If you're heading out on a long road trip, start thinking about cheap motel rooms. Along with fuel and food, lodging is going to be one of your greatest road trip expenses. By scoring some cheap hotel stays, you can really get control over your overall vacation budget.
Now, there's an obvious tradeoff here: the cheapest hotels are often the most disgusting. How do you strike a balance?
The answer is going to depend on what you consider to be an acceptable hotel room. But here are some guidelines to help you maximize your comfort, avoid dumps, and save money:
> Look for newer motels. How run-down can even a cheap hotel be if it's only two years old?
> Analyze the true costs. Many hotels now offer free breakfast. Will you save enough money on breakfast to offset the cost of a higher-priced hotel? Crunch the numbers based on the size of your traveling party. Consider also the price of convenience. If you've gotta have free wi-fi or want to be within walking distance of a restaurant or shopping center, you might give the nod to a slightly more expensive hotel that offers these conveniences.
> Read user reviews. Any number of cheap hotel websites offer user reviews, often with star ratings. It's easy to sort results by star rating and then pick the highest-rated hotel you can afford. But if you're willing to invest the time, it's smarter to actually read some of the reviews. We've found that some perfectly acceptable hotels get dinged by reviewers who had an axe to grind.
So, how can you tell the good reviews from the, uh, less than objective ones? Disregard anything written in ALL CAPS. THE PERSON WAS PROBABLY STILL ANGRY WHEN THEY POUNDED THEIR REVIEW INTO THE COMPUTER. IF THEY DON'T KNOW ENOUGH TO TURN OFF CAPS LOCK, WHY WOULD YOU TRUST THEIR JUDGMENT?
Also, disregard any review that gave a one- or two-star rating based on a seemingly random problem. Examples: "The people in the next room were talking loudly all night." "When I checked in, the guy at the desk gave me a dirty look." I don't know about you, but I'll endure a dirty look if it means staying in a cheap motel room that's clean and comfortable.
Put the most stock in longer, more articulate reviews that are written with reasonably good grammar and punctuation.
The bottom line is that not all "star" ratings are created equal. Found an affordable hotel but it has a two-star rating? Dig a little deeper. You may discover that most of the harsh reviews came before the hotel's renovation, and that more recent guests have been quite pleased with their cheap motel rooms.