Updated on January 11th, 2019

Ever wondered how I can afford to stay in beautiful hotels without spending a fortune? I’m going to let you in on my secret. It’s not that I get paid a lot (I wish), or that I get them all for free (I also wish). It’s a simple accommodation booking trick which I used to call Shithouse to Penthouse, but I think I need to find a new tagline. My stunning boutique hostels and family-run budget-friendly villas definitely aren’t shithouses, but you get what I’m trying to say! This is a game changer if you like treating yourself without breaking your entire trip budget on where to sleep.

Luxury Desert Camp in the Sahara, Morocco on a budget
The luxury camp in the Sahara Desert is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, and I wouldn’t have been able to afford it without going for cheaper riads in Marrakech!

When you start planning your holiday, first you have to decide on the average cost per night you can afford to pay. I generally budget about $100 NZD per person per night (~$72 USD or £54 GBP), with room for movement depending on the cost of my destination. From here, head to booking.com to search for accommodation in the area (always go for a rating of 9 or above to get the best bang for your buck), then set the filter to ‘Review score and price’ which shows the best value rooms.

Look for funky hostels or locally-owned apartments and keep an eye out for included extras, like free breakfast or airport transfers, or benefits that save money, like a central location to not pay so much for transport. Some of my best finds have been Argo Hotel in Mykonos, Urban House Hostel in Copenhagen and B&B Laurus Colosseo in Rome. Usually, I’ll stay at the cheap option for two-thirds/ three-quarters of the total trip, and most of the time they’re about half the price of my nightly budget.

Once you’ve decided on your wallet-friendly digs, you can get started on the fun part – choosing somewhere to splash your cash! You’ve spent well below your budget for the first couple of nights, giving you more than enough to treat yourself on the final evening or two. To find the right five-star fancy pants accommodation, I tend to flit between booking.com, Expedia, TripAdvisor and Instagram, looking for somewhere with top-notch service and equally amazing views. Okay, that part might not be entirely true… I’m actually a mega-nerd and have a full spreadsheet where I rate hotels based on location, review scores, free inclusions, star rating and more. My friends give me shit, but would they have had the chance to stay at some of the luxury hotels we’ve been to without it? I think not.

Using my spreadsheet (that’s gotta win an award for the lamest start to a sentence ever), I highlight three or four options I’d be happy with, and let my travel buddies choose from there (unless I’ve truly got my heart set on somewhere in particular!). This way I can make sure my friends and family still have a say, without giving them the chance to choose an expensive chain hotel with a 6.5 rating. Ick. Chances are you won’t be able to stay in a high-rise penthouse, but you’ll certainly be able to afford some of life’s finer things – think garden-to-table dinners, massages, private hot tubs and the elusive infinity pool… My favourite splurges have been Ovolo Woolloomooloo in Sydney, Turtle Bay Resort in Hawaii and the stunning Rocabella Hotel in Mykonos, the top-rated hotel on the island.

Santorini pool hotel on a budget
Orabel Suites in Santorini was SUCH a treat, and we managed to get a great price by travelling as a group of four and balancing it out with a low-cost hotel for a couple of days afterwards.
If you’re still sceptical, let’s run through some numbers to see how the budget works.

Three nights, two friends travelling together with a budget of £100 per night all up.
Option one: Three nights at Sydney Darling Harbour Hotel, 3*, 6.7 rating on booking.com for £301
Option two: Two nights in a dorm at Kings Cross Backpackers, 8.9 rating on Hostelworld for £80, then one night at Ovolo 1888 Darling Harbour, a stunning design hotel with a 9.3 rating on booking.com, for £223.

Three nights, three friends with a budget of £180 per night.
Option one: Three nights at Despotiko, three single beds, 7.8 rating on booking.com for £479
Option two: Two nights at Sea Side Studios, great location, one double and two singles, 9.5 rating on booking.com for £133, then one night at Myconian Ambassador Relais & Chateaux in a room with a private hot tub, 9.5 rating on booking.com for £328

Four nights, one couple with a budget of £100 per night.
Option one: Four nights at White Sands Hotel, 2*, 6.9 rating on booking.com for £396
Option two: Three nights at HI Honolulu, 8.9 rating on Hostelworld for £167, then one night at Surfjack Hotel, #2 hotel in Honolulu on TripAdvisor, for £163. Plenty of money left over for some good ol’ Hawaiian cocktails!

There, you know my top money-saving travel secret! Have you got any little tricks that help you keep to your budget while you’re looking for somewhere to sleep? Share your ideas in the comments below.

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  1. These are some great travel tips! I’ve never stayed in a fancy hotel, but that sounds like fun! I think it’s great that you use a spreadsheet lol. I definitely write down all sorts of things when I’m planning a vacation, so it’s definitely not weird!

  2. Great article!! Spreadsheets are great for organizing information and seeing the numbers!! Love it!!

  3. Wow ! I like how OCD you are ! But good tips on splitting the trip to one cheaper longer stay, and then splurging on one night !

  4. I wish I were organized enough to have a hotel spreadsheet! I always seem to the most mediocre hostels and hotels. Hopefully some of these budgeting skills will rub off on me?

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