Request: Road trip hotel help (Michigan to L.A.)

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I'm taking a road trip with my family from Michigan to L.A. in the end of Sep. What's the best way to find reasonably priced hotels along the way without making reservations in advance as I'm not sure when or where I'll make my stopovers? I just want to keep driving before it gets dark and call it a day. Cleanliness and safety are my primary concerns. Any suggestions? Thanks!

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Assume the hotel is actually in Coralville (by I-80), if you get in early enough, drive into Iowa City instead of stayin... (more)

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Do you have an android based smartphone and gsm or cdma service?

I recently did the same thing, but we went West to East. I used a GPS device to search for hotels when I got close to retiring for the night. I then stuck with the Marriott brands for the most part, i.e Fairfield Inn, knowing that the price would always be in the ballpark. When one of those hotels wasn't available, I discovered that in some locations, the hotels knew that we were tired and we didn't have a lot of choices. They tried raising the prices as a result (this included the Holiday Inns). We had to sleep in the car one night because every single room was taken within a 2 hour drive in all directions (over Labor Day). Have a good trip!

DSJ said:   Do you have an android based smartphone and gsm or cdma service?

No, I don't. Is it an absolute must? I have GPS on my car and will bring a laptop and use the free WiFi from Starbucks, etc.

Incredibledealmaker said:   When one of those hotels wasn't available, I discovered that in some locations, the hotels knew that we were tired and we didn't have a lot of choices. They tried raising the prices as a result (this included the Holiday Inns). We had to sleep in the car one night because every single room was taken within a 2 hour drive in all directions (over Labor Day).

That's something I try to avoid. Should I make reservations now and then call to cancel if I don't think I'll make it while I'm on the road?

My husband and I like to stay at LaQuinta. You can go to their web site, enter your route and will list all their hotels along the way. Price is reasonable, discount with AAA. Get reward card, offer free nights or lower price with some points. By the way, dogs are always welcome and FREE.

So how can you minimize gouging if you have to walk-in?

Along the freeway, usually no price gouging. Price is usually higher due to holidays and special events in town. I once paid $59 at 9 pm, walk in.

The OP's plan is a very poor idea... You're asking for advice, and probably work hard to save dollars, when you are wasting at least tens of dollars. Also, your "plan" is perfect to get your family never to go on a road trip with you ever again!

Its practically cheaper to book your hotel in advance, or Priceline. Thats why having a smartphone would help.

However, unless your route from MI to CA is completely random, its probably easy to predict your mileage each day.

The problem with just "stopping when you are tire", you risk stopping in an area that has high hotel rates (local conference or concert, sporting events, etc. There simply is no easy way to find the cheapest hotel within a 1 hour/50 mile radius unless you have internet access and some time and patience. When you've driven for 12 hours, you won't want to do this.

As another person indicated, try to predict a few locations where you will stop, and make several refundable reservations. More often than not, the cancellation policy is ~5pm local time the day of check-in. By 4:30pm, you'll have a good idea which hotel you can get to that day. However, note that a refundable rate is almost always more expensive ($10 or more) compared to a pre-paid or Priceline rate.

My suggestion is to plan better. I've done westward road trips a few times, and can tell you that there isn't much to see west of Chicago until you get to the mountains... unless you go south to TX/AL/AZ/NM.

If you provide a basic framework for your trip - purpose, age/interest/travel experience of the participants, time limit, we can make some more recommendation.

As to your question regarding cleanliness and safety: Cleanliness of most chain hotels above 2-stars are relatively clean. Most hotels are safe once you're parked in the property.

Here's another tip: figure out what hotel reward program you want to join, and in your trip, you can bias toward staying at that chain. Make sure you sign up for the promotions as well.

LongDongSilver said:   So how can you minimize gouging if you have to walk-in?

You can't. You are at the mercy of the hotel front desk. You THINK you are a tough negotiator, but understand that the front desk manager knows the nightly rates and occupancy level of all the local hotels, and how far they are. He/she may throw you a bone and give you AAA/AARP rates. More often than not, they'll just tell you the rack rate and give you a take-it-or-leave-it blank face.

If you are stopped in a small city or town, and must stay there, at least go find a MacDonald/Starbucks to get internet access, and go search for local hotels using Orbitz and Priceline. My experience is that booking through a chain-hotel's own website is always more advantageous, since you get CashBack through FatCash or similar portals.

