When you are planning a trip, be it long-term or short, you will often need to make hotel reservations. On the surface, this seems like a straightforward task. However, a number of factors will determine whether you return home congratulating yourself on a hotel well-chosen, or lamenting your misguided decision.
These 6 steps will make or break your hotel reservation process:
1. Determine Whether a Hotel is Right for Your Trip
The very first step is determining whether you want to make hotel reservations at all. In this day and age, there are a wide variety of options for overnight accommodations other than hotels. At the outset of your trip planning process, you should consider these alternate possibilities:
- VRBO/Home Away rentals
- Local Real Estate Rental companies
- House Sitting
- Camping or RVing
Depending on the location, length, and purpose of your trip, any of the above options are worth considering. If you check them out and decide a hotel is right for you, it’s time to dig a little deeper.
2. Identify Your Requirements
As you start the hotel search process, it is important to keep your requirements for your trip in mind. Are you planning a work trip and need good wifi? Are you taking children along and therefore need a rollaway bed (or an indoor pool)? Or maybe you have pets and therefore want pet friendly accommodations to be able to take them with you. Here is a list of potential requirements:
- Wi fi
- Pet friendly
- Special child accommodations (such as a crib or extra bed)
- Particular facilities (workout room, pool, etc.)
- Handicapped access
- Non-smoking room
- Business accommodations (such as a business office with printer or a meeting room for meetings with colleagues)
- Fridge, coffeemaker, and/or microwave in room
- Safe to store valuables/documents
We recommend that you review this list and write down any requirements you have. When beginning your hotel search, you’ll know what information you need to gather. Download our handy checklist at the end of this post to make sure that you cover your bases every time you need to make hotel reservations.
3. Find the Right Location
When you begin looking for a hotel, you will generally know where you are going. You may have a business trip in Chicago, or be planning a family vacation in San Francisco. It is, of course, also important to determine your ideal location at your intended destination. If you are attending a conference, you may want to find a hotel within walking distance of the conference center. Alternately, you will want to be aware of transportation options. At the beach, you may want a beachfront hotel, or a quiet hotel off the main strip. There are so many possible location variables that we cannot list them all here. You will want to do enough research to know which of these considerations are important to your trip. And, of course, find a hotel that best matches those factors.
A second and unrelated location issue is that of the immediate neighborhood around your chosen hotel. Before you make hotel reservations you will want to research the safety, attractiveness, and features of the hotel’s location. These are generally fairly easy to find via reviews on hotel reservation websites, TripAdvisor, or Oyster.
We recommend writing down identified location considerations to keep them top of mind when researching hotels.
4. Get the Best Price
Finally, the fun part. Once you have your hotel requirements and ideal location identified, it’s time to start searching. There are a number of great hotel reservation websites available to you. We recommend that you check out multiple websites, because each will offer different rates, rewards, and amenities. Here are some places to start:
- TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor started out as a review website and often has the greatest scope of hotel reviews. Even if we end up booking elsewhere, we will check TripAdvisor’s reviews before we hit that “Reserve” button.
- Hotels.com. This is our go-to hotel website. We are part of their rewards club and get a free room for every 10 rooms booked. Over time, this perk can add up for frequent travelers. As members, we also get “secret prices” which can cut even more off their generally good rates.
- Hotels Tonight. This phone app can be a lifesaver when you suddenly need a hotel on short notice. Hotels put last minute unsold inventory on Hotels Tonight at some great discounts. However, we have also found better prices on other sites (or through the hotel itself) even for same day reservations. So always do your due diligence.
Whatever sites you use, always check the rates for your chosen hotel in several places before final booking. You never know when Orbitz will have a special rate, or Hotels.com will offer a “secret price.”
Finally, don’t forget to check the hotel’s own website. Many times we’ve nearly booked on an aggregator only to find that the hotel’s website had some unusual special (e.g., a third night free).Avoid hidden gotchas. Make sure that you know the full cost of your stay before you make hotel reservations.Click To Tweet
5. Check for Hidden Costs On Those Hotel Reservations
If you only take one tip away from this post, let it be this one. Make sure that you know the full cost of your stay before you make hotel reservations. From the standard “Taxes and Fees,” to wifi charges, to resort fees, a lot of additional costs can be hidden in a great “nightly rate.” Many websites (including hotels’ own sites) don’t include that $35 resort fee in their nightly cost. It isn’t until you check out that you discover your $100/night for three nights bargain has ballooned into $540.
This one hit us on our recent (otherwise dream) vacation in Atlantic Beach Florida. We did our research and got a great rate from the hotel’s website (4 nights for the price of 3). I even noted that there was a $30 resort fee and took that into consideration when weighing options. However, I somehow missed that on top of the $30 resort fee, there was a $29 parking fee! At the beach! Now this was completely my bad. The information is right there on their website and I just missed it. But it brought home the lesson that you need to be extra vigilant when making hotel reservations. Make sure you know the real bottom line before falling in love with a seemingly sweet deal.
6. Retain Maximum Flexibility
The final step in your hotel reservation journey is to keep your options open as long as possible. You never know when there might be an unavoidable change of plans. Or whether you’ll find a better deal and kick yourself for having locked up a room with no possibility of cancellation.
Whenever possible, book a room which allows cancellation until 24 hours before arrival. We don’t usually buy travel insurance unless it is for an exceptionally large deposit. My mom once booked a cruise for 11 family members and was very glad she bought insurance when my dad broke his hip the day before departure. We also generally won’t pay an extra $20 a night just for the right to cancel. Unless, maybe it’s for a single night and we have good reason to think we may have to cancel or that a better option might emerge. When possible, always opt for reservations that allow for cancellation without an additional fee.
If you follow these 6 steps before making your next hotel reservations, you’ll sleep easier knowing you got the best deal at the best hotel possible. Happy travels!
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