Choosing a Hotel
Choosing the right hotel is always a trying task, and with the enormous number of promotions, deals and programs out there, it can be downright overwhelming. It doesn’t help that these days most hotels have Web sites full of tantalizing photos and slick promotional copy that make you believe you’ll be bathed in luxury as soon as you step foot into the lobby. How can you tell if a hotel will live up to its own hype — and, more importantly, if it’s the right hotel for you?
What Matters Most?
Before beginning your search, ask yourself what type of accommodations you want and what your budget will permit. Does location trump price, or are you limited to hotels under $150 a night? Do you need a hotel with a spa and fitness center, or would you rather stay at a small property with lots of local charm?
Once you’ve decided on your top priority, then you can make a more targeted search. Following are the most common determining factors in choosing a hotel, as well as tips for finding properties that suit each particular need.
Price: Nearly every major booking engine gives you the option to sort your results by price. Don’t limit yourself to the big three (Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz) — you should also pay a visit to other booking sites like Kayak.com, Venere.com and Hotels.com. And don’t forget to check our very own discount deals.
Tip: Use the booking engines to see what’s available and test rates at the properties you’re interested in, and then go straight to the hotel’s Web site to book directly — most hotels guarantee you the lowest rate when you book on their site, and will match a lower price you find elsewhere.
Location: All the major booking sites allow you to view search results on a map so you can see which ones are right on the beach or in the neighborhoods you prefer. Most also have the extra capability of searching for and mapping a hotel in relation to a particular point of interest.
Amenities: Most of the major hotel booking engines allow you to specify certain amenities when you’re searching, such as a fitness center, swimming pool or restaurant. Travelocity makes the process easier by allowing you to compare up to four hotels side by side so you can easily weigh such factors as star ratings, amenities, rates and room types.
Luxury: If you’re looking for a truly upscale and distinctive place to stay, you’ll find the creme de la creme in groups like the Leading Hotels of the World, the Five Star Alliance and Boutique Hotels & Resorts International.
Loyalty Programs and Frequent Flier Miles: If you travel a lot or if you’re a member of a frequent flier program, it may be worth your while to join a hotel loyalty program. Not only can you earn points toward a future hotel stay, but you may also be able to accumulate airline miles if your hotel is partnered with your frequent flier program. Check your hotel or airline Web site to see a list of qualifying partners. Many programs also allow you to redeem points for other purchases, such as cruises, car rentals and entertainment.
Eco-Friendliness: Travelers who are looking to minimize their environmental impact can search for green hotels through a number of organizations, including Green Globe and the Green Hotels Association.
Family-Friendliness: If you’re bringing the kids, you’ll want to check for both special deals and family-friendly policies.
Real Life Experiences
Few of us book a hotel these days without checking out reviews written by fellow travelers on sites like TripAdvisor, VirtualTourist and the big booking engines. This is where you can learn the truth about how friendly the staff is, how clean the rooms are and whether the Wi-Fi actually works.
Of course, it’s always a good idea to take traveler reviews with a certain degree of skepticism. Overly fawning reviews may actually have been written by hotel employees in disguise, while some negative reviews may come from super-fussy travelers who simply have an ax to grind. But despite the occasional misleading review, most traveler ratings are an honest, unbiased and invaluable resource when deciding between hotels.
Pick Up the Phone
These days you can do most of your research on the Internet, but sometimes it still pays to pick up the phone. Calling a hotel directly, rather than dialing a chain’s main 800 number, might get you a room at the last minute or during peak travel times.