Sure there's nothing quite the same as having a loud, packed house for the holidays. There's always food cooking, young children giggling past bedtime and those intense feelings of family togetherness that you only get once a year.

But for some folks, there is something to be said about staying in a hotel instead. You probably won't have to wait in line for a shower, you have your own space (and someone to pick up after you), and you won't feel as though you're imposing too much on relatives.

So if you are thinking about a hotel for the holidays, here are some tips on getting the best rates:

First, check online for discount hotel rates. There are numerous Web sites offering deals on hotel rates, even for last-minute reservations.

Then, check the hotel's Web site. You can often get good rates directly from the hotel. It may offer perks such as loyalty points, room upgrades or a free breakfast to customers who book rooms directly through the hotel. It may also have so-called "Web only deals" for booking through the hotel's Web site.

Finally, try calling the hotel itself — not the chain's toll-free number — and ask what its best rate is. Chain agents at the toll-free number might not know much about individual hotels, but you can bet the hotel's workers will know what deals they have on the plate. You may find out about special promotions or discounts, such as those for AAA members or for people belonging to specific professional associations.

Some people go as far as calling the hotel and asking it to match the low rate found online. It seems bold, but hotel managers may be tempted to give in. Many hotel managers are rated by their companies on the hotel's occupancy, so booking rooms at low rates is more beneficial than leaving them empty.

No matter how you reserve your room, be sure to find out before you pay what is included in your rate and what is extra. Hotels in cities may have only valet parking, or may also offer free or lower-charge parking in a separate lot. Rates listed on Web sites may not include room tax and other surcharges.