Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Travel Tip Tuesday: Trip Planning Resources--Hotel Edition

I love planning trips.  My husband always says that I seem to enjoy the planning as much as the actual trip, and he's probably right!  It hasn't always been that way, though.  I used to get myself into a state of analysis paralysis, especially when booking a hotel.

What if we hate the location?

What if we pay more than we should?  Maybe I can find a better deal...

What if the room is tiny or dirty or the bed is lumpy?

All these questions and hundreds more would run through my mind.

A nice view? A definite plus, but not a necessity

Finally, I decided to come up with a "hotel picking" strategy and stick with it.  My strategy gets modified on occasion when I find a new and awesome resource, but I've been using it consistently and haven't been disappointed with any of the hotels I've picked so far!  (Full disclosure: Good hotel rooms are a priority for us. We'd rather fly as cheaply as possible--unless traveling internationally--and have a decent room to enjoy after exploring all day than skimp and have a horrible night's sleep.  However, we don't like to spend an exorbitant amount on a hotel room, hence my strategy).  :-)

But a comfy bed is a must!

Tips for picking a reasonably priced, quality hotel:

1.  Start your search on an aggregator site.  My new favorite aggregator is Room77.com, and I also frequently use Kayak.com.  Just type in your destination, pick your travel dates, and the aggregator will collect hotel prices from many different websites and display them, sorted by lowest price for each property.  I especially like Room77 because it gives so many details about each property and room, including tips for quietest floors, most spacious rooms, etc.  They also have a free service, Room Concierge, that helps you book the exact room you want (they make no guarantees but claim a high success rate).  Hint: Chain hotels may be a bit boring but often offer a lot of bang for your buck, with inclusions like free wifi, breakfast, and more.

2.  Once you have found some properties in your price range, head to Tripadvisor.com to continue researching them.  Tripadvisor is one of the better known sites for user reviews, and I have found  with the hotels I've researched and subsequently stayed at that a majority of the reviews are helpful and accurate.  Definitely take any extra low or high reviews with a grain of salt, and read a number of reviews for each property to get a good overall sense of it.  I also use Google street view to look at the hotel building and street.

3.  Hopefully by now you are narrowing down your search.  I would suggest heading over to a booking site, such as Booking.com, Travelocity.com, Orbitz.com, Getaroom.com, or Hotels.com to read more reviews.  The nice part about these sites is that the reviews are from folks who have actually used the booking site and stayed in the hotel (the website sends an email invitation to review the hotel after the stay is over).   I also double check prices on several of these sites to make sure I've found the lowest one.  You can sometimes save a bundle by booking the hotel along with airfare on one of these sites.  A few years ago I saved around $500 dollars on a trip to Mexico by doing this!  Check airfares on Kayak.com to see if you're actually getting a deal.

4. Based on all your research, make a list of your top two or three hotels (just in case your first choice isn't available). Then, visit your top hotels' company websites (e.g. Marriott.com, Hilton.com, etc.) to check if they have lower prices.

5.  Once you've found the hotel you want at the lowest price, book your room! You will usually want to book on the site where you found the lowest price, but always make sure to read the fine print regarding fees, taxes, and cancellation/change policies before you book.  Some people swear that booking directly with your hotel gets you better service, but I haven't always found that to be true.

Do you have a strategy for choosing a hotel?  What are your favorite trip planning resources?  Please share! :-)

Want to view some excellent travel tips?  Head over to Travel Tip Tuesday at Suitcases and Sippy Cups or Walkingon Travels!