Before you even start looking at hotels, make a list of the things you want to do/see and start plotting on a map (I usually use Google Maps).
If I am going to a popular city and plan to visit all the tourist landmarks, the website A View on Cities is also good. Here’s a look at their Paris map. The red stars indicate the most popular sites, followed by red dots, and then blue dots as the least popular tourist destinations.
As you’re looking at your landmarks, you will start to see a pattern/general area you will be during your days. Since our trips are usually short, we like to stay in the area we plan to spend most of our time. That way, we aren’t wasting time getting to where we want to be. Of course, this will impact your budget but we have found it is worth spending a little bit more on the hotel to balance out the transport costs. Oh, and if you want to avoid staying in touristy areas, that is another way to look at it 😉
In general, I have found that the touristy areas offer the nicest hotels at competitive prices because there are more of them located here. Also, as you’re plotting your trip, keep in mind early/late arrivals/departures. You may want to stay next to the airport or train station one day to help avoid potential transportation disasters.
So now you think you know what area you want to stay in – but you’re not done researching yet. Do a quick search on the area just to make sure.
For example, search the phrase, “What area should I stay in when visiting Paris?” Read through a handful of forums/blogs from people who have been there before. If this is new to you, start with Trip Advisor or Lonely Planet – I find these sites offer the best advice. After reading these posts, you’ll quickly be able to tell if the area you thought you wanted to stay in really is a good fit for you and the type of vacation you want to have.
- Welcome Rewards: Since my sole purpose of using hotels.com is getting rewards make sure the hotel participates in the program indicated by ‘Collect Welcome Rewards.’ Some hotels don’t redeem them, but if you haven’t earned the free night yet, that’s less important.
- Location: The best feature about this website is that you can search for hotels by landmark/ neighborhood. For example, if you want to stay by the Eiffel Tower, select that area and compare results based on distance.
- Star Ratings/Price: I always start with 4 and 5 star hotels that fall in our price range BUT some places are just more expensive than others, e.g. Rome, Paris, London, Amsterdam…so then I include 3 stars. I can almost always find hotels in our price point in the location we want – and we aren’t huge spenders. I would rate us about $$, not the cheapest (hostels coming in at $) and not the most expensive (like The Four Seasons $$$$$) – we’re somewhere in the middle.
- *Guest Rating/Comments: A very important feature and more important than star ratings. Do not ignore this. I NEVER book anything below a 3.5 rating and I aim for a 4-5 rating. When reading the comments, make sure you read them from all countries. I have noticed that Americans are a bit more critical than other countries so you want to make sure you get a good sample of guests. This also helps you prepare for things you might not have thought of, like when someone says, “Yikes. It’s located down a dark alley” or whatever. Also, look at the number of comments, if the rating is 4.8 and there are thousands of comments, it must be a good spot 🙂 Not to mention, travelers are really good about commenting on the actual location of the hotel. If it really is in a great location, you’ll know by reading the comments.
- Photos: Yes, the photos are important BUT don’t base your choice only on this. Some hotels have the money to hire professional photographers and others don’t. That’s life. If the place doesn’t look like the photos, it will be written in the comments. Another good reason to read them.
- Features: What’s important to you? Free WiFi? Breakfast included? Of course, this list changes based on what the “goal” of your vacation is. Are you going to Greece for a beach vacation and want a sea view with balcony? Or, are you driving through Germany and want to make sure you have free parking? I also always just double check that the following are at least mentioned: hair dryer (if yours isn’t from Europe, it probably won’t work), air conditioning (in summer), private bathroom (don’t assume) and bed size (two twin beds are popular, if you hate this idea you should know to look).
- Refunds: This is important if there is a chance your trip could get cancelled. Some hotels have free cancellation and others don’t. Sometimes, you can pay a little bit more for free cancellation. If this is important to you, make sure you check this before booking.
- Payments: Less important to me personally, but usually you have to pay at the time of booking through hotels.com. However, there are some hotels that let you pay when you check out. This payment would be in the country’s currency and if you’re paying by card you could get hit with extra costs from your bank for completing the transaction. Just something to keep in mind.
Step 5: Make Your Choice!