Wouldn’t it be great if there was just one website where you could always find the best deals, on the best hotels?
Sadly, hotel booking isn’t that simple, but from what I’ve learned, the plethora of booking and review websites out there can actually work in your favor, and if you use all of the information correctly, you can sleep like a king when you travel, even on a tight budget.
Hotel room prices change all the time which means that prices differ across different websites, and can sometimes be higher online than picking up the phone, or just showing up! And given the difference in prices that travellers will end up paying for the same room, the perception of “value” differs greatly from one person to the next and can therefore massively impact customer reviews of a property – so proceed with caution!
I’ve been taking notes and learning from my mistakes over the last few years and have come up with the following top tips which should lead you to a bit of a bargain, and hopefully help you avoid making a booking faux pas.
1. Start with the big guns.
It might seem obvious, but when you’re doing your initial search, start by getting an idea of the average price via the big players – Expedia, Google and Travelocity.
2. Look for the easy win
Compare prices on discount websites such as booking.com and hotels.com (fyi, they're all part of Expedia) as well as the specified hotels on Priceline to see if there any special offers or promotions.
3. Set up price alerts
Many sites such as Ortbitz and Travelocity will let you set up price alerts for a trip you're organising - fill out your price range, preferred location and even a hotel name if you have chosen one and they'll message you if a cheaper price becomes available. It's a bit of a lottery as the price may never go down and it may only go up, but if you're planning ahead time should be on your side and if you can be patient you might be rewarded.
4. Pick up the phone
Once you’ve completed your initial research, give the hotel a call and see if they have any special promotions on, for example they may offer the same price as the website but throw in a complimentary breakfast or transfer for going direct (you’re saving them a referral fee). Also, according to a friend of mine who works in hotel sales, those who book directly through hotel websites or are hotel loyalty members usually get first dibs on room assignments, with better views and quieter locations. Keep this in mind if the best choice of room is your key to a happy holiday and you hate being left by the ice machine.
5. Tally up ALL the fees
Booking fees, taxes, resort fees, wifi charges, breakfast, parking, electricity (yes – I have stayed in a resort which presented me with the electricity bill at the end - I hadn’t read the smallprint!) Some quotes will include some or more of these additional charges so always ask about what is included in the room price and avoid unpleasant surprises.
6. Sign up for spam and use and abuse cancellation policy’s
Non-refundable rates are usually the cheapest as they remove the risk for the hotelier of having an empty room. However for a few bucks more you can usually find a fully refundable rate which lets you play a couple of different websites off each other. I originally booked the Kempinski in Jordan on Expedia as I received a 30% off coupon when I booked my flights with them. Then, just 2 weeks before we travelled I received an email alert from Booking.com informing me that rooms at the Kempinski were 40% off! Having reviewed the relevant fees, the booking.com rate was indeed less than Expedia so I swifly cancelled on Expedia and re-booked on Booking.com :)
7. Read between the lines of reviews
As I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of factors that will influence a traveller’s review of a hotel, so it’s important to really only listen to the reviews made by those who have similar wants and needs from their accommodation as you. You can filter review results on most big websites by basic demographics eg. age, type of traveller (couple, friends, family) and time of travel. Dates are really important because you’ll be able to see whether people similar to yourself have stayed at the hotel recently, and whether the hotel often appeals to your demographic. It’s often useful to read the negative reviews, particularly if they’ve been posted recently as you may uncover timely factors such as renovations or issues with rooms positioned on a particular side of a hotel. I once ignored a review for a hotel in Rome which warned us about loud building work going on across the road - a mistake I will never make again!
8. Leave reviews
Testimonials sell and booking websites want reviews to inform future customers. Members who regularly leave reviews are ranked highly by the likes of booking.com and often they’ll pass these rankings on to hotels who will reward you with an upgrade or treat on arrival. This scenario landed us an upgrade at the Kempinski I spoke about earlier and a treatment at Strawberry Hills in Jamaica.
9. Consider a package
If you’re not planning on moving around, flight and accommodation packages can save you up to 10% on the hotel price. Incidentally flight and car hire packages often work the same way where you can actually save money on the regular cost of a flight if you book a car at your destination!
10. Use reward points
Lots of credit card and airline reward points can now be used for hotels, and the lovely thing about booking hotels, unlike flights, with points is that there are no hidden fees or taxes. The number of points required, is the number of points you’ll pay, and you won’t be charged a penny more. I’ve used most of my British Airways Avios points up this way as I find it frustratingly difficult to find reward flights available for the routes I commonly travel on.
11. Clear browsing history
Same goes for booking flights - your browser is clever and airlines and hotels capitalise on the fact that they know you're interested in them if you keep returning to a site. If you check out the same hotel over and over again you'll actually push the price up. Clear your browse history in between searches to avoid this effect and get a fair quote.
12. Follow your gut
If it doesn’t feel right, don’t book it. Booking websites, review forums, blogs, recommendations from friends – there is a LOT of information out there and it can be easy to get confused, or pushed into a decision that isn’t right for you. Only you know what you want from a holiday, so take your time and make sure you’re getting exactly what you want, at the price you want it. You shouldn’t have to compromise.
Let me know if these tips works for you and if you have any of your own tricks please share them in the comments!