Taking Extreme Hotel Savings for a test drive


Over the weekend, we released a podcast episode dedicated to “Extreme Stacking” methods to save money on hotel bookings. I have booked all of my flights for our 3 Cards 3 Continents trip and I have booked hotels for all but one of my nights on the trip, though most of my hotel nights are fully flexible. I’d like to save some money in a couple of places in order to splurge in a couple others (and in one case, I want to find my “splurge” hotel for the best price possible), so I decided to take our tips for a spin and see just how much I could save. I found that big savings can be possible, but as you might expect the chance to save really varies from one hotel to the next.

Hotel #1: Success in shopping around

My first example hotel is one that I need for a quick overnight. I won’t need much more than a clean place to sleep for this specific part of the trip and the most important aspect of my accommodations in this case is location. My goal here was to find a place to sleep cheap while still being confident that it’ll be clean and comfortable enough. After poring over reviews for hours, I figured out exactly which property I wanted — the next step was slicing and dicing the price to make it as nice as possible.

I’m not ready to reveal full details, so I’ll just call this “Hotel 1” for the purposes of this post.

Hotel 1 was available directly through its website for $71.70.

That’s a pretty cheap price and it fits into my budget. I could have booked it at that price and called it a day. However, every few bucks I can cut off the price here is a few bucks more that I can use elsewhere.

I next went to Hotels.com because I like the stacking opportunities that site presents: we see occasional ways to buy discounted hotels.com gift cards (or to use points to discount those gift cards). Even when gift cards aren’t on sale, they can often be purchased second-hand at a discount through sites listed at giftcardwiki.com (discounts very, but in this case I could have purchased gift cards for 5.8% off face value). Furthermore, you can click through a shopping portal to save more (as much as 6% back at the time of writing). Those things can come together to make for a good deal.

In this case, the price through Hotels.com was significantly cheaper than booking direct — just $45. By stacking discounted gift cards and shopping portal rewards, the net cost would have come down to around $40. That’s almost half off the direct booking price!

However, Hotels.com indicated that there was a “secret price” available for this hotel.

Some hotels have reduced prices available when logged in to your hotels.com account.

By signing in to my Hotels.com account, the price dropped to $39 total. After discounted gift card and portal savings, the net cost would have been about $34.75. That obviously sounded even better.

I next decided to try Capital One Spring. Stephen had previously found that Capital One Spring’s hotel discounts can sometimes be quite good. Sure enough, the same hotel for the same date came to $33.10 with Capital One Spring’s Priceline discount (the hotel wasn’t available through “ZealTrips”, the other of Capital One Spring’s hotel discount programs). While that’s only a tiny bit more savings, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was indeed a bit better than what I’d found so far. Remember that Capital One Spring is free and open to anyone, not just Capital One cardholders.

I checked Hotwire, but the absolute cheapest property they had at my destination was $38 before taxes, and that cheapest property through the opaque pricing tool didn’t appear to be the one I was trying to book.

I also checked T-Mobile Travel (an exclusive discount service for T-Mobile customers), but this property wasn’t listed at their site.

Finally, I went to hotel comparison website hotelscombined.com. I searched for the specific hotel I want to book and the date and was really surprised to see an initial price of just $24 from Agoda.com. It turned out that this price was before tax — but with tax through Agoda, the all-in total came to $28.40! What’s more, whereas many of the other “best deals” above were totally nonrefundable, the Agoda deal is freely cancellable until 11:59pm 2 nights before arrival and my card won’t be charged until 4 days ahead of arrival.

In this case, I saved more than 60% over booking directly with the hotel by spending 20 or 30 minutes hunting around. There actually wasn’t any stacking in my case because I didn’t want to chance losing the price when clicking through from some other source, but I should have tried going through TopCashBack. At the time of writing, TopCashBack is offering 8% back on Agoda for completed hotel bookings. That 8% would bring the net cost down to $26.13.

In this case, it wasn’t necessarily extreme stacking but rather extreme “shopping around” that yielded a great price.

Hotel 2

Encouraged by my results with Hotel #1, I went for a second round with another hotel that would be more of a “splurge” hotel. Here are all of the places I shopped for price for Hotel 2:

  • Hotels.com
  • Expedia.com
  • Capital One Spring’s Priceline discount site
  • Capital One Spring’s ZealTrips discount site
  • T-Mobile Travel
  • Hotelscombined.com
  • Kayak.com
  • Agoda.com
  • Momondo.com
  • Skyscanner.com
  • Trivago.com
  • Trip.com
  • Booking.com
  • Ctrip.com (a Chinese booking site that many hotels exclude from their best rate guarantee programs, though I didn’t get very far here even with Google Translate)
  • Orbitz.com
  • In many cases above, I tried both the website and phone app

I searched high and low because this second property I wanted offered very little variance in price. Directly through the hotel’s website, the price was $181.40. Almost all of the options above showed a price of $175 all-in. Whereas quite a few of the above sites advertise discounts for members when logged in, I found that discounts just didn’t seem to apply to this hotel the way that the Hotels.com “secret price” did to my previously-chosen hotel. It’s worth mentioning that I noticed many other hotels varied in price from one site to the next and when logged in, just not the hotel I wanted.

