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. You may qualify for additional discounts simply by belonging to an association or organization. AARP and AAA are prototypical examples, but groups as diverse as the American Bar Association, the United States Billiard Association and even the Professional Disc Golf Association offer discounts on various hotel chains. 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. Use rewards malls. When it comes time to finally book, utilize cash back and credit card rewards to earn bonus rewards. Keep in mind that while anyone can use cash back websites, you might need a credit card to access card issuers' online malls.
4. 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.
Here, too, your credit card can come in handy. The American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts booking tool gives room upgrades, resort credits and breakfast. Visa Signature and World MasterCard cardholders can also get special deals.
5. 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.