There aren’t super cheap hotels in San Francisco, but it is possible to get a very good deal. I was only in San Francisco for a two night stay and arriving after a LONG flight, so I knew I was looking for a bargain SF hotel, rather than an alternative accommodation option.
Using Priceline, I got the gorgeous JW Marriott for $125 plus taxes and fees (around $150 all up) in PEAK summer season (2012). Compare this to the rate at stereotypical cheap hotels in San Francisco: the Motel 6 internet rate was $110 plus tax and was booked out. Even for a private room with a shared bathroom in one of the HI Hostels, the rate was over $100.
This room was lovely. It felt more like a studio apartment than a hotel room. Due to jetlag I slept 17 of my first 24 hours in the US, so a nice hotel room was definitely worth the splurge. No pool, but hardly an SF hotels have pools. Bidding on Priceline is definitely the best option for cheap hotels in San Francisco.
I’ve had amazing luck booking cheap hotels in San Francisco and other US cities using Priceline. You need to be smart about your bidding. I move up in $5 increments. I bid at 4 star level and my deals for hotels in the US have all been between $80 and $125 plus taxes and fees. This is my max budget. Once the price goes above $125, I would rather book a budget hotel or hostel.