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UK Hotels

Bag a bargain in Blighty incl Sunday stays and uni digs

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Sally | Edited by Steve N

Updated July 2016

uk hotels

Travelling within the UK can often beat going overseas for a break. And whether you're summering in Southend, eloping to Edinburgh or just working in Walsall, there are specific tips and tricks you can use to slash the cost of your hotel bill.

Here we set out the key steps to bagging a bargain bed, plus clever ways to save even more, including special opening rates, staying in universities – or even kipping in a canal boat or treehouse.

This is the first incarnation of this guide. Let us know what you think and if you have any tips to add by posting in the Cheap UK Hotels forum thread. Please also see Cheap Hotels for tips on booking worldwide, and our guide on how to uncover Secret Hotels.

Do your homework first to pick the right hotel

Whether you're visiting the Big Smoke or staycationing in the countryside, the first thing to do is decide where you want to stay. You might already have a particular hotel in mind, but if not, it's important to do your homework.

When doing your research, it's worth bearing the following in mind:

Don't trust the star system

Check TripAdvisor for what others have said

Once you've settled on a hotel, check the price if you were to book it directly – this is a good starting point if you want to haggle later on too. It also means you'll spot if there are any special deals on currently for direct bookings. And then...

Always check a comparison site to see if you can find the same room for less

Hotel prices vary massively, but thanks to comparison sites, you can easily find the best price for your chosen hotel.

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For UK stays, there are three main comparison sites:

  • The cheapest tends to be Trivago* – it covers over 250 different brokers.

  • To broaden your search, try TravelSupermarket*.

  • For extra discounts and member-only prices, check out Hotels.com*.

MSE Jordon saved £24 on his booking by going via comparison sites:

I needed a hotel at Heathrow Airport for a night so went direct to check out prices – I was quoted £89. A quick search via a comparison site brought this down to £65 for the exact same room. And I got more using a cashback site too!

Found a hotel on a comparison site? Call 'em up to see if you can bag a better price booking directly

Hotels listed on comparison sites have to give the comparison site some of their profit when you book, so they get a smaller share. So, if you find a hotel you like, try giving it a call directly. It may offer you a better deal because it can take the full profit it makes from your booking, then pass some of it back to you as a discount.

You may need to haggle a little – see our haggling tips to help – but you've nothing to lose. The worst they can say is no, leaving you to book via the comparison site which gave you your original price.

This works better with smaller chains or independent hotels or B&Bs, but also look out for 'booking direct price guarantees' with bigger chains, eg, Hilton.

Uncover huge savings on secret rooms if you're willing to play detective

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With a bit of detective work, mega hotel bargains are available from secret hotel sites. Here, you're only told a star level and rough location – only once you've paid do you find out the hotel's name. This means rock-bottom prices, as hotels needn't worry about losing trade from those who go to them directly.

You can never be 100% sure which hotel it is before booking, so these sites are not for those desperate to stay at a particular place. But there are usually sneaky ways to discover the hotels' identities to see if it's worth it.

The biggest site for this in the UK is Lastminute.com* – it also offers similar deals on hotels overseas. For a full how-to and more details, see the Uncovering Secret Hotels guide.

Use cashback sites to earn up to 13% back on hotels

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Cashback websites pay you when you click through them to go to retailers or product providers and spend. In essence, it's nothing more than an extra click before you get to where you want.

You can use these sites to shave £100s off the cost of a hotel, if you're away for a while. While rates vary, Topcashback* and Quidco* – the two biggest cashback sites in the UK – pay up to 13% when you book hotels through some sites. For example, at the time of writing you could get 13.1% booking through Venere.com via Topcashback.

Of course, we're not saying book via a certain site because the cashback is high – always do a comparison and ensure you can't get a cheaper price overall elsewhere. And remember, too, cashback's not guaranteed, so think of it as a bonus – see our Top Cashback Sites guide for more info.

Sunday's the best day to snap up a bargain

The traditional day of rest is hotels' quietest booking day, so you're more likely to pay less to stay on a Sunday. Also look out for Sunday special offers such as three-for-two nights or free bottles of champers.

For example, the Ickworth Hotel in Suffolk – a luxury family hotel – can be as much as £160/night cheaper than booking a weekday or Saturday night stay.

