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RISMEDIA, March 12, 2010—(MCT)—Penny-pinching travelers got a great ride in 2009—U.S. hotel rates last year fell nearly 9% on average. But fasten your seat belts: 2010 may be rougher going.

Average room rates will continue to slide this year but only by about 2% as more travelers hit the road, predicts expert Scott Berman, U.S. leader of PricewaterhouseCoopers Hospitality & Leisure Practice in Miami. “There will likely be higher occupancy in 2010,” Berman said in a recent interview. “And if the past is any indication, that will bring higher rates.”

That means goodbye to great deals 24/7, 365 days a year. Holiday trips may pull off a major heist on your wallet as hotels get more aggressive on pricing for high-demand dates, Berman said. But you can still find ways to sleep cheap, or at least cheaper, in 2010.

-Try hotels in financial districts on weekends, after business travelers have fled. Sunday nights can be especially cheap.

-Stay in cities that have added a lot of hotel rooms, which can reduce occupancy levels and bring down rates. These cities include Miami, New York, Phoenix and Las Vegas.

-Book more nights per trip. This can bring down your per-night rate because so many hotels offer a third, fourth or fifth night free. They do this because even a free night can help a hotel’s bottom line when guests spend money at the restaurant, spa and other on-site services.

-Shoot for the top. Luxury hotels took the biggest rate hit last year as businesses, which were tightening their belts and worrying about appearing extravagant abandoned them.

-Get smart about the Internet. By downloading apps onto your smart phone, you can find hotel deals on the spot. To get the jump on short-lived sales, sign up for e-mail alerts from your favorite hotels and chains.

(c) 2010, Los Angeles Times.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.