In May, a scandal broke involving the Accor hotel in Sydney, when the hotel's general manager of communications, Peter Hook, admitted to anonymously posting more than 100 reviews on TripAdvisor. Some were glowing reviews of Accor, while others criticized competitors like the Intercontinental Hotel in Adelaide, which Hook wrote is "stuck in a time warp and rather expensive."
Some websites like Expedia only publish verified reviews, meaning the reviewer purchased the reservation on Expedia and stayed in the hotel. Nonetheless, Firpo-Cappiello says consumers should focus on reviews that speak to what they care about. "If several reviewers say the housekeeping was shoddy and that's important to you, believe it and move on," he says. "If several reviewers praised the complimentary breakfast for its friendly service and fresh food, believe it and book it if that's what matters to you."
Gain favor with the concierge. Firpo-Cappiello says most travelers don't cozy up to the hotel staff, which hurts their chances of getting a cheaper rate. "Bonding with a customer service rep and asking for what you want is really important – and most travelers are too shy to do it," he says. "Traveling with kids? Ask for a late checkout. On your honeymoon? Tell everybody." If you don't speak the native language, use a mobile app like Google Translate to break down the barrier.
Look into hostels. While they once conjured images of small, dingy rooms crammed with beds, there's now a large shift toward more stylish hostels. "The rise of the design-led hostel, which bridges the divide between boutique hotels and low-cost accommodation, means travelers no longer have that age-old predicament of whether to choose between style or affordability," says Carl Michel, executive chairman of GeneratorHostels.com, a hostel-booking website for consumers traveling to European cities.
Young adults in particular are attracted to hostels, Michel says. In terms of prices, a standard four-bed room at Conty's Motel in Naples, Fla., is currently listed on Hostels.com for around $76 per night; a standard one-bed room at Abraham House in Dublin, Ireland, is currently listed at around $42 per night. In addition to lower rates than hotels, hostels typically shelter a range of international travelers. Many have a common room, where fellow travelers from different countries can meet and hang out. Hostels may also offer guests a free walking tour of the city.
Michel says hostels in Dublin and Berlin offer great summer deals. However, he recommends booking two to three months ahead if you're traveling with a group and want a certain size of room, like a four-bed room with a private bathroom. (The ones with private baths tend to go quickly.) Private rooms in hostels cost, on average, 40 percent more than shared rooms, according to booking website HostelBookers.com.
Don't get caught up in free perks. When offered complimentary breakfast, a welcome cocktail or courtesy shuttle service, it's easy to forget you're ultimately looking for safe, comfortable, budget-friendly lodging. "At the end of the day, if you give me free Wi-Fi but the bathroom isn't clean, I'm not going to [enjoy my stay]," Gavin says.