It was my last stop among those above that offered the only major difference: I looked at Orbitz.com on my phone and while it showed the same $175 price as other sites, I noticed a bit of text at the top of the page advertising 10% off your first eligible hotel booking using the Orbitz app and code SAVEAPP10. Sure enough, whereas other discount sites offered no significant additional savings at this property, the Orbitz 10% off code worked — bringing the price down to $158.

While that was certainly better than the price anywhere else, it still wasn’t quite as much as I was hoping to save. I think I’ll wait it out a bit and see if Amazon runs another deal to save 30 or 40% when using 1 Membership Rewards point. Then, perhaps I can get another discounted Hotels.com gift card as that would potentially enable a savings of $30 or $40 that can be stacked with a shopping portal. Furthermore, if I can book through Hotels.com, I’d pick up a “Welcome Rewards” stamp — getting a step closer to a “free night” in Hotels.com’s rewards program.

Bottom line

I spent a lot of time yesterday going through the various discount programs to see where I could save a few bucks on a couple of hotel stays for my 3 Cards, 3 Continents trip. I was initially very excited by how much I was able to slice and dice to save on one hotel booking, but I felt like the savings I found on the second hotel (which I didn’t end up actually booking) wasn’t significant enough to justify all the time I spent logging in to various sites and trying desktop versus phone apps, etc. I’m sure that’s how it goes sometimes — a little lost time is a consequence of playing the game for extreme savings.

That said, hopefully my time spent surfing hotel booking websites for the second property wasn’t completely wasted: I decided to try installing Capital One Shopping’s browser extension. Greg and others have previously reported getting targeted for really great portal payouts based on their browsing history after installing the app. Here’s hoping for a nice email from Capital One Shopping in the days ahead.

This was a targeted offer Greg received from Capital One Shopping after a couple days of browsing hotels. Remember that Capital One Shopping is a program that’s open to anyone – not just Capital One cardholders.
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rick b

I typically just type “hotels” when hovering over a google map of my destination, and it’ll show prices from almost all the booking sites, including many obscure ones I’ve never heard of that sometimes have much lower deals.

All others like kayak, momondo, etc.. rarely if ever beat those prices, since they just recycle info from the same set of booking sites.

Hotels.com very often shows higher price when going through portal first, enough to negate the 10% towards free night credit.

I’ve been surprised in some parts of the world that a few hotels or homestays will post better deals on airbnb vs. booking sites. This is probably related to their commission structure.


Agoda has some crazy deals sometimes. I booked a ryokan in Hakone Japan for less than half price compared to the numerous other sites I checked. I was so skeptical I had the concierge at the Hyatt call before we took the train out to make sure everything was legit. Worked out with no issue.

Larry K

When I read stuff like this, it makes me realize the extent to which we are probably prone to overvaluing our points and miles. We find a Marriott that sells for $179 for 35,000 points and that’s usually the end of the analysis. Especially if we have free breakfast! But if the just-as-nice hotel across the street can be extreme stacked for $64.50, and their buffet is $19.99? Then what really are we doing?

Even for the squishier values — like an elite night — I think we overvalue all that.


And, if I’m paying, I’d probably forgo the $20.00 buffet in favor of a perfectly adequate $6 breakfast.


in my experience, bookings made at hotels.com using a gift card aren’t eligible for shopping portal cashback. i’ve tried on several, and even if the transaction initially tracks, the cashback always gets clawed back. have you had luck with a specific portal getting cashback when paying with a gift card?


We’re you checking different room prices too? The broom closet may have been the best hidden value.

Reno Joe

Nick, I’m glad you mentioned “buttons.” Let’s say someone uses only one browser, can a person install more than one shopping portal button for concurrent operation? Do conflict arise? I haven’t tried it yet but thought I’d ask before attempting.

Reno Jose

Interesting. A workaround is to set up different users on the same computer/laptop. When logged in as user #1, user #1 would have a unique set of browser extensions — say, the Cap One button. User #2 would have a unique set of browser extensions — say, Rakuten. Etc.


I don’t see Rakuten among your list. Is that only for retail shopping?