Roadtrip travel tips: How to save cash on hotels

The recession-choked hotel industry is making it easier for guests to score free nights at major chains, so this summer is a great time to embark on that multi-city roadtrip you've been mulling over. In some cases, the complimentary night could be at a much pricier hotel than the ones you paid for.

I just arrived home from a 17-day family roadtrip from Boston to San Francisco. Along the way, we paid for a total of four nights at three Holiday Inn Express hotels and earned two free one-night stays redeemable at more than 4,000 properties worldwide that are also under the InterContinental Hotel Group umbrella, including the much more upscale InterContinental Hotels & Resorts brand. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. -- which includes brands like Aloft, Westin, Sheraton, and St. Regis -- also is offering a free weekend night at its top-tier hotels after guests stay at any of its hotels twice by July 31.

These are among the best hotel deals being dangled. The three of us paid $119 for a night at Holiday Inn Express in Fort Smith, Arkansas; $119 for a night at Holiday Inn Express in Amarillo, Texas; and $140 per night for two nights at Holiday Inn Express in Page, Arizona (all prices include taxes and free continental breakfasts). Yet we can cash in our free-stays at some place posh, like the InterContinental Hotel Los Angeles Century City, where a standard room costs $199 to $829 per night before tax, depending on the popularity of the reservation date.