Forumites such as Eileen have saved by booking a Sunday night stay:

We stayed in La Mon Hotel & Country Club on a Sunday night for £99, which included a two-course meal with a glass of wine or beer and bed and breakfast. On top of this we also got access to the facilities at the hotel including the pool, sauna, jacuzzi, steam rooms and the hubby loved the gym. - Eileen B

No-frills UK hotels from just £20 a night

As long as you've not got an aversion to orange, Easyhotels is another option. It has pads in London, Luton, Glasgow, Edinburgh and elsewhere, with simple rooms from about £20 a night. And the earlier you book, the better the chance of a lower price.

The no-frills Tune Hotels chain has London rooms from £35, or sometimes less with promos. It's run on the budget airline model: while it's clean and does the job, guests have to pay a few quid extra for towels, TV use and housekeeping.

Likewise if you're travelling to Cardiff, Cheltenham or Eastbourne, The Big Sleep Hotels are good value, with rooms starting at about £35 a night.

Got free cancellation? Cancel and re-book if you see it cheaper

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Some hotel sites allow you free cancellation up to a certain date – usually no less than 24 hours before you're due to stay. So if you see the price fall, take advantage – cancel your original booking and re-book at the cheaper price. Sometimes you can even do this with the same site you originally booked with.

For some, you do have to pay in full at the time of booking, even if you're able to cancel penalty-free. In that case you'll need to factor in whether you have the funds available to cancel and re-book, bearing in mind that the refund from the original more expensive booking may take a couple of days to come through.

Hotels.com*, Booking.com*, Expedia* and a host of others have free cancellation bookings, as do some hotels if you book directly with them – just be sure to check the terms and conditions of your booking.

Bag luxurious UK bargains by signing up to short-term sales sites

Sites such as members-only Conde Nast TravellerSecret Escapes and Travelzoo* offer big discounts on luxury hotels worldwide, plus often throw in other treats like afternoon tea, dinner and bottles of prosecco on arrival. It's free to sign up – you just need to log in to see what's available.

For example, we found a superior room at the Wotton House hotel in Surrey for £145/night with Secret Escapes, including breakfast and three-course dinner, compared with £159/night when booked directly. The Alderley Edge Hotel in Cheshire was £109/night through the site, including breakfast and afternoon tea, versus £155 booked directly, including breakfast.

Hotel companies and travel brokers also often offer short-term sales for 24 or 48 hours and are worth looking at. However, as always, do your own research to see whether you're really getting a great deal, or if you can beat it elsewhere.

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Monitor the latest hotel deals

This guide helps you cut the cost of UK hotels (see our Cheap Hotels guide for worldwide tips), but it's always worth looking out for special one-off promotions which can save you a packet. Offers include free night stays, or a limited number of rooms available at a heavily reduced rate.

Keep your eyes peeled for discounts and deals on our Hotel Sales page.

Slash the cost of city-centre stays by finding university digs outside term time

Always thought you could've got into Oxford or Cambridge University? Well, now you can. The fab site University Rooms rents halls-of-residence rooms left empty during the holidays in a host of UK cities, including London, Oxford and Cambridge, plus a few worldwide. Singles start at about £30 and doubles from £70.

While it's not the Ritz, many MoneySavers have been pleasantly surprised. It can be a surprisingly cost-effective way of staying very centrally, and the surroundings at Oxford and Cambridge colleges in particular can be stunning. The website Travelstay also lists cheap university rooms across the UK.

Here are three of our top picks:

  • University of Westminster halls: in Marylebone, central London – £95/night double room, compared with a typical hotel room costing around £150/night.
  • Edinburgh University halls: close to the city centre – £98/night double room, typical hotel room around £150/night.
  • Churchill College, University of Cambridge: £96/night double room, typical hotel room around £100/night.

Scout around for special opening rates

New hotels often offer special rates to drum up custom, sometimes giving you 50% off or even complimentary stays. New hotel openings are listed in industry publications such as Hotel News Resource and Hotel Designs.

You can also pick up this information by scanning social media sites and keeping an eye on local newspapers. It's also worth calling a hotel directly to ask about special rates (a bit of sweet talk goes a long way).

