When things go smoothly, that’s great. On the off chance that it doesn’t go smoothly, though, this can quickly turn into a nightmare …
Booking a hotel is a delicate balancing act.
You don’t want to pay too much, but at the same time, you don’t want to end up covered in bed bugs, fighting a stray dog over lukewarm complimentary breakfast waffles. Believe us—we’ve been there.
Fortunately, the internet makes hotel booking a little bit easier, but it’s still a headache, especially if you’re not a frequent traveler. We spoke with several travel bloggers to find out how the professionals (or, at least, the experienced amateurs) land the best deals.
As we learned, there’s no real secret to booking a hotel, per se; the trick is to think about all of the little stuff and avoid some of the common pitfalls.
For instance, you’re messing up if…
1. You use hotel comparison sites—and trust them wholesale.
We’re not saying that you should avoid cost comparison websites, by the way. Our experts agreed that those sites can be extremely helpful for keeping travel expenses in check.
“My first recommendation is to always use a comparison website before settling on a hotel,” says Lauren Juliff, travel blogger at Never Ending Footsteps. “Prices vary from Agoda to Booking to Expedia, so you can usually save several dollars per night by shopping around to see who has the best deal.”
We know, we know. Use a comparison site is the first thing you thought of when you clicked on this article. However, it’s important to use them correctly; while these websites are helpful for comparing rates, they’re not so great for booking rooms.
“Websites like Booking or Expedia charge hotels a commission off the booking price—15 percent or more,” Juliff explains, “so hotels will often offer a discount if you book outside of these sites.”
“If I find a lower rate on [a cost comparison website], I send the hotel an email to let them know what I found,” says Elizabeth Newcamp, travel blogger at Dutch Dutch Goose. “They nearly always match the rate or add on some additional perks so that I book directly. Sure, it takes a little bit more time, but it’s worth it.”
Blogger Diana Keeler, who’s currently on a year-long international travel project, also recommends taking out the middle man.
“I learned this the hard way: You need to always book directly on the hotel’s site rather than a third-party booking site,” she says. “I used to consistently neglect to do this—it’s just so much easier to make a reservation directly on the site that presented all the hotel options to begin with, and they may show a cheaper room rate [than the hotel’s website].”
So, why not go with the more convenient option?
“When things go smoothly, that’s great,” Keeler admits. “On the off chance that it doesn’t go smoothly, though, this can quickly turn into a nightmare, because the hotels are liable to be considerably more lenient in bending rules and penalties than the booking site, which has no real motivation to do so.”
That’s especially important when you’re booking hotels internationally. By working directly with the hotel, you can avoid miscommunications and head off problems before they occur. That’s well worth a few minutes of your time.
2. You don’t research the hotel before you book.
You’ve found a beautiful hotel at a remarkably decent rate. Time to book, right?
Not so fast. First, you’ll want to do a bit of research. Look for pictures of the hotel, ideally from third party sources.
“Very often, photos published on the hotel website [don’t represent] reality,” says Sasha Naslin, travel blogger at The Alternative Travel Guide. “Check for real photos uploaded by users on trusted review sites. Sometimes, you’ll see that a gorgeous infinity pool on a hotel’s website is, in reality, the size of a bathtub.”
— Chris Needles (@irishgators) March 12, 2018
Even when you’re shopping through a reputable hotel booking website, photos can be misleading. Likewise, user reviews aren’t always accurate, as larger hotels can use “reputation management” services to scrub negative reviews from the internet.
“Thoroughly read user reviews, both positive and negative,” Naslin says. “They’ll give a much more accurate presentation of the property than the hotel’s website. Reading through customer reviews will help you understand if the hotel is a good fit for you.”
3. You avoid talking to a real person.
Sure, booking via phone is less convenient than booking online, but it’s one of the best ways to lock in little upgrades.
While I have them on the phone … I always ask, “Am I getting the best rate?”
“Calling the hotel often lands us a room with a bit more space,” says Newcamp, who frequently travels with her husband and their three children. “Some booking and reservation websites won’t show availability if you put in that you have two adults and three kids. When I contact the hotel with the kids’ ages and also ask if I can bring my own baby cot, they can override the system and put us all in one room.”
You can also ask about discounts. Newcamp says that a polite, straightforward approach works best.
