1. Time your booking. On any given day, prices can fluctuate based on whether the hotel thinks it will be able to fill its rooms for the night. Your best time to book is usually within 24 hours of the stay, when hotels slash prices to avoid vacant rooms, but that creates a lot of uncertainty and isn't ideal when you're traveling in an unfamiliar place.
2. Check for affiliation and other discounts. Check with your professional organization, university or any other group you might belong to. Your credit card might also offer discounts – Visa Signature, for example, offers discounts and perks on a rotating cast of hotels.
3. Negotiate, not pay, for upgrades. Instead of booking the fanciest room in the place, reserve a lower-rate room and then ask for an upgrade. If you're traveling at an off-peak time, you have a higher chance of moving up to a vacant, better room at check-in.
- Calling a manager to see what room is available (it usually helps to mention if it's a special occasion)
- Showing up exactly at check-in time in hopes that your room won't be ready, and they'll have to upgrade you to a better, prepped room
- Tipping in advance and asking nicely for an upgrade
4. Keep an eye out for price drops. Savings don't stop when you book your hotel. As mentioned before, a room's price can fluctuate significantly, but not many people have the time or inclination to sit around hitting refresh to see if the nightly rate has dropped. It also keeps an eye on other rooms in the same hotel: If a better room's price drops below yours, the service will upgrade you even if your room's price didn't change.