to stretch your legs and use the bathroom during a long road trip. Many times you’ll find coupons for surrounding attractions, restaurants, and most importantly, on accommodations. There are entire booklets of deals that are geared for you to use the same day you’re booking since most people passing through are looking for somewhere to stay that night.

Read a review on Trip Advisor.

The old saying, “you get what you pay for” is sometimes true. Most of the time when I was on an extended road trip this past summer, I found great deals on nice hotels last minute. But, there were times where it was clear that there was last-minute deals because no one else wanted to stay there. Any time I was booking last minute, I was using my phone to look for somewhere to stay within a few hours. I didn’t have the chance to sit on my computer and read reviews and star ratings to compare it with other nearby hotels. Instead, I downloaded the free Trip Advisor app that allowed me to scroll through reviews of the hotel quickly. I got to see what the overall feedback was to determine if it was worth staying there.

If you do a little research, you can find a great hotel deal at the last minute. So get out your smartphone (or non-smartphone, or coupon brochure at the rest stop) and don’t pay more than you’re willing.

Do you have any tips — or success or horror stories — about booking a hotel last minute?

About Kristen Kuchar

Kristen Kuchar, author of Mac n' Cheese to the Rescue, is a food and travel writer working with numerous notable publications on both print and online. A firm believer that traveling and great food don't have to compromise finances, she's always finding great ways to save. She is currently living in Chicago with her husband Mark. You can follow her on Twitter @KristenKuchar.

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