The ultimate guide to hotel bookings
Let’s talk about hotel bookings or more in general about accommodation hunting and booking, both for vacations or business trips. I’m a hotel manager and a solo independent traveler, and this is a daily subject in my life, something I studied and followed up on constantly. Something actually upsetting me when reading related comments on social networks…
The main question as an independent traveler dealing with hotel bookings is whether I’m willing to sacrifice spontaneity for the comfort of knowing where I’ll sleep each night on my cross-country trips, knowing exactly how much I’ll be spending and which services I’ll get.
Planning independent trips ahead allows me to analyze the budget, and I, therefore, learned to book ahead when I want to experience a trendy, best-value hotel or an exceptional accommodation such as the ranch in Tombstone or the stunning estancia in Cafayate.
So, when I want to be certain to get my first choice, I reserve several weeks (or even months) in advance. The same thing for peak-season travels, on national holidays, and during big festivals. When visiting big, popular touristy cities such as London or Paris or New York, I make my reservations as soon as I can pin down a date.
For instance, during my last cross-country trip through USA I booked the hostel I really wanted to stay in New York and New Orleans (Mardi Gras week oblige) and the above-mentioned ranch in Arizona. Still, I only decided on the other stages on the go.
Getting old, I love this freedom feeling but also don’t want to show up without a room… I still want to find places matching my budget and priorities and therefore browse TripAdvisor or Hostelworld to fix accommodation a day or two ahead while on the road or even early in the morning the same day. Still, this last option works only when there’s little demand for rooms.
Plus, budget travelers really need to think one step ahead to enjoy their trip and don’t over-spend fully…
How to find the perfect accommodation
No matter how, when, and why you travel, unless you already pinned the perfect accommodation while browsing a book or watching a documentary film, I recommend you start asking friends and family who already visited the town you’re heading to. First-hand experiences and trustful feedbacks are always the best!
Looking for accommodation online
Second step: get a guidebook that has a travel philosophy that matches your own, keeping in mind that most editors use to send the form to hotel managers for them to fill in all the details and be recommended in exchange for a small yearly fee… this is why the power is increasingly shifting to travelers themselves and websites like TripAdvisor.
I use it all the time, not for food & beverage, though, cause Italian taste is very different to other countries…I skip family reviews preferring business and couples experiences, usually matching my needs, and I also skip reviews when they’re the only feedback left by the writer. Once I selected the accommodation matching my budget and the services I look for, I start checking their website, clicking on the direct link in their TA profile.
You’re supposed to get the same thing on Trivago. Still, they only display direct rates and the booking option when the hotel subscribes to their service and is quite expensive. You almost always get the rate offered on Booking, Expedia, or other travel booking systems.
By the way, Booking and Agoda are managed by the same company, PriceLine, same thing for Expedia and Hotels… Also, keep in mind that if you click through to book a room from one of these travel review sites, you’ll be redirected to a booking agency that charges a hefty commission, which hotels have had to build into their room rates, and this is why most hotels offer their best deals to guests who book direct.
Anyway, always consider the location and check it on Google maps before going ahead and finalizing any booking. No matter where you go — whether a bustling city or a mid-sized destination — the neighborhood and hotel you choose help shape your experience.
Looking for accommodation on site
When traveling without any previous plan and no internet connection available to browse accommodation while sipping a drink at a local cafe, it’s worth some shopping around to find the rate/place that suits you before accepting a room. Anyway, always ask to see the room: the receptionist knows the room must pass your inspection and he’ll have to earn your business…
You might even want to trust hotel runners, even though I’ve always avoided them. As you step off the bus or train, or even at airports’ arrivals, you might be met by hotel and B&B runners wielding pictures of their rooms for rent. My gut reaction is to steer clear, but you might find the perfect accommodation for you.
Use room-finding services only if necessary. Their hotel lists aren’t a selective one, so what you get is a potluck; even if in certain Southeast Asian or northern European cities, room-booking services can sometimes land you a deeply discounted room in an upscale business-class hotel.
