I take a roadtrip annually for a week or so and usually when I am ready to call it a night I would search the GPS where I happen to be for Marriott property options. There are lots of Courtyards, Fairfield Inns, etc., everywhere in the US. Now is it a better idea to plan ahead and reserve a room? Would the pre booked rooms be any cheaper than walk in rates? I like th freedom of deciding on the fly and not bound by some prior reservation so am wondering if the price difference is significant. Of course for busy seasons at busy areas I would pre book.
I can only speak for the UK, but Id never just turn up at a hotel and request a room, thats just asking to be shafted at best, and at worst finding no rooms are actually available and sleeping in your car at worst. Having said that when I was on my US Roadtrip I was amazed at the number of roadside hotels in the USA so that seems kipping in your car for lack of a room will be unlikely, though I still very much doubt you'll get a competitive price.
There are good reasons to take either approach.
It is helpful to have the flexibility to stop when it suits you. You can make a few calls when you know, generally, where you want to stop and take the best available rate.
Nevertheless, once you get on a route and find that every one is fully booked, you can experience a disaster. Years ago, we were driving from Washington, DC to Rochester, NY and found that every hotel from Williamsport, PA to just south of Rochester (a 3 or 4 hour drive) was full, due to a bunch of college and high school homecoming events along with Canadian Thanksgiving.
Since that horror show, we always book in advance! We must have tried 25 or more hotels along the way.
Being a fellow Brit, I will answer this on behalf of brightlybob. No, he hasn't made a typo. To have a kip - to sleep, usually somewhere different to where you normally sleep.
I used to just take my chances waiting until I was ready to stop for the day before deciding where to stay. I no longer do. In many cases you will be able to find a better rate by booking ahead, especially when using the Marriott website. The price difference may not be huge, but over a week-long (or longer) trip it can add up.
One option you might consider is using the mobile app to book while you're on the road. You'll probably be able to get a decent rate, but still have the flexibility of making the decision of where to stay until late in the day.
Here's an example of what can happen when walking into a hotel without a reservation. Re: Asking for a special rate at check in without a reservation.
These days, I book everything before leaving home. That way I know I've got a place to stay and how much I'll be paying. There are a lot of CYs and FFIs around, but I'd hate to pass one by only to find out my choices for the next couple hundred miles aren't Marriott brands.
I agree with bejacob about booking ahead. If you don't care what brand hotel you end up at, you're probably fine not booking ahead and maybe even using the coupons you can find at truck stops. If you are collecting MR points and want a Marriott branded property, better to book ahead as rates tend to be cheaper, and places can sometimes fill up. My parents are notorious for road tripping without planning ahead, and I recall as a kid having to sleep in the car once in San Francisco because all the hotels were full. This was before cell phones, and we spent literally hours going from hotel to hotel, stopping at payphones and using the Yellow Pages, etc., to no avail. But it still happens today. Fairly recently, in Naples, FL, my parents had to sleep in their car in a Walmart parking lot because all the hotels were full! We also got stranded without lodging in Naples 3 nights once during high season and couldn't find ANY lodging for 3 consecutive nights, so we had to bounce between the RC and Crystal Shores, and neither of them was anywhere near affordable.
Wow. Never had to sleep in my car. In years past, I found some good deals in the rest stop coupon books, but you really have to be brand neutral to make that work. I lucked into a great place just outside the French Quarter on my first trip to NOLA for something around $60/night with breakfast included. Now that virtually all my stays are with Marriott, it just doesn't make sense not to book ahead. The worst things that can happen is that you stop earlier or end up driving a bit farther than planned. In the first case, enjoy the late afternoon and evening. In the second, file that information away for future trips. Either option is better than being stuck without a place to stay when everything is full.
I am usually a pretty organized person with researching and planning trips, On road trips, however I do all of the research but I usually want flexibility in case I want to deviate or stay longer in one place. in earlier times, when you had to use yellow pages and pay phones, I agree it was a more time consuming and a bit dicey to do walk ins, In those days I used the little booklets you found at rest stops across USA. Now I have Apps on my I phone that can tell me instantly what is available coming up. I could not imagine in this day getting caught without a room. On the question of rate, even if I am in the parking lot of the hotel, I book it on line, Usually on line rates don't change that much as arrival approaches, but sometimes they go up, usually not down, but there are exceptions. I have walked into hotels and observed the walk in guy getting charged a higher rate than I was on-line even though I had booked the room within the past hour.
What a nice bunch of folks here! Thanks for the advice. I will prebook for my next trip which will be from NJ to Montreal via Bar Harbor. I should really know better. Last Summer I was on a roadtrip with my son out west and all the rooms in Bishop CA were filled, then Lee Vining, no surprise were full so we ending up in Bridgeport.
If its in a remote area i dont think there would be much difference in price booking ahead or day of. Larger cities might be better off booking ahead. If your route is not set in stone, i would suggest booking same day. Do use either the mobile app, i tried a walk in and their rate was much higher than the app, so i went ahead and quickly booked on the app. Also if its on a weekend dont forget to search for the MEB code. There are some significant savings at smaller properties like courtyards, and residence inns.
I do lots of road trips and tend to book ahead. That being said, I've also booked last minute when I wasn't sure if I would make it to the destination on time. (This cancel-the-day-before policy has ruined many plans! )
Just recently, I checked the mobile app for a rate before walking into the hotel without a reservation. I asked at the front desk for their best rate and was given a lower rate than anything offered online. $22 lower. Sweet.