We’ve all done it, haven’t we? You walk through the hotel doors, it all seems smaller than you’d expected for this price – a lot smaller – and the ever so slightly bored receptionist checks you into a cramped room that overlooks the delivery area. There’s a thin layer of dust on the bedside lamp, the stiff curtains smell faintly of smoke and the TV only has four channels. But it was a tiring journey, you’ve already rummaged in your suitcase and, although the bed feels a bit hard, well – it is a bed. Yet how much nicer to walk into a welcoming Reception, open your door onto a clean, comfortable room and begin your next day after a good night’s sleep? It can still be done while on a budget! Take a look at our tips for choosing that great hotel deal online:
Searching for a British hotel? Don’t limit your search to UK websites: often American ones offer better rates. However, many US websites add sales tax onto their listed prices after selection, so take care to check this out when comparing American and UK prices.
* Cancellation Policy
The majority of hotels use your credit card details purely to secure your booking, only taking full payment once you arrive. However, occasionally some will take full payment up front – particularly if you are taking advantage of a special offer, such as ‘3 nights for the price of 2.’ Always check the cancellation policy, as these can vary considerably from one hotel to the next. Whilst many will allow you to cancel without penalty given 24 hrs notice, others charge a progressively more expensive fee.
All hotels claim to be within easy reach of everything you could possibly want – but just how accurate is their ‘five minutes to the beach’ or ‘ten minutes from all the top attractions’? Pinpoint your favoured hotel on Google Maps and request directions to places you intend to visit. How far does Google say the hotel is from them? One hotel might visually appear closer than another, but if the route is less direct, it could take longer to reach your destination.
* Arrival and departure
Check in and check out times can vary by up to two hours from one hotel to another – does your hotel of choice fit comfortably within your expected arrival and departure times? Some hotels offer early arrival and late check-out for a small additional charge. If you are not travelling by car and have time on your hands after check-out, see that your hotel of choice is prepared to store your luggage securely for a short while until you return to collect it. On the other hand, if you are looking for a prompt morning departure, some hotels offer check-out over breakfast. If you need to leave particularly early, does your hotel of choice have an ‘earlybird’ option? Missing out on the all-inclusive breakfast at your hotel makes for an added expense later on.
How controllable is the room temperature? Is there a thermostat, fan, windows that open more than four inches? If you are travelling somewhere hot or humid, air conditioning could be a key consideration. Similarly, if you are travelling to a colder climate (and particularly if selecting an older property) check out double glazing and thickness of curtains.
A good night’s sleep is paramount. Whilst great for getting you to/from the hotel, remember that key road networks come at a price: how likely are you to be disturbed by early morning traffic? Staying in a city centre is wonderful for visiting the central attractions, but how close are you to late night clubs and bars? If you do find it more convenient to stay in a busy location, request a room facing away from the main road. Wherever your choice, avoid being allocated a room close to the hotel’s public areas.
Consider how you will be arriving. Is your hotel of choice as close to the station/airport/motorway as it claims to be? Check Google Maps. If travelling by car, make careful note of the parking arrangements. Whilst at most hotels this is free and plentiful (accompanied by the caveat of ‘first come, first served’), some impose a charge. Never automatically assume that parking is available – occasional ones have none at all, leaving you to seek out the nearest 24 hr public car park and take overnight charges into account.
* Family Travel
How ‘family friendly’ is your hotel of choice? Does it offer a children’s menu at discounted prices? Independently check the distance to nearby suitable attractions. Does the hotel have a secure play area? If you are staying for a number of days, how about a pool? If the sleeping arrangements involve a cot or roll-out bed, consider how this might impact on overall space and freedom of movement.
Breakfast is not always included in the price. Some bookings, particularly those on special offer, come as ‘room only.’ If you would like breakfast and it is not included, check the cost – it could be less expensive to eat nearby. Again, checking Google Maps can help you here. It may be that you prefer not to eat breakfast at all, in which case search for a hotel offering ‘room only’ rates.
Make a tick-list of the facilities that are particularly important to you and check them against what the hotel offers. Consider everything from the beds to those little extras. Maybe 20 channels on the TV are more important to you than a pillow menu? Perhaps there is only a shower room – great for a refreshing start to the day, but no good if you were looking forward to a relaxing bath after that long drive. There may be wireless internet access, but is it free? And are you paying inflated prices just for ‘complementary’ custard creams, newspapers and the option of fresh milk?
Those most in the know are the guests, so always read review websites, such as Trip Advisor, for posts about your favoured hotel BEFORE you book. Look closely at the statistics – yes, 90% of guests might say they would definitely stay there again, but what if there have only been five reviews posted in the past year?
Finally, when you return, remember to help others by posting a review yourself – well, if you’d read about that hotel at the top of this article, would you have chosen it?