Three words that will get you the best hotel deal

Taking the entire family on vacation can add up quickly—flights, rental car, gas, meals, snacks, and, of course, hotels. However, by doing some research and using three little words, you could end up saving a lot of money on accommodations. Find out some more secrets hotels won't tell you.

First, search hotel booking sites like TripAdvisor or Expedia and check out the hotel rates in your location for the dates you would like to book. Take down all the prices you find online for that hotel. But even if you find a steal of a deal, don't press the book button on the website just yet.

After researching prices online, experts say the best way to get the lowest hotel rate is to call the hotel directly—not any of the customer service or 1-800 numbers that could be listed as a contact number, especially for a chain hotel. Then you're going to drop some magic words. While you might be tempted to ask for "the best deal" or "the lowest rate," your secret weapon here is to use the phrase "cheapest nonrefundable rate." According to experts at Travel + Leisure, that phrase triggers hotel staff to search for the room that will cost you the least for your vacation. Here are the 10 most expensive cities to book a hotel.

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Book your next vacation at these hotels
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Book your next vacation at these hotels

The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas, Nevada

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El Tovar Hotel, Arizona

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Caesars Lake Tahoe, California

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Orchard Street Hotel, New York

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Royal Sonesta New Orleans, Louisiana

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Omni Shoreham Hotel, Washington, D.C.

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Aloft Sarasota, Florida

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Holston House Nashville, Tennessee

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Silversmith Hotel Chicago Downtown, Illinois

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Defiance House Lodge, Utah

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If you do end up trying to negotiate a better price, mention the numbers you found online and then reduce those prices by 20 percent. Apparently hotels pay a hefty fee to be listed on hotel booking sites, and that 20 percent could actually mean more money than they would get if you booked though one of them.

Just don't wait until the last minute to score a deal, because that can lead to paying more, not less. Fred Lalonde, founder of the travel service Hopper, told Travel + Leisure that the best deals on hotels are usually available two to three months ahead of the vacation date, potentially saving you more than $270 for an eight-day stay. Next, find out some more secrets that'll help you save a ton of money on hotel rooms.

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15 things you should never, ever do in a hotel room
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15 things you should never, ever do in a hotel room

Steal the bathrobes

"Guests sometimes take home essential amenities that the hotel provides during their stay, like shampoo, lotion, and other vanity products," says Ryazan Tristram, photographer and travel blogger for everythingzany.com. "However, people sometimes take home the bathrobes as well, which is a no-no." You could be charged extra or fined for taking pricier items, including linens, artwork, and electronics. Find out what you can take from hotel rooms without getting in trouble.

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Break something and lie about it

Accidents happen, but damaging something in your room and keeping it a secret can actually harm staff or future guests. Matthew, founder of thetravelblogs.com, says a guest once cut his foot on a shard of glass. "[Glass is] very hard to spot, even if you know it is there, so although the room was cleaned, there was one piece that the housekeeper missed," he says. "We ended up comping that man's night in the hotel all because the previous guest didn't make the team aware of broken glass in his room."

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Cook anything without a proper kitchen area

"We always want to save money when we travel," says Tristram. "Some guests will bring their portable cooking appliances with them during their stay, and this can cause a few problems, primarily if the hotel room doesn't have any kitchenette area." These cooking appliances can set off a hotel's fire alarm system or cause an actual fire, so stick with no-cook meals if you want to save a few bucks on food. Find out 9 ways to travel cheap, according to travel agents.

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Leave important jewelry in your suitcase or dresser

Hospitality businesses can't always stop thieves from putting their sticky fingers where they don't belong, so don't leave your precious jewels, wallets, or purses in your room, unless it's in a hotel-provided safe, says a Farmers Insurance Group representative. Your homeowners or renters policy may provide coverage for your belongings while you are traveling, so it's important to report any lost or stolen items as soon as possible. Don't miss these other tips for protecting your belongings in a hotel.

