Planning a getaway? Then you’ll have to book a hotel room. Or maybe you prefer to rent a house or room from an individual. Both options are good and may afford you a great vacation, but there are certain things you should keep in mind when booking so you don’t get ripped off.
As the subject is long and involved, today we’ll focus on hotels, on everything I keep in mind every time I go to book accommodations for my vacations. If you follow these tips, you can save a little money and, above all, avoid some unpleasantries.
Follow the rule of 7
I suppose I’m not saying anything new when I tell you that before booking a hotel room, you must check references. Luckily, we’ve got websites such as Tripadvisor (or its Android and iOS apps), which offer outspoken traveler reviews.
An unwritten rule of mine is to make sure I don’t reserve anything below 7/10 or 70/100 points or 3 stars minimum, especially if a hotel has repeated reviews with low scores. It’s possible that a hotel has an average of 70 through many high scores and a few low ones that make its ratings go down. That being said, if negative reviews dominate, there’s a reason why.
Don’t obsess with negative comments either
This point doesn’t take away from the previous one: don’t consider every negative comment that you read in a review. There are some very fussy people (“unbelievable, there were only 6 types of juice at the breakfast buffet!”) or those who simply had a one-off bad experience (“they gave me a room with plumbing problems”). If these kinds of comments are not commonplace in reviews, don’t worry: unfortunately, that person was “jinxed” or had a bad day, but that doesn’t have to happen to you!
What’s more, even the best hotels may make one-time errors during your stay. For the most part, these cases are solvable (for example, if one day you find dirty sheets, complain to the reception desk… and you’ll see that the next ones they put on will be white and spotless!).
Carefully analyze why that room has a lower price
Alright, you’ve already used a website for comparing prices (like Trivago) to find the best hotel price. You go to the booking website and oh, surprise, there are assorted prices for the same type of room. What makes a double room with a queen-sized bed cost 60 dollars and the one below 81? Well, various factors, some obvious and others included in the “small print.”
Among the most obvious are occasional offers that hotels use to fill up on certain dates or the fact that one room is somewhat smaller than another, less illuminated, or with not-so-nice views. If these aspects don’t matter to you, go for the cheapest room! That being said, you should investigate a little further… and here is where the “small print” comes into play.
A cheaper price for a seemingly identical room may indicate a change in booking conditions. The clearest example is the right to cancellation: as a general rule, hotels don’t charge you anything if you cancel a booking before a certain date, and if you cancel with short notice, they’ll charge you only a part of it.
However, hotels also may have rooms without the right to cancellation, which means that even if you notify them in advance that you can’t make it, they’ll charge you the full booking amount. You may think nothing will go wrong, but once, to save a few measly euros, I booked a room without the right to cancellation. Just that one time (the only time in my life), I had a major setback that forced me to cancel my stay on the same day I arrived… I didn’t see those dollars ever again!
There are hotels that don’t offer the right to cancellation but do offer insurance if something happens. It usually costs a few euros and it ensures that, if you have to cancel your room, you’ll get your money back. Seriously, it’s better to lose 10 euros than a couple hundred, right?
Watch out for extra charges
For most hotels, common services are almost always covered, but not necessarily. For some hotels (increasingly fewer), you have to pay a surcharge for wifi, certain toiletries, use of hair dryers or other small fees. It’s not a lot of money, but keep that in mind when you book and, above all, don’t be surprised if the receptionist wants to charge you for them… it’s clearly indicated in your booking!
In fact, some hotels can afford to be cheaper by offering these services with extra charges. Remember that the next time you travel, maybe you can get a 3-star room for the price of a 2-star room if you bring some personal belongings from home.
Another expense to consider is the fees for some cities, which usually are about one dollar per person and day of your stay (for example, in Barcelona). This small fee (not so small, for example, if you’re a group of 4 people traveling for a week) is charged separately from your room, so it won’t show up on your receipt when you book the room… don’t be surprised when they charge you at the end of your stay!
Are included meals worth it?
For most hotels, breakfast is included, but not always. Is getting a more expensive room worth it if breakfast is included? What’s more, is it a good idea to get half board (the stay includes one meal a day, either lunch or dinner) or full board (both meals included)?
Here you’ve got to do some field work to know what the restaurant prices are like in the area you’re visiting (again, Trip Advisor does a great job) and think about what kind of trip you’d like. If your plan is to relax and not leave the hotel and its surroundings often, maybe it’s a good idea to choose half board or even full board. However, if you plan to wander throughout the city, it’s not worth returning to the hotel to eat, or if anything, only for dinner.
Regarding the prices for breakfast, half board and full board, also make sure that drinks are included. Many hotels and resorts have success claiming “meals included” but drinks aren’t included, which you must pay for at the end of your stay… They can charge you as much as 5 euros for a water or soft drink!
Keep your papers in order
The truth is that I’ve never had this problem, but I know other travelers who have: you get to a hotel, give your information and they say that your booking doesn’t show up and they don’t have a room for you, that the hotel is full… False, you booked online! That’s why it’s very important that after making a hotel reservation, you ALWAYS bring printed papers of your booking, just as this ABC article recommends: “an online booking has the same legal value as a traditional contract, so it’s important to bring the paper proof of the booking with you, as if we had contracted the hotel through an in-person agency.”
Showing this paper shouldn’t make it difficult for them to magically find a room, or return your money and find an alternative for you, in the best case. Sometimes you’ll even end up on top: if they miscalculated and there aren’t any more rooms in your category, they might give you a room upgrade at no extra cost.
Speak up, speak up, speak up
Whether before or during your stay, don’t hesitate to communicate with the hotel when you’re not sure of something. They’re there to help you. I even recommend that once you’ve made your reservation, call or send them an email as soon as possible to confirm your arrival time, since often room check-in is at a certain time, but if you notify them in advance, they’ll have the room prepared beforehand. What’s more, creating “good vibes” can even get you a room upgrade… Trying never hurt anyone!
Enjoy your stay!
As you can see, booking online is very simple, but just like “offline” life, you must always check everything you buy carefully, read the small print and don’t click “buy” until everything is in the clear. That being said… I hope you can go on vacation soon and have a delightful stay!