I’ll admit that sometimes I’m just cheap, especially when it comes to hotels. First let me clarify that there is definitely a difference between being cheap and being frugal. Frugal means keeping the quality of a product or service in mind and opting for the best price while maintaining a certain standard. Cheap, in contrast, means paying the least amount for something without considering the quality and lowering the standard.

When it comes to selecting hotels, I definitely forgo quality and lower my standard. Case in point: On a recent trip to the San Diego area, I opted for a cheap hotel in San Marcos, which was the perfect location considering we had family staying at a resort in Escondido. Since we were only staying two days, I decided that cheap over nice would be just fine (especially since we’re saving money for a house!) However, when I saw our room, I was quickly reminded that a cheap hotel room borders on sleazy and there’s a threshold of just how cheap you can go before creepy sets in.

The room was incredibly tiny, perhaps 200 square feet if that, with bubbling wall paper setting the mood. The light switches, which at one time were automatic switches, were broken so the bathroom light kept coming on in the middle of the night. Most hotel rooms have a counter outside the bathroom area so two people can get ready at the same time, but not this one. One small sink, without a counter to speak of, was located in the bathroom, which meant we had to take turns getting ready in the morning. All I can say is I’m glad it was only two days.

I’ll confess that this isn’t my first experience with a cheap hotel. A couple of summers ago I had a similar experience and should have learned my lesson, but I just find it hard to pay more than $70 – $80 per night for a hotel room. Our relatives staying at the resort (which was a palace in comparison) invited us to stay with them, but frankly we like our privacy and turned them down. Had our trip been longer, we probably would have taken them up on the offer.

In the future, I might be willing to pay more for a hotel, but this is a hard one for me to justify the cost.

When do you choose cheap over frugal? Is there one product or service that you have trouble paying more for?


  1. Money+Beagle Reply

    Cheap hotels are definitely not worth it. I think that in many cases you can find clean, modern rooms without going overboard for not too much more than a cheap room. A 20% difference is well worth it, I’ve found.

    I often wonder, were those sleazy rooms once considered modern and fresh? It’s hard to believe sometimes when you hear the horror stories.

    • @Mone Beagle – I can sleep just about anywhere, so I guess that’s why I don’t mind the crummy hotels, just don’t bring out the blacklight! 😉

  2. @Poor Student – I can sleep just about anywhere, so I guess I really don’t mind the sleazy aspect of cheap motels. However, I do read reviews and most people had mentioned that the hotel I stayed in was clean, just not updated. That made me feel a little better.

  3. Paul+@+The+Frugal+Toad Reply

    I used a website that advertises cheap prices, the only catch is you don’t know which hotel until after checkout. Mistake! Never using that site again!

    • @Paul – That’s definitely taking a risk, not knowing which hotel you’re reserving. But then again, I’m cheap when it comes to hotels so send me the link! 😉

  4. I travel a LOT for work and stay at mid-level hotels. I’ve gone the cheap route before though for vacations — and you’re right, there’s a level at which they can become creepy. I remember a Howard Johnson 10 years ago that creeped my husband and I out enough that we moved to a different hotel the next night. (Most HJs are just fine — this particular one though had a serious ick factor.) There’s also the time I missed a flight connection and the airline put me up in a motel that had a lot of rooms (not mine) with broken windows. I slept with my clothes on and a chair under the door knob….

    • @Jean – The broken windows sound frightening! Mr. LH once stayed at a dive hotel where the door was boarded up and someone was running a chainsaw at 2 in the morning. Needless to say, he left in the middle of the night!

  5. I usually go cheap on hotels when I’m on vacation…. Actually many times I will stay in a hostel, but when I do get a hotel it’s usually the cheap end. Basically I figure it’s just a place that I sleep for the night. Even if it’s not comfortable, I’ve usually been out doing stuff all day so I’m pretty tired and could sleep on a couch if I needed. If I were spending more time in the actual hotel then perhaps I might want to spend more but since I’m usually not even there I don’t see the point.

    Some things I will spend more on, but it usually depends on how much use I will get out of it. For example I know I could get a lower end computer and probably get by just fine, but since I use my computer for not only daily personal use, but for work (as a software engineer) I choose something that was the upper mid level (where I can just upgrade it after a few years once it’s slow and old instead of buying a new one).

    • @Zee – I think the fact that I’m a heavy sleeper allows me to be OKAY with a cheaper hotel, as long as it’s only for sleeping and not hanging out. I totally agree that quality vs. price is dependent on how you’re using the service or item.

  6. Dee @ Color Me Frugal Reply

    I have this debate with my mother every winter. We have a family tradition of going to a small mountain town for a few days in early February, which always coincides with the SuperBowl, my birthday, and a rodeo event. It’s a fun time because there is so much going on, but we always have a hard time deciding where to stay. My mother is perfectly fine with the cheapest of cheap motels. For years we stayed at a nightmare of a motel. My husband and I grew to hate it because we never slept well on the awful mattress and it wasn’t worth it to us to have a cheap motel if we couldn’t sleep! This past year we stayed at a different hotel- and we have firmly decided that we are NEVER going back to the other place. It may mean that we stay in a different motel from my mother from now on- but that’s the only way to resolve the problem, so so be it!

    • @Dee – I think I’d upgrade on a hotel if it’s an annual tradition. I don’t mind being cheap every once in a while on a hotel, but every year staying in a crummy place would get old.

  7. I’m with you on the idea of avoiding cheap hotels. Now, sometimes you really can get good deals – which is generally nice because hotels can be quite expensive. However, places with rooms that are always cheap are those that I’m not too fond of.

    One thing I have trouble paying a lot for is a really nice car. The current one I have was purchased used for about $16,000 and has lasted 6 years thus far. I just can’t see how middle-class people can spend $40,000 or more on a vehicle. But, to each his or her own!

    • @Tie the Money Knot – I agree with not buying an expensive car. Cars lose their value so quickly, it doesn’t make sense to buy them new. Now, Mr. LH would not agree with me on this one (he loves cars!), but thankfully he’s on board with keeping what we have for now. 😉

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