Unless you're planning a vacation on a deserted island, and even if you are, chances are there are quite a few hotels vying for your business. Picking one is a process I find to be almost exhausting. If you think it ends there, you'd be wrong, once we've found the perfect hotel, which site do you use to book it?! Which rate? Here's a collection of practical ideas to ensure the best rates, the best benefits and hotels that want to make your stay perfect....
TripAdvisor: I really enjoy using TripAdvisor to weed though hotels. It's not a perfect science, every hotel has great and terrible reviews, but you want to look for general sentiment. If there are 99 great reviews and one terrible one, I'm going with the 99%. If it's more 60/40, it's probably legitimately hit or miss. TripAdvisor has upped their game in that they offer comparison booking rates from many top booking sites, and even the ability to book direct through them or the hotel. To start, I'll search hotels for the city of interest by ranking, find a couple of the highest ranked hotels in my price range and move from there...
Hotel Websites: Once I've narrowed things down, I like visiting the hotel's individual websites. You can often find any promotions, direct booking incentives and also get a greater feel for the property, perhaps even more up to date photos of the rooms and other features which can be a deciding breaker.
Comparison sites First: If you're going to miss out on benefits or better rates ignorance probably is bliss. If you like benefits and better rates ignorance is not a defense. Use comparison booking sites like Kayak, Trivago, TripAdvisor and so forth to get a general sense of rates. Remember, some rates shown exclude taxes and other charges so be sure to price out each option before booking. Once I know roughly how much value I'm getting between my short list hotels, and how much I'll likely pay for my first choice, it's time to maximize that purchase by getting the best rate with the most benefits or points. Hopefully both!
Book Direct Or Through Online Travel Agency? We're all about the points and miles, benefits, upgrades and stuff like that. Hotels don't like paying commission to sites like Expedia, Orbitz, Ebookers, etc for booking their rooms. For this reason, when you visit a direct hotel website you may be presented with bonus points, free wifi, room upgrades or food and beverage credits for booking directly with them. If the rate is the same or within a few dollars, booking direct is generally the best practice. If there are no good direct booking offers or benefits, then it's a toss up between sites that offer miles for hotel bookings such as RocketMiles, Kaligo, and PointsHound, which often have slightly inflated rates, or through the online travel agencies like Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity etc. Miles are worth serious money and given the opportunity to get the same room for plus or minus ten dollars, with up to 3,000-5,000 miles per night, I'd recommend that avenue.
Don't Forget About Credit Card If you like free stuff, before you press send on your reservation, it's always worth looking to see if one of your credit cards can save you a bundle. Visa Signature, Mastercard World Elite and certain American Express cards often have offers for a free third or fourth night. In fact, the Citi Prestige which we carry always includes a fourth free night when booking direct through the card concierge. Same rate, fourth night free every time. For more on these types of things, check out this link.
I didn't say it was easy. It's worth it though. Booking a hotel correctly is a series of checks and processes to ensure that you're getting the most benefits, the lowest rate and a property worth traveling to. Anyone have any other tips to add?
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