Use Tesco points to knock £100s off big chains' rack rates

Regular Tesco shoppers who have collected Tesco Clubcard points can trade them in for Rewards Vouchers, which can be spent at hotel chains such as Hilton, Butlins, New Forest Hotels and Old English Inns.

The big advantage is that Clubcard points are worth 1p in store, but their value's up to three or four times as much when converted to 'Rewards'.

The snag is hotels usually only let you use vouchers against their rack rates (ie, normal prices), which are often much higher than their cheapest internet ones. Before exchanging Clubcard vouchers, check the price on comparison sites first to work out the real size of your saving. You may get better value for your vouchers elsewhere.

For more on maxing Tesco vouchers' value, read our Boost Tesco Points guide.

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Sign up to loyalty schemes for mates' rates

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Many hotel chains have free-to-join loyalty schemes, such as Best Western Rewards, Hilton HHonors*, Intercontinental Hotels Group Rewards Club* and Marriott Rewards.

They're worth joining, not so much for the free stays, which can take ages to clock up, but for the special offers they send members. Extra benefits, such as free room upgrades, early check-in, a free newspaper and a discount on hotel restaurants, are often included.

Plus if you call the hotel and ask for a discount or an upgrade when you check in, you're more likely to get one as a 'preferred guest'.

Look out for Travelodge's regular '£29 or less' sales

Hotel chain Travelodge* regularly offers £29-and-under sale rooms. The ultra-cheap rooms are released in batches – to bag serious bargains you need to know when a new lot has been released. If you can book your room at the start of a sale, there should be widespread availability.

Our regularly updated Travelodge Sales deals page lets you know when the latest sale starts, and Travelodge sale updates are regularly included in our free weekly MoneySaving email.

Many hostels are just dirt-cheap, not dirty – stay in a castle from £23/night

Hostels can offer massive savings over hotel prices. While a few may be dodgy, many are clean with friendly staff, and have free internet access and breakfast.

You're also more likely to strike up a conversation in a hostel than a Hilton. And don't automatically think dorm bunk either – many offer singles, twins and doubles.

To check prices and availability, try the Youth Hostels Association* (YHA) and Hostelling Scotland. Both boast some pretty special properties including fabulous shooting lodges and Victorian mansions such as Ilam Hall in Derbyshire.

If you've never stayed in a hostel before, there's a handy list of Q&As on the YHA website which covers everything from whether you need to bring your own bedding to how you can keep your belongings safe.

MoneySavers' top UK hostels

Many MoneySavers in our forum rave about great hostels – you can read some of their feedback or add your own in the Great 'Hidden UK Hostel Gems' Hunt. Some MoneySavers' top picks include:

  • In Gloucestershire, St Briavels hostel is located in a moated Norman castle (see picture below). Private rooms are £75/night while dorm beds are £23/night. JellyS says: "I had an amazing time – they had a special 'castle night' on with authentic food and ghost stories. Was really good fun."

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  • Downhill Beach House in Northern Ireland is one of the best hostels they've ever experienced. It's mega-cheap and set in scenery used to film the smash TV fantasy series Game of Thrones. Private doubles start at £23/per person, while seven-bed rooms are £16.50/per person. Forumite belfastgirl1 says: "On Northern Ireland's stunning Causeway Coast – it's beautiful inside and out".

  • Black Sail hostel in the Lake District with private doubles from £25/night is picked out by Knitaholic2: "Not just a bargain but also unique and beautiful buildings, often lovely grounds and space to relax – so much better than B&Bs and boring chain hotels".

  • Littlewolfmonkey stayed in the Smart City hostel in Edinburgh. For five friends for two nights it was £230. "We had our own six-person dorm with a lockable door – clean and right in the centre of town and not far from transport links. There was also a cheap bar, with breakfast served first thing and food throughout the day. I'd definitely use it again."

Going with a group? Consider an apartment or cottage rental with Airbnb or others

If there are a few of you planning a UK getaway, consider getting a holiday rental instead of a hotel. There are plenty of country cottages or beachside hideaways on offer across the UK – and there are options if you're staying in cities too.

With so many to choose from, using a holiday rental site such as HomeAway.co.uk*, Clickstay*, TripAdvisor*, Airbnb and Owners Direct* will make the whole thing easier.

