First, the main factors I recommend you consider when choosing your hotel are as follows:
- Star rating – Decide which range you want to stick to. For me, it’s typically between 3-4 stars, depending on the price and how much time I’ll actually spend in the room. Here is the general system used for rating hotels provided by Hotwire:
5 STAR: Luxury (Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton, Mandarin, St. Regis)
4 STAR: Elite (Westin, Hyatt, Hilton, Intercontinental, Sheraton)
3 STAR: Mid-scale (Holiday Inn, Double Tree, Windham, Hampton)
2 STAR: Economy (La Quinta, Best Western, Comfort Inn, Ramada)
1 STAR: Basic (Days Inn, Howard Johnson, Super 8, EconoLodge)
- Rates – Get a good feel for the average rate per night based on the city. There are some good tools online, such as Bloomberg’s Hotel Index and Lonely Planet’s budget info for popular destinations. Guidebooks are also great at breaking down average costs for each budget tier. Remember to check out the TOTAL COST, since nightly rates may be deceiving and can really spike up after taxes.
- Location – Do you prefer to be close to a certain area, such as the city center just steps away from all the action? Or tucked away somewhere quiet? Central locations are highly sought after, so some may opt for locations a little further away or close to the airport in order to save money.
- Reviews – Tripadvisor is your best friend when it comes to picking hotels. I cannot stress enough the importance of reading unbiased traveler reviews, both good and bad, to get a real idea of what to expect. You can view their pictures (which often differ greatly from the ones the hotel posts), and even ask reviewers questions. I also recommend searching through reviews for keywords… such as “bed bugs” to see if anyone has had horrible experiences you want to avoid, or “train station” to see how close they really are to public transportation. For me, comfort and cleanliness are of extreme importance, so I always ensure that a majority of reviewers agree those conditions are met.
Here are my best advice and tips for booking hotels:
- Checking travel sites like Expedia, Priceline, Hotwire, booking.com, and Orbitz are a must. However, my favorite is Kayak. They will compare prices among several different websites for you and link you directly to the best ones. Here I have gotten great rates from travel sites I had never heard of, including Agoda.com, getaroom.com, and EasyClickTravel.com.
- Before booking, call the hotel directly to see if they offer any discounts or have any promotions. They always prefer for you to book directly through them so they can cut out any middleman, and many times they can match your deal or even beat it. Also, ask about discounts they may offer based on your profession, such as government, military, teachers, law enforcement, etc.
- Find out if the hotel charges any hidden fees, such as resort fees, cleaning fees, amenities fees, extra guest fees, and parking. These costs should all be factored into the total price and often people don’t realize it until they’re hit with them on the spot.
- Look into check-in and check-out times to ensure they coordinate with your arrival and departure times. If not, ensure that the hotel offers services to securely store your luggage until your room is ready or until you depart.
- Look for a hotel with breakfast included to save on your food expenses. It’s common these days for hotels to offer continental or even hot breakfast buffets for guests, which definitely helps. If it’s not included, find out how much it costs. Most people prefer the convenience of eating breakfast at their hotel, so some hotel restaurants take advantage and charge a fortune. Other times, they have great deals for about $10.
- Try to get a hotel with a shuttle to and from the airport to reduce your ground transportation costs.
- Whenever possible, select a hotel with a central location so you don’t need a car and can walk or take public transportation, and therefore, cut down costs.
- For locations in the U.S. and Canada, be sure to check the bed bug registry. I don’t mean to make you paranoid, but this is real problem that has affected thousands and it would be a shame for you to bring home these pesky critters, which are nearly impossible to get rid of.
- ALWAYS check the hotel’s cancellation policy before booking. Shit happens. It’s nice when hotels will refund you for cancelling, but sometimes it’s only a percentage, especially closer to the date of check-in.
- Ensure the hotel provides items you expect, such as air conditioning, Wi-Fi, hairdryer, ironing board, refrigerator, etc. Don’t ever assume that they will have even the most simple items you’re accustomed to, especially in foreign countries. Sometimes you may even need to bring your own entertainment such as a book or tablet because all their TV stations will be in another language. Also check their amenities if you require any of them, such as a gym, pool, business center, etc.
- Be prepared for deposits that hotels will charge on your card when you check-in. This will typically hold up at least $100 of your funds and it may take a week or so after your trip for it to be released.
- Package deals including flight and hotel, as well as sometimes rental car and activities, are sometimes a good option depending on the destination. Usually I can find my own hotels and flights cheaper, but every once in a while, travel agents and websites can work magic for those willing to book everything together.
- Skip fancy room upgrades, views, and balconies, unless you plan to spend a lot of time in your room. Every time I’ve had great ocean views, it was delightful but personally, I still would rather go outside and actually be in front of the ocean than see it from my room.
- Consider a hostel. There is definitely a negative connotation about these for most people, but these days, there are many high end hostels that people rave about. Generally you may share the room or bathroom and will need to store your belongings in a locker, but there are some options now where you have your own separate space. This is not for everyone, but if you are really on a budget and just need a basic place to lay your head, this is a great option to save a ton of money. Check out Hostel World to take a look.
- Also consider a private rental. Airbnb is extremely popular now and you can find really neat places on there for decent prices. I always check vrbo.com and homeaway.com as well. In many cities, I prefer this option because I am in real neighborhoods and living like a local, so I can soak in the culture and lifestyle much more than at a hotel. However, you will not have the luxury of maid service, unlimited towels, and other things people love about staying at a hotel.
- Avoid resorts at all costs. I know some are gorgeous and many people prefer them, but to me it defeats the purpose of traveling. Most resorts are catered to Westernized standards, so your exposure to local people and the real culture will be extremely limited. Usually in my experience, the food is terrible and drinks are weak. They try to suck as much money out of you as they can with their shops, excursions, and other overpriced tourist traps, when instead you should be exploring outside of the resort. Worst of all, profits from anything you spend there go to big corporations instead of hardworking locals and small businesses in the community who need it more. If you’re really set on lounging around at a pool all day and having a cookie-cutter experience, then hey, go for it. But you’d really be missing out on all the country has to offer.
I hope this info is helpful to many of you and I wish you the best of luck in hotel hunting! If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments section! I will continue to update this over time, so check back often!