Also, I use to get these "travel guides" or coupon books at rest stops. Most of the time, they either don't take the coupon (some lame excuse), or the rate isn't very good to begin with, so the coupon just bring the rates back down to earth.

Some say you can negotiate with non-chain hotels... Good luck doing that after driving for 12 hours. You'll cave, and end up paying $89 for a room that you later found out you can get for $79 2 miles down the road... or worst, $59 for the Holiday Inn Express across the street with free breakfast if you pricelined it the day before.

stevie123 said:   

If you provide a basic framework for your trip - purpose, age/interest/travel experience of the participants, time limit, we can make some more recommendation.



2 adults experienced drivers. We are just driving to So Cal to visit friends and family. Two of us will share the wheel and we want to get there as fast as possible to minimize hotel expenses. The total distance according to Google is around 2300 miles. Do you think we are pushing it if we want to drive ~800 miles, 12 hours a day? So the itinerary looks like this:

Day 1: SE Michigan to Iowa or Nebraska ~800 miles
Day 2: Iowa / Nebraska to Colorado or Utah ~800 miles
Day 3: Colorado / Utah to L.A.

What safe stopover cities would you recommend at these states where the hotels are generally cheaper and it's easier to find a room (no business travelers, vacationers hotspots, etc.)?

Thanks!

LongDongSilver said:   stevie123 said:   

If you provide a basic framework for your trip - purpose, age/interest/travel experience of the participants, time limit, we can make some more recommendation.

2 adults experienced drivers. We are just driving to So Cal to visit friends and family. Two of us will share the wheel and we want to get there as fast as possible to minimize hotel expenses. The total distance according to Google is around 2300 miles. Do you think we are pushing it if we want to drive ~800 miles, 12 hours a day? So the itinerary looks like this:

Day 1: SE Michigan to Iowa or Nebraska ~800 miles
Day 2: Iowa / Nebraska to Colorado or Utah ~800 miles
Day 3: Colorado / Utah to L.A.

What safe stopover cities would you recommend at these states where the hotels are generally cheaper and it's easier to find a room (no business travelers, vacationers hotspots, etc.)? Thanks!
Your first stop is in Iowa or Nebraska and you want to know a "safe" city? -- Anywhere.

My wife's family lives in Iowa and they still leave their doors unlocked and in the winter, you'll see empty cars with their engines running in the grocery store parking lots.

But seriously, if you are trying to kill yourself, driving 12 hours days, why don't you fly? It doesn't seem like you are trying to make it a sightseeing trip and you'll probably spend more money on gas/food/lodging than plane tickets.

Drove from NJ to NV last year and had my dog with me so our choices were limited. Brought a list of dog-friendly hotels with me and had a rough idea of where we would end up each night. When we started to get tired of driving, we just looked for the closest one which usually turned out to be a Super 8, not very luxurious, but reasonably priced in the $50-70 range. For us, we were just looking for a clean place to sleep since we were on the road 12-14 hours a day.

hmm.. this is new information (your family consist of only 2 people, both of which are experienced drivers....no elderly, and no kids). Also, no inclination for sightseeing?

Unless you're sightseeing, the math doesn't make sense to drive just 2 people from Detroit to LA.

Here is the cost analysis: A random search on Orbitz say ~$300 for DTW-LAX return, late September. With Priceline or spirit air or southwest, you may pay less.

Here is the cost for driving:
2.5 days to get there, and 2.5 days to get back (very doable if you drive 16hr ~900miles per day). That is a minimum of 4 nights of hotel unless you plan to sleep at WalMart parking lots (I've done it...its not pretty, but common and safe).

Optimistically, lets say your car has decent fuel economy: 30mpg 4600miles and $4 gas = $600
Assume ~$50-75 per night for a cheap hotel room.
Your other costs are: opportunity cost for those 2-3 days and the time for you to recover from the long drive, wear and tear on your car and tire, potential damage to your car, potential car accident, potential back problems you may develop, potential speeding tickets.

So, unless you have at least 3 people, it is not cost effective! Now, if you say you have 5-10 days to do the drive, and want to experience Americana (BBQ in Memphis, Crawfish in the gulf coast, Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountains National Park (Denver), Utah, Vegas, Death Valley, SF, etc., etc., etc.), then there are added value to a road trip...

Of course, there are other non-economical reasons for road trips... some people don't like to fly. Some people don't like to deal with the TSA (nude-o-scope!). Some people wants to bring their kitchen sink and other stuff you can't easily bring on a plane...pets, etc.