Have your current hotelier call ahead to make a reservation at your next destination. If you’re in a town and having trouble finding a room, remember that nobody knows the hotel scene better than hotel managers do. If one place doesn’t have a vacant room, the manager might phone a friend’s place around the corner… my colleague/competitors and I always do that. We even exchange emails in the morning to share info on each other availabilities.
How to book a hotel
I know, this subtitle sounds silly and useless, but trust me, as a hotel manager I really can tell that lots of travelers don’t know how to deal with hotel bookings!
The first tip: do book your room through the hotel’s website. Most of them now have booking engines, working just like the one on Booking(.)com, but requesting fewer steps as you don’t have to create an account to proceed. Some hotel websites still have a reservation-request form built right in, and I usually skip them, being lazy and quite impatient…, but that’s me.
You can decide whether to book online, fill the form, or even send an email or call for complicated requests. The front desk staff is accustomed to guests speaking only English, so don’t worry. Maybe avoid the night shift and check time zones to phone from 8 am to 8/9 pm.
Anyway, for the best rates and actual availabilities, always use the hotel’s official site and not a booking agency’s site. Running my hotel, I usually let booking websites only have a maximum of two rooms per night (I have 14 rooms at the hotel), and both rates and policies are more convenient on my own website (15/25€ cheaper per night, 3/5 days more favorable cancellation policy and special offers, etc.).
Big hotel chains might offer the same rate/conditions, but smaller hotels improve their management and usually offer much better deals. As written earlier, booking services extract a commission from the hotel, which logically closes the door on special deals…
Big hotel-booking sites can provide a wealth of information, though, about the types of hotels available and the range of prices, but what you won’t easily find on these sites are links to individual hotels. So, once you’ve identified a promising option, do a Google search to find the hotel’s own website. You’ll get complete information and assistance, and you may save money.
Things you need to clarify when booking
- the number and type of rooms you need
- your date of arrival (in Europe, this is the date style: day/month/year)
- your date of departure
- paying preferences (prepaid non-refundable booking to get a lower price, PayPal deposit, etc.)
- any special needs (twin beds or double bed or double for single-use, extra baby cot, kids’ age, dogs, parking space needed, food allergies, and so on)
- arrival time if you already know you’ll get in town very late at night
Details to know when booking
When booking via mail or over the phone, most places request a credit card number with expiration date to hold your room. When I’m asked, I email it or even send it using WhatsApp, but if you feel safer, you can phone it or split the info into two different emails.
Be warned that cancellation policies are usually strict: read them when booking online or ask about these details before you book. When canceling on short notice, you could lose your deposit or be billed for one night or even your entire stay (I do so when the room is canceled within 3 to 5 days ahead, but I always agree to postpone the stay when needed).
Extra tips before and after booking a hotel
- Know the local government ratings: starts regulations are different from country to country and in Italy even from region to region. This is why rates are set according to services and locations and not to stars!
- Business hotels are desperate for customers in the summer and year-round on weekends, when their business customers stay away.
- Availabilities, rates, policies on Booking, Hotels, etc., are directly set by the hotel manager. When you have a problem and phone their customer care staff, they actually call the hotel for options and solutions. Skip intermediations for the best final treatment…
- Avoid hotels that require you to buy meals unless you’re staying in a remote ski resort or a very isolated destination. Many national governments regulate hotel prices according to class or rating. To overcome this price ceiling, hotels might require you to buy a dining room. It’s generally called “half-b in some countries in some countries, or ” “half-pension,” and I definitely prefer the freedom to explore and sample the atmosphere of restaurants in other neighborhoods.
- Breakfast is often included in the room rate, but in some countries it’s an expensive, semi-optional tack-on. If you want to opt-out of a pricey hotel breakfast, ask if it’s possible when you book the room.
- Always email to reconfirm your hotel booking a few days in advance. This gives you time to improvise in the unlikely event that something has gone wrong with your reservation.
Would you add some more advice, pro or against?
What’s your own experience and strategy when booking a hotel?