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What if there was a checklist of hotel booking tips that could save you from getting lousy accommodations? Even seasoned travelers can be misled by pretty pictures and glowing reviews on hotel booking sites.
According to online reviews, the motel I selected in Oceano, CA was “warm, clean, friendly” and “conveniently located, not too far from the beach and coastal scenic route.” Professional photos showed a cheery yellow 2-story building and spacious rooms with granite-counter bathrooms.
When I pulled into the parking lot, there was no lobby, just a Plexiglas drive-thru window. An older gentleman beckoned me into a tiny office that reeked of his bare feet. Instead of “warm, clean, and friendly,” the motel was dark, creepy, and smelly.
Lucky for me, I reserved it with Booking.com’s pay later options, and hightailed it out of there. Prevent this grizzly experience with my best tips for getting the best hotel deals.
Online Hotel Booking Tips
1.) Get local advice.
Ask a friend, the visitor’s bureau, or your favorite travel blogger for hotel recommendations.
2.) Check TripAdvisor rankings.
Knowing the top-ranked luxury or boutique lodging (or whatever category appeals to you) gives you a point of reference for comparing what is available.
3.) Compare search engines.
Consider using the TripAdvisor, Expedia, and Hotwire trifecta. One gives hotel rankings and reviews, the second shows availability, while the third lists the cheapest options.
Compare findings to what’s available on your favorite hotel loyalty program, plus it pays to check the hotel site for special offerings.
Check our hotel booking sites list, some search engines are better for finding accommodations outside of the US. While others might be better for vacation rentals or other special requests.
4.) Realize that star ratings are subjective.
I’ve often used Hotwire.com to book rooms of a certain star-rating value when I wasn’t particular about the specific hotel. That usually works out fine, except that I’ve learned to ask for higher-rated digs. Their 4-star hotel sometimes turns out to be what I (and other travel websites) would rate 3 stars.
5.) Deep dive into the reviews.
Do go through the reviews on hotel booking sites, digging until you’ve gathered a good sampling. Seek out specific details–firm bed, thin walls, etc.–rather than empty superlatives; consider looking for special amenities such as hotels that offer free drinks.
6.) Take reviews with a grain of salt.
Given the prevalence of fake reviews and the likelihood that the same reviews will appear on multiple search engines, don’t believe everything you read. Generally, assume that a hotel won’t be as bad or as awesome as they say.
7.) Loyalty has its rewards.
Before you book, keep in mind that you may forgo member rewards–including points accrual–when you use a hotel booking site. Sometimes members get better deals and better rooms booking directly, or even by phone.
8.) Know your bottom line.
If you know you won’t be happy without turndown service, don’t settle for anything less than a 5-star hotel. But if you do reserve a 2-star motel, don’t complain when there’s no complimentary water bottle.