Re safety: Other than Gary, IN, southeast Chicago, and some areas of LA, everywhere in between is very very safe. You can put that concern to rest.

Re where to stop: You can't look at a map and say - this place doesn't have industry nor tourist attraction, therefore hotels are cheap. It doesn't work that way. You WANT some activities generally, so there are many hotels to compete against each other, but not have a localized "busy season" while you are there... anything from a wedding, company get together, family reunion, festival, local college football game can cause the rates to drive up! You can't research every little region along I80/I70.

If you're set on driving, here are my recommended stops for cheap hotels:

Chicago - You probably won't consider Chicago, but if you start your trip on an afternoon (after work), from SE Michigan, you can get to Chicago and skip the horrible rush hour traffic, grab some pizza, and hit the bed. You should have no problem getting a hotel for $50 or less using Priceline. Also, this eases you into the trip by driving only 300 miles on your first day.

Omaha and Lincoln NE (and their suburbs) are 2 of your best bet for cheap hotels.

Denver* is a decent size city, so lots of choices, and currently not in busy season. Priceline for best price.
Between Denver and LAX, Vegas* is your best bet for really cheap lodging ($30 is possible). Southern Utah, due to the large number of tourist attractions and activities, prices are not really cheap...so don't bother looking.

*Denver and Vegas are really neat places to visit. Notable (must see in my opinion) are Rocky Mountain National Park (Do the skyline Trail!!), and Grand Canyon and Zion National park near Vegas. Also, between Vegas and LA, try to drive through Death Valley National Park. Its quite beautiful in a different way.

stevie123 said:   
If you're set on driving, here are my recommended stops for cheap hotels:

Chicago - You probably won't consider Chicago, but if you start your trip on an afternoon (after work), from SE Michigan, you can get to Chicago and skip the horrible rush hour traffic, grab some pizza, and hit the bed. You should have no problem getting a hotel for $50 or less using Priceline. Also, this eases you into the trip by driving only 300 miles on your first day.

Omaha and Lincoln NE (and their suburbs) are 2 of your best bet for cheap hotels.

Denver* is a decent size city, so lots of choices, and currently not in busy season. Priceline for best price.
Between Denver and LAX, Vegas* is your best bet for really cheap lodging ($30 is possible). Southern Utah, due to the large number of tourist attractions and activities, prices are not really cheap...so don't bother looking.

*Denver and Vegas are really neat places to visit. Notable (must see in my opinion) are Rocky Mountain National Park (Do the skyline Trail!!), and Grand Canyon and Zion National park near Vegas. Also, between Vegas and LA, try to drive through Death Valley National Park. Its quite beautiful in a different way.


I'm all set on driving as I've never done a road trip like this before.

Chicago - Where should I stay in Chicago? I checked the hotels and they are pricey over there unless you are talking about the 1 star or 2 star places I'm trying to avoid.

Do you have any recommendation for Iowa? I may stop over there instead. Would you recommend the cities of Des Moines or West Des Moines?

How reliable is Priceline for hotel reservations as I have bad experience with it doing bait and switch for plane tickets? How should I do it if I want the option to cancel and get my money back if the price drops or there's better deal elsewhere? Will I get better deals if I make last minute reservation, say the night before?

Thanks!

In Chicago, I was able to find $50-60 for 3-star hotels for the last week of september using Hotwire. Since Priceline works the same way, it is your choice to use either Hotwire or Priceline. Both are very reliable for hotels. I.e. the reservation is good. However, you are only promised occupancy for 2 people. They don't guarantee 2 beds. If that is a problem for you, do a little more searching and pay a little bit more for a regular booking (you can still use Priceline, but just not the "name your own price" feature. The airport region in Chicago will get you the cheapest hotels. That area is safe.

In Iowa, either Des Moines or West Des moines are the same to me. They are close to each other. Pick the one with the cheaper hotel. In fact, searching for hotels in Des Moines will yield results from West Des Moines. I just did a quick search and prices seem to be slightly cheaper compared to Chicago for 3-star hotels...

What you're describing for Priceline is not possible. You have to find the lowest price now, and if you bid a price that was accepted, you are commited to it. I'm not sure if anyone's done any studies on Priceline and discount level based on how close to the check-in date, so unless you are really flexible, don't wait until the night before to bid Priceline...

Differerent reservations/rates have different rules, same on Priceline and Orbitz/Travelocity/Hotels.com With Priceline, you're trading transparency and flexibility for a big discount. If you're not familar or comfortable with the rules of Priceline's "name your own price" feature, just make a traditional reservation using Orbitz or Travelocity. Remember to register for cash-back here at Fatwallet. Thats good for 1-2% back...

