Budget bed hunting fine sport in the USA

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Finding a cheap place to stay was part if the fun, says Rhys Davies.

Being equipped to travel on a budget is made even more interesting when you consider accommodation options. Photo / Thinkstock
Being equipped to travel on a budget is made even more interesting when you consider accommodation options. Photo / Thinkstock

My first clue that the Best Value Inn in Newark, New Jersey, was not the most reputable of establishments should have been the fact that the desk clerk sat behind a bullet-proof screen.

But this being my first week on the road I was trying to be optimistic - a word that, when applied to a traveller on a budget, really means naive.

In my optimism I decided that the two people ahead of me in line were a nice young couple. Her clothes were a bit on the revealing side, yes, and so what if they only rented a room for an hour?

Suffice to say I didn't get a whole lot of sleep, as many more young couples continued to check in and out during the night.

So began the first week of three months on the road in the north-eastern United States.

I work for a non-profit organisation, visiting US universities to recruit students for our worldwide volunteer programmes. I was travelling with my colleague, who is from Chicago.

As most of our budget goes into our volunteer projects we don't have a lot to spend on accommodation. This means that we end up staying in some interesting establishments, like the Best Value Inn. But many nights were spent in fantastic accommodation that we got through luck, negotiation and often the kindness of a stranger.

At a small town in Pennsylvania we decided to try a middle-of-the-range franchise hotel, which can be found almost anywhere in the US. Their usual rate is way over our budget but the first rule of negotiation is if you don't ask, you don't get.

We began chatting to the girl at the desk. Most Americans love foreign accents, especially a Kiwi's, so this makes for easy conversation. I explained why we were there and let slip that we didn't have a lot of money.

She gave us a wink and we got the staff discount, which is more than 60 per cent off the rate and saved us about $200. The best part was we were then able to use the receipt at the franchise's other locations to obtain the same rate.

On another occasion in Long Island, New York, we were struggling to find a place. We were working at a university near the famously expensive Hamptons, and we couldn't have afforded a hotel even using our entire budget.

We decided to try a quaint-looking bed and breakfast in a snazzy neighbourhood frequented by celebrities such as Bill Clinton. It's easier to negotiate good rates at B&Bs because they're usually run independently with no company policies to adhere to.

The owner, Patty, was a lovely older lady and devout churchgoer who grew up in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Once again we explained what we would be able to pay. Her reaction, good Christian or not, was all Brooklyn: "You gotta be kiddin' me!"

But eventually she relented: "OK, but you pay up front in cash." Paying cash is a good idea if you're trying to negotiate a discount, especially with street-wise New Yorkers like Patty.

Before we left she made us promise to tell no one the details of the discount she had given us. She claimed it would be bad for business - I like to think the real reason she swore us to secrecy was she didn't want anyone back in Brooklyn thinking Patty had become a pushover.

Our last stop was Las Vegas. Our workmates were meeting up for a final get-together before heading home. You might think quality, cheap accommodation is hard to come by in Sin City but in fact it's incredibly easy.

Priceline.com is a popular website where you can book all kinds of hotels and motels at massively discounted prices.

We stayed at the MGM Grand, the second-largest hotel in the world and one of the most luxurious in Vegas, for US$60 ($70) a night. Rooms at smaller hotels can be bought for as little as US$20 per night.

When it came time to leave, out group of eight was in a tight spot: we all needed to get to Los Angeles quickly and cheaply. We used Holidaycars.com to book a Chevrolet Suburban (one of the biggest SUVs in the US) and got a great deal including insurance.

Getting everyone and their luggage into the Suburban was much more difficult ... but that's another story.

CHECKLIST

Where to stay: For cheap online bookings and discounts on hotels, check out priceline.com, hotwire.com and vegas.com.

Further information: I'd recommend these franchises for affordable, reliable accommodation in any part of the US: Comfort Inn, Red Roof Inn, Holiday Inn and Suites.

See holidaycars.com for great discounts on rental cars.

- NZ Herald

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