If you are going on a business trip or romantic vacation, where you will stay for at least 3 days, it is quite important to choose a hotel where you will feel comfortable. Trust me, I had my share of failures, and there is nothing more unpleasant than ending up in a smoking room or sharing the bathroom, if you are not prepared for that kind of adventures. Being a “booking genius” takes a lot of experience and if you read this chapter carefully, you will see that choosing the right hotel can be quite a challenge.
After you set the destination, I suggest you follow these simple steps for choosing the right hotel or a place to stay:
What is the purpose of your stay?
If you are on a business trip, you need to consider the amenities like: internet (wired or wireless), working desk (you cannot work in your bed or on the floor), breakfast option, perhaps even in-room dining (to save you time and charge you with the necessary energy for the presentations), fitness center or at least a pool are a must (stretching yourself after long meetings is very important) and it is also very convenient if the hotel has a quiet place where you can meet your business partners. If you are on a romantic vacation you will probably appreciate the extras like massage or beauty salons, the variety of meals (all-inclusive options are usually a good choice), outdoor activities and the vicinity of the beach or other tourist attractions. If you are on a road trip and just passing by, then you usually just need a cozy bed and a place to spend the night.
What is your budget?
No matter how high my budget is, I always choose the accommodation by myself, for various reasons. First of all I don’t want any surprises, secondly I don’t want to overpay the rates offered by travel agents or hotels directly and last but not the least, I really enjoy surfing the booking sites and comparing their offers. (I am a travelholic, remember?)
My favorite booking site for choosing the hotel is Expedia, even though their selection is sometimes quite limited. I like Expedia for 2 reasons: one is “Best price guarantee”, which means they will refund you the price difference if you find any cheaper option for the chosen room. This guarantee comes under certain conditions, but if you follow the rules, it actually works. It is not so much about the amount of change they refund, as it is about the feeling that you are in the right place where they won’t rip you off. And the second reason is that you can enroll their loyalty program, which can really get you a lot of benefits and rewards. For example I saved over 500 US dollars in 2015 by using the coupons I got from my Golden Elite Plus status.
The second hotel browser I use is Booking.com which is also very good and they usually offer a wider selection of accommodation. Their search engine is very simple and transparent, however they usually don’t include the taxes in their final prices. You can find this in the small print but it can still be a little misleading if you don’t pay attention. Booking.com doesn’t offer any loyalty program, however if you are a frequent user they give you a “Booking Genius” badge – which offers better prices for some hotels. They also claim to guarantee the best price but I only used this option with them once and they didn’t reply.
Besides Expedia and Booking.com there are many similar booking sites like Agoda or Hotels.com, where you just set the size of your budget and compare the selection (usually they all offer you to choose the price range you are interested in), however if you travel a lot I suggest you pick your favorite one so you can take advantage of the loyalty program they offer.
A bit different from the options mentioned above is Airbnb. This site combines accommodations from local hosts, which can be very convenient if you want more personal touch: usually the locals rent out a room or a part of their home, and they can be very handy with offering you some useful information on how to make the most of your vacation in their hometown. Those of you who prefer privacy can also choose a place where the owners don’t live – in this case they will provide you the information where to get the key, Wi-Fi password and stuff like that. All hosts are usually very polite and respond to your questions within 24 hours. They are also rated by previous users – the more stars they have the more “safe” is your decision. But don’t worry, Airbnb is as safe as any other booking site – in terms of payment, cancellation policy and accommodation descriptions.
If you are browsing for your accommodation on booking sites, you will usually see guest rates next to the descriptions. For example if a guest rate shows 3 points for a 4 star hotel it means you probably won’t get what you pay for. However it is always good to double check it, since some of the hotels might be newly listed and don’t have credible rates yet. For this purpose I use Tripadvisor, which is literally a travel Bible (sorry Lonely planet, you became far too commercial in my humble opinion). Besides the updated accommodation and other reviews Tripadvisor also offers guest photos (which are more realistic than official hotel pictures) and many other useful tips, including some prices, places to eat, etc.
Basic check list
Other important checkpoints you should consider before booking:
- Location: this is my first checkpoint when choosing the hotel. If I travel for business I want the hotel as close to my meeting point or exhibition center as possible. The minutes you save by taxi or public transportation can sometimes turn into gold. And the opposite: my friend told me he was once late for a meeting and the client just left him a note with his secretary, saying “next time pack your watch”. If you are on vacation, you will probably want a hotel close to the beach, lake or ski resort.
- Internet options: hotels usually offer Wi-Fi, but just in case double check it – there are still some technology dinosaurs out there.
- Nonsmoking rooms: if you don’t smoke you probably don’t want to spend the night in a room which smells like cigarettes, so book a nonsmoking one. If you are as sensitive as I am, you might want to check if there are nonsmoking floors in the hotel (sometimes the smoke can come from your neighbor’s room if your window is open or if your rooms share a camouflage door).
- Quiet rooms: if you like to sleep long in the morning or if you need a lot of rest then ask for a so called quiet room. They are usually in the end of a hallway, as far away from elevators and service facilities as possible.
- Bathroom: be sure to check if your room has a private bathroom and what are the included amenities. I am sure you don’t want to carry a hairdryer with you and basic toiletries can come very handy if you are travelling with only a hand luggage.
- Bed: if you are travelling alone this is usually not an issue but if you are renting a room as a couple, make sure you ask for a king size bed. On the other hand, if your roommate is just a friend then you might consider 2 separate beds.
- Pool: if you want a hotel with a pool then you might check if it is operating out of season.
- View: rooms with a seaside or lake view are more expensive and usually quieter than those facing the street, so they can actually be worth those extra bucks.
- Parking: this is a very important information if you are arriving with your own or rented car. Parking in city centers can be quite a headache, so free (or at least paid option) parking lot is always a good choice.
- Pets allowed: if you are traveling with your dog, this is actually the first thing you should check. On the other hand this “flexibility” can be a turn off for those who don’t tolerate the vicinity of our hairy friends.
If you think I am crazy for being so meticulous with “a simple process” like choosing the right hotel then I suggest you imagine booking a romantic holiday in Playa del Carmen, Mexico and ending up with pool being under renovation and beach flushed away by a hurricane. You can thank me later.