LongDongSilver said:   stevie123 said:   
If you're set on driving, here are my recommended stops for cheap hotels:

Thanks!


If you haven't done so, change your oil, and check your tire treads and pressure. It makes a notable difference in fuel economy.

stevie123 said:   
In Iowa, either Des Moines or West Des moines are the same to me. They are close to each other. Pick the one with the cheaper hotel. In fact, searching for hotels in Des Moines will yield results from West Des Moines. I just did a quick search and prices seem to be slightly cheaper compared to Chicago for 3-star hotels...



Do you have suggestion for a good stopover point between Chicago and West Des Moines? 11 hour drive from MI to West Des Moines on my first day looks like a killer to me on second thought. Chicago doesn't seem far enough. So I'm looking for somewhere good in between. Thanks!

LongDongSilver said:   Do you have suggestion for a good stopover point between Chicago and West Des Moines? 11 hour drive from MI to West Des Moines on my first day looks like a killer to me on second thought. Chicago doesn't seem far enough. So I'm looking for somewhere good in between. Thanks!Iowa City area, 1-1/2 to 2 hours closer. University town/huge medical center, all sorts of hotels.

jaimelobo said:   LongDongSilver said:   Do you have suggestion for a good stopover point between Chicago and West Des Moines? 11 hour drive from MI to West Des Moines on my first day looks like a killer to me on second thought. Chicago doesn't seem far enough. So I'm looking for somewhere good in between. Thanks!Iowa City area, 1-1/2 to 2 hours closer. University town/huge medical center, all sorts of hotels.

We thought about it more and only want to drive no more than 8 hours or 600 miles or so a day for more relaxed and safe driving. Hitting Denver on Day 2 and Vegas on Day 3 seem to be pushing it. Do you have suggestions for good stopover points between Iowa City and Vegas along I-80 and I-70? Thanks!

Holy smoke... you are switching from 2 days to 4 days...

Look for the "big towns" on google map along the intersate:

Davenport, IA
Iowa City, IA
Lincoln, NE
Denver, CO
Vegas

There is no real good obvious place to stop between Denver and Vegas. The drive is really pretty though...
Richfield, UT has some $60 2-star motels... (They're not bad).
St. George, UT is the largest town between Denver and Vegas (on route). You're saving ~$10 to 20 per hotel room by staying in St. George, but then, you can drive all the way to LAX and simply stop over in Vegas.

My recommendation is to tough out the drive from Denver to Vegas, where you can crash at a cheap (or nice) hotel.

Oh, gas is significantly more expensive west of Gary, IN, and doesn't get cheap until ~2 hours west of Chicago. The cheapest gas I brought over the summer was in Iowa.

I booked a room in Iowa City for half price using Priceline's Express Deals. Does it happen often the hotel won't honor the deal by overbooking and turn the lowball PLer away?

The chance of the hotel "walking" you is probably the same as a regular booking... This doesn't happen very often, but if you're worried, you can call the hotel the night before and ask them about their "occupancy rate". If you are paranoid enough (it sounds like you are), you can call them again the day of check-in.

However, I have read that Priceline bookings get the crappiest rooms.

Enjoy your trip. Write us a mini trip report when you're done.

Just curious, what star level and price did you win at Priceline?

stevie123 said:   

Just curious, what star level and price did you win at Priceline?


3 star (more like 2-2.5 stars actual judging from the pics). $50 a day.

LongDongSilver said:   I booked a room in Iowa City for half price using Priceline's Express Deals. Does it happen often the hotel won't honor the deal by overbooking and turn the lowball PLer away?Assume the hotel is actually in Coralville (by I-80), if you get in early enough, drive into Iowa City instead of staying out by the Interstate.

Very pretty college town, the downtown area with bar/restaurants merges into the campus on the east side of the river. That side is the older, "classic" campus (especially around the old capital building). The west side with the med center, law school, athletics, etc. is more modern architecture.

make sure to leave Denver at touch of dawn, and approach Vegas already in the dark. That day's drive is the most scenic on this continent, and make sure to get to AZ/NV border (that 20min I-15 rollercoaster on approach is unbelievable) right before the sun sets

L.A is a nice place.Great idea to spend your vacation with your family, There are lots of good hotel, magic castle hotel is nice and reasonable too.



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