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Keep your bathroom door ajar when taking a shower

There's nothing wrong with enjoying a steamy shower at a hotel, but beware what the vapor can do if released into your room. "A hotel's hot showers can cause a lot of steam, and as a result, can trigger the hotel's fire alarm system inside your bedroom if you leave the bathroom door open," says Tristram. Learn 22 tips for making your hotel stay as safe and healthy as possible.

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Cover up smoke alarms

Certain hotels still allow smokers to smoke cigarettes inside their rooms. Despite this, some guests insist on smoking in non-smoking rooms. The biggest problem: Guests who do this cover the smoke alarm so they can smoke in bed, risking their safety and that of all other guests, says Bryony Summer, owner and editor of coastingaustralia.com.

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Forget to inspect the bed

Even the finest hotels and housekeepers can't keep creepy critters from making their way into bedrooms. "I always advise travelers to put their luggage in the bathtub until they inspect the bed for bedbugs," says Mitch Krayton of Krayton Travel. Think hotel beds are dirty? Learn the 11 germiest spots in every hotel room.

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Restock the minibar

There's no crime in enjoying a drink from the hotel fridge. After all, that's their purpose. "But if you plan on taking a bottle of whiskey out of there, just accept that you'll still be paying for it," says Sophia Borghese, a consultant for La Galerie Hotel in New Orleans. "Don't try to fake the hotel staff out by replacing the liquor with a half-sipped bottle of Diet Coke. This happens more often than you might think, and those who do it still get charged for taking that $30, two-ounce bottle of spirits."

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Boil your undies in the kettle

Funny? Yes. Disturbing? Absolutely. Has it actually happened? You bet. After 12 years of managing, Summer says the worst thing she came across was having guests boil their underwear in kettles, pots, or steamers to "freshen them up." Check out the 13 craziest things people have seen in hotel rooms.

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Use the throw pillows

"If you notice the throw pillows on the bed or the couch have no removable sleeves, you can be sure they are never thoroughly cleaned," says Kashlee Kucheran, seasoned traveler and co-owner of traveloffpath.com. "After they get so stained or smelly that they become offensive, the hotel will just replace them. In the meantime, you can bet there have been many faces, bottoms, and other things lounging on those pillows, so steer clear!"

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Use the fire sprinkler as a coat hanger

Closets are great for hanging clothes. Fire sprinklers are not. Bob Tupper, author of Drinking In the Culture: Tuppers' Guide to Exploring Great Beers in Europesays he saw people using the safety devices as coat hooks—a silly stunt that could not only set off a hotel's fire alarm but also burst the pipes causing water to flood into rooms. Watch out for these 13 hotel room hazards you didn't know were putting your kids in danger.

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Send sensitive information over hotel Wi-Fi

"No one should ever, ever send any sensitive information or conduct any important business over hotel Wi-Fi—at least not without encryption," says Harold Li, vice president of ExpressVPN. "Given how easy it is to hack public Wi-Fi hotspots, you might as well be yelling your passwords and bank details down the hall." Travelers should use encryption to shield their Internet activity when sending important information.

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Forget that you recently dyed your hair

As a courtesy to the hotel, you might want to wait until you get home before you change the hue of your 'do. "The ruined towels and bed linens are unrecoverable," says Leslie Mulcahy, co-owner of Rabbit Hill Inn in Vermont. If you have recently dyed your hair, avoid washing your hair—or bring your own towel or disposable sheets to wrap your hair until it dries. On that note, you might want to bring your own hairdryer after hearing the gross reason you should avoid hotel hair dryers.

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Walk with heavy feet

Loud music and voices aren't the only things you should keep in check when you're in a hotel room. "In my experience, no matter how luxurious a hotel is, they are still built with materials that don't allow a lot of soundproofing, especially from upstairs guests," says Kucheran. Avoid walking around with weighty steps so you don't become "that annoying guest."

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Sneak in your pets

It's tempting to bring your furry friends on trips with you, but don't do it without asking if the hotels you're staying in are pet-friendly. If the answer is "no," don't try to pull a fast one on the staff—animals leave trails of evidence, from hairs to prints to smells, and your cleaning fees will skyrocket if you've broken the rules. Check out these other 21 secrets hotel clerks won't tell you.

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- This article first appeared on Reader's Digest
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