Picking one hotel to suit all of your needs in a sea of (sometimes) hundreds can seem like a daunting task to even the most experienced traveler. Whether you’re traveling domestically or abroad, ensuring your stay will be comfortable is an understanding concern. Here are 5 hotel tips from an ex-hotel worker, so you’ll never have to feel like you’re drowning in hotel hell again.
Read hotel reviews on multiple sites before booking.
This one might seem like a no-brainer, but believe it or not, a lot of people only check reviews on one site, or maybe even none at all. Some people stick with one brand and miss out on better locations or better amenities. While brand loyalty can be a great thing when it comes to cashing in points for free stays, it may cause you to miss out too.
Let’s say you always stay at Glam hotels. You trust Glam hotels. You know what you’re getting at Glam hotels. But for argument’s sake, let’s say that the Glam hotel is $350 per night, 2 blocks from the beach, and has a 4-star user rating.
If you would have checked a few review sites you would have seen that the 4-star Best-Ever hotel is right on the beach, also costs $350 per night, has free wifi and has an overall user rating of 5 stars instead of 4 like the Glam hotel.
In cases like this, being brand loyal might get you those points, but it also puts you at a disadvantage. I’m by no means saying don’t be brand loyal — I am the rewards program queen — I’m saying pick the best hotel for you in each destination. You can collect rewards points from them all!
Factor in amenities when choosing a hotel.
Every single day I used to talk to hotel guests that didn’t plan very well, if at all. Some people don’t even factor in paying room taxes — I wish I was kidding. When you see $200 per night show up on a website, that is absolutely not your total cost at check-out.
How about travel expenses? If you’re driving yourself and then dropping off the rental car it’s probably not a huge difference, but if you’re catching a taxi from the airport or you’ll be paying for valet parking then it definitely makes a difference. Both hotels you’re looking at might cost $350 a night, but one is a $20 cab ride away and one is a $70 cab ride. I’ve seen valet and self-park costs at $65 per night with no in and out privileges. These significantly change your cost.
By far the biggest surprises seem to be in regard to complimentary amenities. Never assume the following things will be free or even available: parking, the internet, breakfast, bathroom amenities, robes, slippers, airport shuttle, chauffeur service, bottled water, spa and pool access.
Double check the hotel location on Google Maps.
When I visited Cancun for the first time I accidentally booked a hotel on a dark blue-hued inlet off the hotel district instead of on the perfect gem-toned Caribbean Sea. I also wasn’t within walking distance of anything I wanted to see and do. I ended up spending more than I wanted to on taxi fares. Don’t let this happen to you!
Obviously, you don’t want to be surprised by your view from the pool, but being close to things that interest you is important, too. Look up a few major attractions that you want to see on Google Maps and then look at the distance from your hotel. Is it walking distance? If not, how much would a taxi cost? Rome2Rio is a great resource for this. Some cities are extremely spread out, but if you’re not looking to spend a lot on taxi fares or a rental car, then doing your research before you book your hotel is going to be your best bet.
Book direct through the hotel.
This was a tip I didn’t learn until I worked in the hospitality industry. Let’s say you booked a great deal through XYZhotels.com. Well, what XYZhotels.com didn’t mention is that your room at this beautiful beach front resort is overlooking the service area and a parking garage. No joke, this happened ALL THE TIME when I worked at a beach resort. There’s a reason you got such a great deal. Go to the hotel website, look at their room types and book the view and bedding that you want or need. Don’t assume you’ll get that free upgrade. You’re only setting yourself up for a potentially bad start to what could have been a great trip.
More often than not, hotels will price-match legitimate offers for the same dates in the same room type with the same bedding. This does not include the price you see in your Travelocity e-mailer from last Tuesday. The hotel must be able to run the search themselves and see the lower rate. THEN they will match the rate for you. Hotels want you to book direct, so they strive to have the lowest prices on the internet.
Why else should I book directly through the hotel, you ask? Let’s start with the fact that your reservation may never be received by the hotel for whatever reason (things happen — computer glitches, etc.). Now you’ve prepaid for a room and have to go through the hassle of sitting on the phone with XYZhotels.com. What happens if your hotel is sold out and you don’t have a reservation? You may think the odds of this happening are slim, but I promise it happens more than you would think. Now you’re stuck at the La Quinta down the street instead of the Ritz — ya ‘feel me? In addition, if you want to shorten or extend your stay, or make any changes at all, you again, need to sit on the phone with XYZhotels.com. “Sadly we’re not able to make any changes to a 3rd party reservation Mr. Smith. I apologize for any inconvenience.” Sound familiar?
Note: ANY website or person other than the hotel itself is considered a 3rd party. This includes travel agents. (Disclaimer: There are very few 3rd parties that I book through, and only because they come with very special amenities, but more to come on that later!)
Call the hotel before you arrive.
Most hotels don’t want you to be surprised when you arrive. They want you to rate them well on TripAdvisor and if you find out bad news upon arrival then it puts a damper on your whole trip. I can’t tell you how many vacations I’ve “personally ruined” (according to the luxury guests) because they didn’t know there was an authorization on their credit card at check-in, or because they booked un-guaranteed bedding and needed 2 double beds instead of a king, etc. These guests sincerely felt like their stays were ruined because they didn’t do their research before booking.
It’s always smart to call the hotel ahead and ask how much money, if any, they authorize on your credit card at check-in. In the U.S. most hotels will authorize you (some accept a cash deposit instead and some don’t), but some hotels overseas don’t require this. You’ll also want to ask if there is a resort fee, how much the taxes are, if there is a VAT (typical abroad and often needs to be paid in local tender), if the minibar (if available) is complimentary, and if you’re able to check-in 24 hours a day. I stayed at a hotel in Rome that only had in-person check-in until 6 PM and I arrived at 9 PM. They arranged for me to pay the necessary VAT tax (that had to be paid in cash/local tender) the next morning and left me a key to my room in a lock box. If I hadn’t called I would have had to hunt for a new hotel at 9 PM in a foreign country alone.
If you’re worried about international phone fees, try Skype or Google Voice and you can call for free or less than a dollar, in most cases. Also, if the hotel lists an e-mail address on their website you can try to get a response by e-mail. In my experience, most hotels don’t address all of your questions in their responses via e-mail, so I prefer to call. Most of the time they can find someone who speaks English for you. I’ve only had one occasion where I had to get creative and hold my phone with a translation app to the receiver — it worked!