How to score best hotel room for your buck

If you're planning to stay in a hotel anytime soon, you need to know how to get the best deals and the best rooms.

On "The Early Show" the man who has no reservations about spilling those hotel secrets, CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg, shared some of his top tips - seen in the column below - for avoiding pitfalls on travel lodging.

Celebrating the Holidays 2011

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Hotels might volunteer their location, or boast that they are "steps" from the beach, but there are a number of questions you need to ask before you ever take that room key at the front desk.

And it all starts when you make your reservation.

First, never call the hotel's 1-800 number to make a reservation. Almost always, it's a central clearing house staffed with people who have no power to negotiate rates. They can only quote official prices, so the call may be toll-free, but it's an expensive call because you are going to pay more.

A majority of folks use the Internet to make their hotel reservations. And, of course, most hotels will insist that you can't get a better rate than you can get online through them. That's absolutely not true. At each hotel, the general manager, the manager on-duty or the director of sales are the folks who really know what their occupancy is. For example, if a major wedding (or even a small one) just canceled, and the hotel suddenly has 60 rooms they have to fill, that vacancy number won't show up online or at their clearinghouse, but the folks at the hotel know they need to sell those rooms. Remember, the general manager knows that an unsold hotel room is revenue the hotel can never recoup once the sun rises. You are definitely in the driver's seat at that moment, but you won't know that if you rely on the web or that 1-800 number.

Solution: Always have a conversation directly with the hotel. Ask to speak to the manager or director of sales. If you call the hotel directly, but just ask for reservations, they'll just route you right back to that dreaded 1-800 number.

Then, once you get that human being on the phone, you need to do more than ascertain an acceptable rate. You need to ask about value-added opportunities that the hotel will not volunteer, such as "Can my kids stay free?" "Can my kids eat free?" "If you extend a business trip over a Friday or Saturday night, will they lower the rate even more?" and "Will they throw in free parking?"

But we're not done yet.

When you get to the hotel - and before you ever accept that room key - three very important questions need to be asked:

1. How close is my room to the construction?

I'm serious. Every hotel is in some phase of renovation and construction, where an entire wing or floor is shut for refurbishing. And if you don't ask that question, you stand a very good chance of being handed the keys to the jackhammer suite.

2. How close is my room to the ballroom (as in, it better not be directly above the ballroom)?

Why? It's not the noise coming from events, but what happens at 2 a.m. when the garbage trucks pull up to haul out the trash. The sound of breaking wine and champagne bottles is not good.

3. On what floors are the booster pumps?

Booster pumps? That's right. Most hotels are just not capable of providing consistently high water pressure on every floor, so on different floors the hotel has installed booster pumps. Get a room on a floor with a booster pump, turn on the faucet to your shower, and it's got the water pressure of a fire hose. You definitely want great water pressure.

And then, there's height. Most fire departments cannot effectively fight fires above the eighth floor, so always stay between floors two and eight. if you want a high floor room with a view, in the event of a fire, you'll have a great view - of the fire department unable to reach you!