“While I have them on the phone … I always ask, ‘Am I getting the best rate?'” she says. “We’ve landed some great deals by asking this simple question. You never know if they’re running some sort of special.”
This won’t work at every hotel. Some hotel operators willfully maintain higher rates than their competitors since research shows that to be an effective tactic. Still, the front desk staff usually have the ability to give you a better room or a better rate, provided that you ask nicely.
4. You book the cheapest hotel you can find, regardless of circumstances.
If you’re traveling on a budget, you’re probably looking for the least expensive travel package available. That’s a fair strategy—but sometimes, the cheaper hotel offers a worse overall value.
“A low price is attractive, but ask yourself why it’s so cheap,” Naslin says. “Behind the low price, you might find a dangerous location, a noisy neighborhood, ongoing renovations, cleanliness issues, or bad service. Even if you’re on a budget, it’s usually best to avoid the cheapest option.”
If your going to Las Vegas and thinking about staying at The Bellagio you may want to reconsider! Note the blood on the bedding. Gross and totally disgusting for any hotel. This how we found the room when we checked in. pic.twitter.com/AaCYfD3rhq
— Mel Sancrant (@mdsancrant) March 11, 2018
Practically, the least expensive hotels can be remarkably expensive, all things considered. When you’re visiting a large city, cheap rooms are typically farther away from key landmarks or neighborhoods. That’s not a problem if you’re planning on lounging around the pool all day, but if you’re seeing the sights, you’ll want a hotel that accommodates your plans.
“The cheapest hotels may be ones that are an hour outside of the best neighbourhoods, so taking public transport or hiring a car will increase the overall cost,” says Juliff. “You may save money overall by looking to book a more expensive hotel in one of the best neighbourhoods, because you won’t have to spend money on transportation every day. “
5. You don’t read the fine print.
“My number one tip to book hotel rooms is to read the terms and conditions,” says Inma, writer at sustainable travel blog A World To Travel. “That way, you can avoid mishaps … like booking a hotel room just to find out [you’ve missed] a specific time of arrival and it’s too late to do the check-in. That was something I experienced in Lisbon a few years back—not fun.”
Hidden fees can quickly expand your travel budget. The Washington Post reported one case in which a Las Vegas hotel assessed a $306 “resort fee,” nearly doubling a traveler’s expenses.
“I did my due diligence,” the traveler told the paper.
Sites like ResortFeeChecker can help you determine whether your hotel assesses room safe fees, resort fees, and other hidden charges. However, your best bet is to read carefully when booking. In the United States, resort fees fall into a legal grey area. While some state attorney generals have launched investigations, hotels aren’t currently obligated to disclose these fees when providing quotes—only prior to actually renting the room.
Beware of hidden fees. Arriving at hotel we were charged for parking. Priceline said that this falls under incidentals but never mentioned parking. Fee increased by over 25% of entire bill. Hotel said that it is up to Priceline. Use someone transparent
— Sid (@bigzeeeeee) March 12, 2018
In other words, in many jurisdictions, hotels don’t have to tell you about the extra fees until you’re actually booking your room.
“Some hotels will include taxes and fees in the price you pay when booking, whereas some will require you to pay them when you arrive, making it appear as though you’re receiving a better deal,” Juliff says. “Some other things to look out for is whether an airport pickup or wifi is included. If not, you’ll need to pay extra for those [amenities].”
6. When traveling internationally, you don’t think about the little stuff.
Be especially careful when booking a hotel in another country. A simple mistake could end up costing you hundreds of dollars.
“Don’t forget to check which currency you’re making the booking in,” Juliff notes. “Booking in a local currency while your bank account is in U.S. dollars will land you with a foreign transaction charge that will increase the overall cost of your vacation.”
Some credit card companies don’t assess foreign transaction fees, but you’ll want to consult your cardholder agreement prior to booking. While you’re at it, make sure you’ve selected the right check-in times; if you’re traveling across the International Date Line, you could be setting yourself up for a confusing misadventure.
Other points to consider: local taxes, refund policies, and the availability of public transportation. To stay safe, you might consider investing in a travel insurance policy. They’re relatively cheap, and they can provide some peace of mind if you’re planning an expensive vacation.