How to get a hotel room for less than half price

The 'secret' to better deals

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Room service hotel staff carries breakfast tray

Hotels don't want anyone to know that you can get a better deal on a room. They work very hard to ensure that the official rate is the one most people assume they have to pay - which is what they call 'rate integrity'. They might offer a few discounts, but they are keen to point out that these come as part of a package, usually at the last minute or a long time in advance, and don't consist of more than 25% off the advertised price.

However, there is a way to get your hotel for half the price - or even cheaper. So how is it done?

The technique uses something called 'secret hotels'. The idea is that you go online to sites like www.hotwire.com and choose a hotel based on the number of stars, the ratings of fellow travellers, and the area where the hotel is situated. In return you'll get far bigger discounts than you could hope for by looking for a deal at a named hotel.

Michelle Rosinsky, a senior manager of Hotwire.com told AOL how it works: "Hotels work very hard to build rate integrity, so they don't want to publicly advertise these discounts. They might offer small discounts on special deals with restrictions, but they don't want to be seen to offer too much. They won't even offer these kinds of discounts on their own website, because as far as they are concerned, these are their most valuable customers, and they want to maximise their income from them."

However, at the same time, they don't want to be left with an empty hotel. The fixed costs of running the place are the same no matter how many of the rooms are full - they still pay their taxes, their mortgage, and their staff - so their profit depends on how many people they can get under their roof each night. They need to be able to offer big enough discounts to ensure they have as close to full occupancy as possible

The compromise is to offer these deals in such a way that they can remain anonymous to everyone except for the individuals who have already paid for a stay.

A decade ago Rosinsky says that Hotwire was the only player in the market, but now Lastminute.com offers a 'secret hotels' section too. Both are well-worth checking. They are strong across a range of different star levels, but particularly for three, four, and five star hotels - which have the most to gain from using a system which doesn't reveal how low they are prepared to go.

Research for best deals

The way the sites work means you can do a bit of research and check what kind of a deal you are getting. On Hotwire, once you have chosen the area you want to stay in and the date of your stay, you will see a list of hotels. Here the site outlines the facilities that are available at the hotel - such as a swimming pool or a gym. It will also provide a rating produced by Hotwire users (which is broken down into things like service, comfort and cleanliness), and a rating collated from every independent TripAdvisor review. In some instances, when you search for a hotel it will inform you of the hotel that the last person booking this particular deal received - although clearly you're not guaranteed to get the same one.

You can also do a spot of your own research. You can visit TripAdvisor and search by the area to narrow down the ones with the right numbers of stars and the same TripAdvisor rating. If you're using Lastminute.com, you'll get a bit of a description to go with the hotel, so you can try cutting and pasting that into a search engine to see if it will identify the hotel you're booking.

Get an even better price

Rosinsky told AOL that there are ways of getting even better deals - by timing your booking to match the point at which the hotels unlock their deeper discounts. You'll get the first tranche of deeper discounts seven days before the day of your stay. Then a wave of even cheaper rooms will be unlocked three days before you travel, and finally the best rates are available on the day you plan to travel. Hotwire also has a mobile app, which means you can find the deals nearby at the last possible minute, and book at the lowest possible price.

Some of the deals on offer for this Friday and Saturday night on Hotwire for two people, include a five star hotel in La Defense, Paris, at £171, which is a reduction of 58% - from £408. Alternatively, there's a four star hotel in Via Veneto-Villa Borghese, Rome, at 53% off - which means it's £150 reduced from £317.

These reductions look too good to be true. However, after booking a secret hotel near the Louvre in Paris for £128.55 a night, I discovered I'd booked The Westin. I checked the hotel's website and was offered the same room for £340.58 per night. If you booked early enough you could get 20% off, which still puts the cost at £272.46. Even the best deal available from the discounters was £370.

And the four star hotel - with its view of the Eiffel Tower, bed the size of most people's spare room, and towels thick enough to double as a duvet, helped reinforce the fact that a secret deal is often an astonishingly good one.