Where to find the best accommodation deals, hotel room upgrades and best located stays.
Think about your preferred style
Planning to barely see the room outside sleeping hours? Then cheap, clean and central will probably do. But it’s worth thinking back to past holidays – did charming B&B owners armed with handy tips make a difference? Did the magic come with a nightcap on the balcony of a boutique joint? Were the kitchen facilities and space of an apartment a major bonus? Aim to plump for accommodation that fits the mood and purpose of the trip.
Consult a guide book
Guide book hotel recommendations can be useful – especially when gauging roughly how much you’ll have to pay for different standards of hotels. But the real gold comes with the maps – they show where the key attractions, best bars, top restaurants and main public transports stops are in relation to the hotel. A quick read through should give an idea of the best neighbourhoods to stay in – and the maps should confirm it. Digital alternatives – such as Stay.com’s app, e-book guides or Wikitravel.org – can be useful too, but they’re clunkier.
Then a hotel booking site…
With booking sites, filters are your friends. Use the filtering options (area, maximum price per night, must-have facilities such as a pool) to narrow the field. Kayak.co.uk allows you to select by ambience and Booking.com tends to have the most extensive inventory – but Hotels.com is arguably the most user-friendly. It allows users to sort hotels by distance to major landmarks, and select types such as “spa hotel”, “LGBT-welcoming” and “historic”.
Next, use the review scores as a pointer – you’ll rarely go too far wrong with anything rated above 8 on Booking.com and above 4 on Hotels.com. Look at a few potential options in further depth – the descriptions, facilities lists and photos all help give a better idea. Also use the map feature to see where the hotel is, and cross-check with the guide book.
…And at least one more
No one booking engine consistently has the best prices or most options, so get flirty and shop around. Different sites have specific geographic strengths. Agoda.com, for example, is strong on Asia, while Laterooms.com has a lot ofstock, Priceline.com gets big discounts in the US and Wotif.com is the king in .
Booking.com is a good bet for solo travellers – allowing you to sort by single room price – and Hotels.com is arguably the best of a bad bunch on family room options. Hostelworld.com is surprisingly excellent for finding guesthouses and B&Bs.
Check the hotel’s own site
Going direct once the shortlist is drawn up can pay dividends – the hotel’s own site may have sale offers, discount codes or special packages that the booking site doesn’t. If the prices are the same, it’s an open secret that hotels save better rooms (and willingness to dole out free upgrades) for direct bookings.
The hotel’s site may also have different photos and more detailed room descriptions – including square footage for a better idea of room size.
See who’s in the club
Many hotel sites and umbrella organisations have picky pre-screening procedures. Members of Preferred, The Leading Hotels of the World, Small Luxury Hotels of the World and Relais & Chateaux are almost always high quality (if not always great value). Mr and Mrs Smith, Design Hotels and Hip Hotels are good bets for more interesting, small, stylish options. Don’t book through these sites though – they rarely offer the best deals.
Ferret through customer reviews
Most major booking sites have customer reviews, as does Google’s hotel finder and Tripadvisor. Use them to cross-check your shortlisted options, although treat individual reviews with a healthy dose of scepticism – you don’t know the taste, budget and experience of the reviewer. One star and “terrible” reviews need treating with particular caution – they’re often unreasonable, swivel-eyed rants. The ‘poor’ reviews (or two out of five review on Hotels.com) are where reasonable criticism tends to be found. Certain downsides will often come up repeatedly – lack of parking spaces, slow WiFi connection, not having a bathtub, street noise etc. If these issues don’t bother you – or you’re happy to make the trade-off for the price – it’s probably a decent pick.
The strength comes in numbers – anomalies tend to iron out over hundreds of reviews. Organise by review score or customer rating. The ones near the top of the list with a heavy concentration of top mark reviews are rarely duds – although high-charm properties with lesser facilities often come in lower than they perhaps should do. Again, use the filters to get best hotels in area, best romantic hotels or best business hotels ranked in order.
Double check for extra expenses
If the facilities list doesn’t specifically say something is included (ie. Free parking, free wifi, free breakfast) it probably isn’t. Check directly with the hotel, by phone or email, if this is important to you. And – more importantly – check the price so you can factor that into the final choice.
This story was originally written for the Sunday Times Travel Magazine.
All content copyright David Whitley.