So once you locate your hotel, use a site like kayak.com to search your dates because that site will show you the prices that various sites have. Here is a search I did for the Royal Hawaiian for a date at the end of this month.
- Hotel Chains: If you have chosen a hotel chain for your loyalty, then your hotel searches are already narrowed for you. Each hotel family's website (i.e. Hilton, Starwood, Hyatt, etc.) has the ability to search for all of the hotel brands within the chain. So it's up to you where you would want to stay and what your budget level is. Many of the hotel chains has brands that range from budget, to long-stay hotels, to luxury brands. Also, other websites such as expedia.com and orbitz.com have the ability to search a hotel by brand or by name. Remember to sign up for deals from the hotel family website if you don't have an account with them already.
- Other hotels: Just do a search on one of the travel sites and you can usually find deals, especially if you aren't picky. Even if the hotel you want to stay at isn't part of a chain, do a google search for the actual hotel's website because more often than not, it will have a "specials" page or have advanced purchase rates that aren't offered on sites like expedia and others. And many of those sites will have an email list, so sign up for it and they may email you a promo that coincides with your travel dates.
- Pre-paid rates: Be careful when you book these because they aren't changeable. They are often a very good deal, but unless you absolutely know you will travel on those dates I would be careful. I never book pre-paid rates until the very latest I can. Here's an example, Hilton usually offers advanced purchase rates at up to 40% off the regular rate, but it has to be done at least 2 weeks in advance. I will wait until the very last day to book a pre-paid just in case my plans change. Also, sometimes I've been able to find rates that are slightly higher than the advanced purchase rate but are completely changeable or cancelable. I'd rather pay $10 extra to know that I have flexibility.
- Other sites to check: There was an article in the New York Times travel section on this very topic and here are some sites that they suggested other than the usual suspects like expedia and orbitz: google.com/hotelfinder, hipmunk.com, checkyourroom.com, room77.com, and oyster.com/shots. These are all new sites to me and it will take me a while to navigate them, but if any of them becomes my new favorite, I will post about it.
- Check rates periodically even after you book: Hotel rates do change, so if you book a hotel rate, it doesn't mean that the price won't go down. I would check once a week or so to make sure the rate hasn't changed. In the event the rate goes down, you'll be happy that you didn't book an advanced purchase non-refundable rate.
- Check the "all in" rate: This refers to the total price you'll pay per night (i.e. the actual rate). So just because you find a $99/night rate, doesn't mean that's what you actually pay. Go through the booking pages even if you aren't going to book right then just so you can see what the price is with tax. Also, if you plan to go to Las Vegas, know that almost every hotel charges a "resort fee" which is a bogus way for the hotel to charge you an extra $5 to $25 per night. Check out this site for which Las Vegas hotels have the dreaded resort fee.