Searching for hotels is probably my least favorite part of travel planning. It’s tedious sorting through an endless list of similar-sounding hotels, and not nearly as exciting as planning out all the fun activities we’re going to do and sights we’re going to see. So to make things a little easier, over the years Andy and I have come up with a system to choose hotels that works pretty well for us.
Choose hotels that match your criteria
After filling in the destination and travel dates, I narrow down the list with our criteria for a hotel. Each hotel site is a little different, but we use Booking.com, so I’ll use their site as an example.
First, I go down the side and check the boxes to indicate what I’m looking for. I almost always check 8+ for guest rating, though in places with fewer options, I’ll go down to 7+. WiFi is a must, so I check that box as well. If it’s a big city with lots of options, I’ll narrow things down by price, but usually I leave that open. Booking also has an option to show sold out hotels, and it defaults to this, which I find strange, so I uncheck that box.
It helps to know exactly what you’re looking for in a hotel. If it’s important to you to have a pool or free breakfast, check those boxes so you don’t even have to look at hotels that don’t meet your criteria. It seems like such a simple thing, but you’ll spend way too much time looking through hotels you don’t want to book if you don’t fill out the filters.
Location is important
Too many times, we have ended up staying too far from the center or too far from the activities and sights we were interested in, all in the name of saving a few bucks. It’s usually not worth the savings. You have limited time on your vacation, so losing some of it to transit time gets old real fast.
Open the map view and look at where the hotels are located in relation to the center of the city and the main attractions. I’ll usually open Google maps at the same time so I can search around for things Booking’s map doesn’t show.
If you’ll be using public transportation, check to see how close the hotel is to a metro or bus stop. It’s worth looking up the website for the transit system to see which lines run to the places you want to go and how they connect to the stops near your hotel.
Poke around on Google maps, including street view, to see what’s nearby. Is there a strip club next door? Maybe you don’t want to stay there. Or maybe you do, that’s your business. Do you like to buy snacks to keep in your room? See if there’s a grocery store nearby. Are there restaurants within a few blocks of the hotel? Again, the map is your friend.
Check for amenities
As you start looking at the specifics of each hotel, keep in mind which amenities are important to you. I don’t like to travel with my hair dryer, so I always look to see if the hotel has one. And I know that this is more important in some locations or in certain weather conditions, so sometimes I don’t care if the hotel doesn’t have one.
Ignore the things that aren’t important to you. If you always bring your own toiletries, don’t worry about whether or not the hotel provides shampoo.
Read the fine print about WiFi. Some hotels say the have WiFi, but at the bottom of the listing it says it’s available for a fee or only free for an hour a day or only available in the common areas. What’s important to you?
Read the hotel reviews
If the hotel looks good, I always move on to the reviews. Reading about the experiences of past customers is important and can give you information the hotel’s description leaves out. Maybe there are a lot of reviews about the street noise or some other problem that would make you not want to stay there.
But again, ignore things that aren’t important to you. I often see reviews where people complain about the TV only having a handful of channels, but I never watch TV in hotels when I travel, so I ignore those reviews.
Don’t forget to read between the lines. If someone is complaining about the hotel not having an elevator, think about where the hotel is. Is it a 500 year old building in the old town of a European city? In that case it’s not really reasonable to expect an elevator, and similar hotels nearby probably won’t have one either.
I also try not to let one bad review outweigh a bunch of good reviews. It was probably just a fluke.
You really can keep searching for the perfect hotel forever. It can drive you batty.
Instead, open a few at a time and kick out any that don’t meet your criteria or just don’t sound or look good. Once you have a few that fit what you’re looking for, pick one. There’s no reason to keep looking if you’ve already found something that has what you want, is in the right location, and is in your price range.
Why I use Booking.com
I’ve been using Booking.com for years to search for and book hotels. I like how their site functions and how many options there are to filter and sort through the hotels. And they’re constantly updating the options. Just recently they started showing a “free WiFi” box you can select to narrow down the hotels.
Another great thing about Booking.com is the Genius discounts. Since we have a account, they’ll show us special discounts only available to customers with five or more bookings.
For example, often hotels will list one price for a non-refundable booking and a higher price for bookings with free cancellation. While booking a hotel recently, that price difference disappeared once we logged in, so we were able to book the free cancellation option at the non-refundable price.
We’ve also had good experience with their customer service, although to be honest, we haven’t had to contact them much. But last year when we were in Guatemala, we ended up in a hotel that was so bad, we left after one night despite booking four nights. The manager didn’t speak English, and I couldn’t explain well enough in Spanish, so we simply handed over our key and checked out.
When we explained the situation to Booking, they were able to deal directly with the hotel. They got us a refund on the three nights we didn’t use, which was quite a relief.
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