Sunday, August 23, 2009

My experiences with hotel booking sites

I shop hotels over the net regularly, and I have rarely been disappointed. I have had great and inexpensive stays on different European and US locations. When comparing the internet rate to the room rates displayed at the hotel, I have in many cases found that I have saved large sums compared to the official rate. And reassuringly - security has become increasingly better, so there are no needs to hesitate. Skip the phone, book over the net and save money!

Internet booking is a win-win both for the hotel and the customer. Many hotels will give you a discount if you choose to book over their internet site. Even better is that many hotels sell a number of low price rooms to internet booking sites. This means that you may get great deals.

Recently I checked the availability of hotel rooms in Brussels, as I am spending a weekend there in November. The site, www.hrs.de, offered great bargains at good hotels, but even better. The creme de la creme of Brussels hotel had put out rooms for grabs at a relatively low price.

At Brussels Hilton or at the Royal Windsor Grand Place you could get a single room for around 100 Euros. Both great hotels, with a good location. The first at the end of the trendy Avenue Louise area, and the other a stone's throw away from Grand Place, the heart of the Belgian capital. The rates are equally favourable if you decide to book directly at the hotel website. Be aware that certain conditions may apply for special offers, e.g. that reservation may be non-refundable.

But suddenly you get that particular bargain. I have booked super exclusive hotel rooms at the fraction of the going rate. If you know that you are going to a destination, I do recommend that you make your reservation there and then. I have stayed at the prestigious Roosevelt Hotel and the classy Helmsley Park Lane Hotel in New York at budget rates.

(Photo: The Venetian hotel, Las Vegas - source: Svgalbertian)
Study the conditions on each booking site carefully!

When booking, I prefer two sites, mainly as they do not charge my credit card immediately, but they will charge you in case you do not show up. Booking through www.hrs.de or www.venere.com I pay, as any other guest, i.e. when I leave. In this respect, these sites are different from many other sites, that charge your credit card when you book.

When booking through hrs or venere it is less complicated if you decide to cancel your reservation, as they will not charge you if cancellation is done 24-48 hours before you were to arrive.

Be aware that other sites may regard you booking as binding, i.e. non-refundable. The site hotwire.com, that offers special deals on hotels, cars, and flights. One of their conditions on Hotwire Travel Products Rules and Restrictions states:
All bookings are final and cannot be changed, refunded, exchanged, cancelled, or transferred to another party;
In addition to this the site will not disclose the name of hotel until booking has been finalized. You are well advised to check which conditions that apply before you book rooms on the net.
How do I know that I have booked a good hotel?

In most country hotels have stars or other rating systems that is meant to show the standard offered. Having a five star rating does however not mean that the hotel is good, rather fulfilling criteria set in the different national rating systems. A hotel may have a swimming pool, but you do not know whether it is nice or even clean. A hotel may be exclusive, but is it a nice place to stay?

So what are you to, if you do not have a clue whether the hotel of your choice is good. You may either consult sites as tripadvisor or virtual tourist, where visitors may evaluate their stay.

Hotel booking sites may also offer evaluations based on feedback from those that have returned, providing future bookers with information on the quality of their stay. These evaluation may be more reliable as the ones at sites as tripadvisor as the guests will have to rate their stays after a strict rating system.

The sites also open up for individual statements as well e.g. why they just loved the hotel they stayed in. When you have visited you hotel, you may give your account of the stay, providing future booking with valuable information.
Location important in the US

Another different question is location. The number of hotels displayed on the different cities varies from site to site.

Some sites makes it possible to restrict the search to hotels i.e. less than 5 km or miles from the city centre (where ever the centre is.) Is it Grand Place in Brussels, Westminister Abbey in London or Times Square in New York? The distance is shown as the crows fly, which means that it could be much more difficult to get to the city centre than you think, in spite of the short distance.

Others gives you a possibility to restrict the search to particular parts of the city and may be accompanied by a map where you can see the town plan. With this in front of you, you're often able to understand whether the hotel you book has a good location or not.

Some websites display a very large number of hotels, and it is often very difficult to see whether the hotel has a good location or not. Then you have to check one hotel at a time. This is vital if booking a hotel in one the larger US cities.

Without a car, you risk being stranded in a suburb with one gas station, a Dunkin' Donuts, and a motorway just outside your door. In larger US cities you are recommended booking a hotel at a good location down town. In European cities, however, you may rely on public transportation to a greater extent, and living some distance from the city centre may give you a good bargain.

(Photo: John Hancock Tower, Boston - source: Tomtheman5)

Dream on, but......

I love to shop hotel rooms over the net, looking through the websites with glossy images. You are allowed to dream, but be aware that if you pay a discount price, you will most likely not end up in that luxurious den showed on the image. As on board flights, it will be the wealthy traveler that will get the room at your dreams. Budget travelers should try to scale down their expectations, and end up pleasantly surprised if you are given that wonderful room.

As I have been surprised and it is a wonderful moment when you are allowed to get that particular hideaway at that budget price!

(Photo: Four Seasons, Miami - source: Averette)

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