Booking a hotel room can be an overwhelming experience: Where do you look for rates? How do you know if you’re getting a good deal? How do you know if the hotel is any good?
We’ve put together a list of tips that we hope can help demystify the process and help you get a decent room at a good value.
1. Shop Around
When looking to book a hotel room, probably the most important tip for getting a good deal is to shop around and compare prices.
A price for a hotel room can vary quite a bit from online travel agency (e.g., Travelocity, Orbitz, Expedia, etc.) to online travel agency, and booking directly through the hotel does not always ensure the lowest price either. Online travel agencies might have negotiated rates with individual hotels or with entire hotel chains, so you need to check all of the major websites to make sure you’re not missing out on a special rate.
Searching 3 or 4 of these websites should give you a pretty good sense of rates for your selected time period and location.
Note that no one site searches every site and finds every single rate that’s out there, so you have to shop around. At least searching multiple websites does not take a lot of physical effort!
2. Know How to Sort Your Search Results
When you search a major online travel agency’s website, you will be presented with a list of rates by hotel. Be aware that the results you see are the results that the website wants you to see — and not necessarily what’s best for you. Take advantage of their sorting tools, and sort the results in the ways that best serve you (maybe first by price, then by star rating, then by location, etc.) to get a good sense of your options.
3. Check the Hotel’s Website
Once you’ve found a few hotels/rates that look good, check the hotel’s website directly. To do this, go to Google and type in the name of the hotel and then click through to the hotel to check for rates. Often times, hotels (particularly some of the bigger chains) will have a ‘deals’ or ‘specials’ section, so don’t forget to check there after you find their basic rate.
4. Check for Deals
A number of websites list travel deals, and occasionally you can find something relevant for your stay. We suggest checking out Travelzoo.com’s hotel specials, BookingBuddy.com’s hotel deals section, and ShermansTravel.com’s hotel specials.
5. Read Hotel Reviews
There’s nothing worse than getting to your destination after hours (or days) of traveling and then finding your hotel or the building across from your hotel under construction, or finding your room to be worse than the pictures showed. So we suggest trying to learn more about the hotel by reading reviews from real people who have actually stayed in the hotel recently.
TripAdvisor.com has pretty much cornered the market when it comes to hotel reviews. TripAdvisor doesn’t review hotels/hotel rooms. Instead, they provide a platform for people to write their own reviews. Just go to TripAdvisor.com and search for a hotel (enter your location, then click ‘Find Hotels'; you’ll then be able to sort using the tools on the left side of the page; to find reviews, look to the individual hotel listing, then click on the link that says ‘reviews’).
With all hotel reviews, you need to take them with a grain of salt, as you can get some extreme opinions. Some people might be used to staying in 5-star hotels, so they find fault with a 3-star or 4-star hotel when it’s perfectly fine.
TripAdvisor does a very good job of monitoring the reviews to make sure there aren’t glowing reviews written by the hotel’s general manager, or negative reviews written by the general manager of a competitor down the street. But they’re not perfect, so some will slip through the cracks and get posted.
A general rule of thumb that we like to follow is to scan through several reviews, particularly the most recent, and look for facts. Opinions are tough to filter, but facts (particularly recent facts) can be of help. For example, knowing that the construction site across the street begins work at 7 a.m. is nice to know — and may mean avoiding that hotel for awhile.
6. Consider Hotwire and Priceline
If you’re not wedded to one single hotel and are willing to stay at a comparable hotel (both in terms of quality and location), consider using Hotwire or Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” service. These two websites have worked out special arrangements with hotels where they can sell rooms at a deep discount. The reason the hotels allow them to do this is because they can keep the discounted rates hidden from the general public and only share them with people on a one-to-one basis. This protects the hotel’s brand integrity so that they can unload rooms that would go unused without appearing “cheap” or lowering the perceived value of their hotel.
Hotwire shows you prices for hotels based on their star rating, but doesn’t reveal the actual hotel you’ll get until after you book (i.e., your credit card will be charged the rate you agree to first, then the hotel where you’ll be staying (based on your selected star-rating and location) will be revealed). Priceline operates in the same way, except that you have to name your own price (you decide what you’re willing to pay, and then Priceline tells you if your bid was accepted).
7. Book It!
If you’ve followed all 6 steps above (and didn’t lock in a room via Hotwire or Priceline), you should have a pretty good feel for hotel rates for your destination. So at this point, we suggest going forward with booking your room. Prices change all of the time, depending on supply and demand and a hotel’s sense of what supply and demand will look like in the future. If you wait, you could get a better deal in the future if demand turns out to be lower than expected, but you might also find rates moving in the other direction. In general, unless we’re several months out, we like to book when we find a rate we can live with — and particularly if there’s a chance demand for hotel rooms will be high for the time period of our trip.
In the second part of this tip (which we’ll post in the future), we’ll provide specific tips for how get the best deals using Hotwire and Priceline, including tips on how to know what to bid and how to re-bid on Priceline. Stay tuned!
Do you have any tips for finding a good deal/saving money on a hotel room? Tell us by submitting a comment below.