Our forumites are keen on holiday rentals:

What's great about renting a villa is that they tend to be owned by individuals, so it's a really good chance to talk to someone who knows the area really well and can give tips. - Tomkerswill

I've used Airbnb to rent several places and always had good experiences. Check out the reviews carefully and ask the owners plenty of questions. - Blustarlight

Read the full lowdown on how to book self-catering accommodation in our Cheap Holiday Rentals guide.

Holiday in the UK from £9.50 per person (plus charges) with The Sun

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You can bag four-day caravan-park breaks from around £60 for four people by collecting tokens in The Sun newspaper. It's a limited promotion and usually runs in April and late summer.

There are over 180 parks included across the UK and prices start at £9.50 per person, but a £10-50 service charge per booking is always added on top. (If you want to go further afield there are a huge number of options in Europe too, from £15 per person.)

The way it works is you pick the country, then several dates which you can make – you'll be allocated the exact date after booking. You can't cancel or amend your booking after making it though, so double-check you can make all your options beforehand. Check out Holidays with The Sun for full details.

Sleep under the stars with a camping holiday

Good ol' camping's a fun way to explore the great British outdoors and get away on the cheap. MoneySavers rate the website UKCampsite.co.uk, which lists sites by area and facilities. It also includes user reviews.

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Read the Great Camping Hunt for a full list of MoneySavers' top tips on safe, hassle-free camping, plus if you've any of your own, please add them. It lists everything from where to find the cheapest tents to what to cook over the fire. Forumite Webspyder loves camping, whatever the weather:

If you go camping for a little bit of adventure and being at one with nature, you won't be disappointed if you experience a little weathering, especially in our British climate. If anything the weather should enhance your experience. Kids love the excitement and cosy feeling of being under 'canvas' when it rains!

Try a house-swap holiday

A number of home-swapping sites such as Home Base Holidays, HomeExchange.com* and Homelink allow you to switch your home with one elsewhere in the world – and while overseas swaps are more common, that can include in the UK.

To join you'll usually have to pay an annual fee but in return you won't pay any accommodation costs during your stay.

Reports vary from a way to make lifelong friends to holidays from hell, so always check reviews first and ask lots of questions before you sign up. See the Great Travel Swapping Hunt for tons more tips, like this from forumite Jola 36:

Not only have I had free accommodation abroad, but I've also done non-simultaneous exchanges and had people to stay in my flat and look after my pets while I was away. It helps that I live in Edinburgh, which is a tourist destination.

Stay in a UK holiday camp

The UK's full of holiday camps which are always popular for family breaks – fresh air, wholesome fun and plenty of activities to tire out the kids.

One of the best known is Center Parcs, which has five locations across the UK. Prices aren't cheap, but there are some ways to save. Book as early as possible to cut costs – it's already taking bookings for 2017. Otherwise you'll pay as much as £1,300 for a four-night break, in a cabin sleeping 6-10, at peak times.

Once you're there, costs can add up, so consider limiting meals out and eating in instead. Load up the car with the family's bikes and cycle the trails surrounding the parks and use the swimming pool – it's one of the few things already included.

There are cheaper options too, such as Butlins*, Haven* and Pontins*. If you choose one of these, look out for discounts as you can often pick up offers online or in local newspapers. Plus keep an eye on our Butlins deals page – we'll post new ones when they're available.

Embrace your adventurous side – sleep in the trees, on a canal boat or someone's sofa

If you want to step off the beaten track and explore more adventurous accommodation, you don't have to go far – there's plenty to choose from in the UK.

uk hotels You can hire a yurt from around £60 a night, stay in a canal boat for around £1,000 for a nine-berth boat for a seven-day break, or hole up in a treehouse for around £90/night for two.

The internet's the best place to find and book an unusual place to stay – several websites such as Canopy and Stars, Waterways Holidays and Forest Holidays list non-traditional holiday rentals.

Alternatively, if you're travelling alone and on a tight budget, you might want to try couch surfing – check out the website couchsurfing.com. You won't pay anything to stay on someone else's sofa but it costs £13 to verify your ID (optional but it may make people more willing to put you up for the night).