I have been reading a lot about this recently, and wondering if I’m doing the right thing when booking hotels on my road trips. It can be extremely overwhelming, and deciding what is right for you depends on where you are and who you are with. Here we will look at some factors and recommendations to consider when booking a hotel, so you get the best room, in the best location for the best price possible.
Don’t Believe booking sites!
Yes my friends, they’re the George Costanza of the travel industry…They lie lie lie!
Don’t ever believe the “one room left!“, “all booked up” lines they spin you. If in doubt, go look at some other booking sites and then call the hotel directly. There have been a few cases where hotel rooms have sat empty for weeks because booking sites have decided to play games with availability. It’s not right for anyone involved and don’t buy it.
How to Start Looking
First of all, clear your cookies before every search! If you don’t, the booking sites increase the prices based on your previous search history.
There is also a general consensus among professional travelers that the device you use to search with will effect the overall price. For example if you use a Mac, they will assume you have more money to pay and quote you higher prices, and if you use an old PC with windows explorer, you get cheaper prices. (more on sneaky booking providers here). It sounds crazy, but with booking sites, who knows what they are capable of! (More about dynamic pricing practices here).
If you are going overseas and you have a credit card that doesn’t charge for international conversion rates, then book through a local site or through the hotel directly. Tourists always get charged more than locals especially if you are coming from a western country. I just attempted this with Radissson blu in the UAE. The local Dirham price was $40.00 a night cheaper than dollar AND Euro!
Booking sites Vs. Hotel Sites.
Booking sites are great, but also don’t forget to look at the actual hotel website directly. I’ve found Some of the best deals going direct, and you are more likely to get an upgrade and better service. Booking sites charge a fee or percentage that would otherwise be going to the hotel directly. On some occasions I have received dirty looks and a bad attitude from the hotel staff when I have told them that i booked though a booking site. It happens sometimes so don’t stress yourself over it.
Even if you do book through a booking site, its a good idea to call the hotel and confirm. I can’t even remember how many times I have shown up at a hotel and they have not been notified by the booking agency, and I have to spend 30 minutes on the phone to get them to send my confirmation though. Yawn…..
When to book
The cheapest time to book is Tuesday afternoons at 3pm, 6 weeks before your trip. I might be that organized for flights but I’m NEVER that organized for hotels. This all depends on where you are going of course, obviously international travel does require more planning, but my general rule is book the 2 first nights and always book weekends a few days ahead of time. It’s also a good idea to check if there are any events or conventions before hand and always look at the location of your hotel on a map before booking. You might find a cheaper room out of your preferred area, but you might be paying the rest in transport costs.
What to book
If you decide to book a cheaper hotel, be aware that they are sometimes in seedy areas, so you need to watch out for safety at all times. Keep your passport and money tucked into your clothing and not in a bag that can be snatched. Look at all factors in your decision making process and write a list of all the things your are looking for. For example, your desired price range, necessary amenities, location, safety, cleanliness, noise and proximity to major roads and highways. Also look for whats available in walking distance, particularly in urban areas.
One thing I always forget to look at is dining options. Some hotels offer a free breakfast, which is great, but it’s dinner I worry about mostly. Some big hotels have restaurants inside, but these are crazy expensive. If you are not out wining and dining at every meal, then make a point of knowing where the nearest supermarket is and buy food you can prepare in room. This is also great for buying water and soda in bulk, and milk/creamer for coffee and tea. Those hotel mini bar prices are outrageous!
Be Aware of Extra fees!
A cheap hotel rate might look appealing, but do read the fine print! Places like Vegas add a tourism percentage surcharge, as does Dubai. These rates are often separate and not quoted in the original price. Also be on the look out for parking fees (yes, I’m looking at you Airport hotels!), large group penalties, booking site fees, country and state taxes and credit card fees and WiFi. Have a look at what the hotel offers for free before booking (e.g wifi and breakfast etc), and make a note of the total final cost before pulling the trigger.
Weekend price jump
Weekends and holidays are by far the most expensive time to book. Some hotels even charge DOUBLE the normal weekday rate! There are some things you can do to not fall in this trap and that includes booking as soon as possible and locking in your rate. Consider staying in the city center and financial districts in cities. These hotels rely mostly on week day business travel and are often quiet on weekends. If you have a vehicle, stay outside of town and along freeways and away from popular attractions. The American freeway system is littered with hotels of all prices and they need to fill rooms too.
How to fight cancellation fees.
I’ve got this down to a fine art now, and it’s not always my fault. Sometimes booking sites default to their cheapest available rates rather then for tonight. This is the bad part about reserving a room through a booking site. Most of the time your phone call gets shuffled off to a call center in the developing world and you find yourself pleading with someone who can barely speak English. The easiest thing to do is try and stick to your booked hotel, but just get the dates changed. They will still try and fight you but at least you have the excuse of “I’m not canceling I’m just rescheduling” and it usually works. If that doesn’t work, or you are trying to cancel completely then ask to speak to a manager. They have more authority and can actually do something to help, and if that fails then call the hotel personally. Tell them why you have to cancel, tell them you have no choice and try to work out a deal.
Coupons and Deals
I always always recommend signing up for emails at all travel, hotel, rental car, car parking and airline websites. I created an anonymous email account just for this purpose, I check it every week and keep what i need and trash the rest, this literally saves me hundreds every year. If you are a frequent traveler it’s always a good idea to sign up for a membership program like AAA or Starwood preferred guest etc. Sometimes it costs money to join, but if used frequently, will save you a lot in the end. In some situations, it’s perfectly acceptable to haggle. If you are staying for a longer period of time, or booking a deluxe suite, contact the hotel manager personally and ask if there are any applicable discounts. I did this recently, I contacted a chain hotel and asked them for their long booking rates and then if it could be discounted by a further 15 %. It worked! give it a try.
So here it is, my 10 favorite hotel booking tips. They work for me and I hope they work for you. Be safe, be healthy, be wealthy and be wise 🙂