When booking a hotel in an overseas location, the three factors that I focus on are price, location, and comfort. It is very easy to fall down a rabbit hole in researching accommodations (especially with even more options with home-renting sites like Airbnb). Over the years, I have established a system that doesn’t take up too much of my time, but also helps me find a great place to stay that meets all my needs and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.
One note: my thoughts below are geared towards booking a hotel. Obviously, there are many other options out there including Airbnb, hostels, couch-surfing, and even house-sitting that are available to fellow travelers depending on your needs.
1. Price compare effectively
I first like to use Booking.com to start my search, because they have an excellent concentration of reviews and filters. You can choose your price range, proximity to a certain area, and even the type of trip that you’re going on (e.g. couples, family, business). I find that anything with an 8.0 aggregate score and above is usually great. Once I’ve narrowed down the options, I do a cross-check with TripAdvisor. I look at the latest reviews and see which one I am most comfortable with.
A note on reviews: I find it really helpful to look at the latest reviews (rather than the highest-rated ones which tend to pop up first), as you may discover important things that would factor into your decision. For instance, the latest reviews may alert you that there is ongoing construction at the pool, or a section of the resort is under maintenance, or the standards of the hotel have gone downhill recently. Reviews also contain helpful tips such as how guests arranged airport transfer to the hotel, the food options nearby, things to do, etc.
I also look at whether the hotel comments back on reviews. In my experience, a hotel that makes the effort to respond constructively to feedback (good or bad) is a hotel that prioritizes customer service, and good customer service will go a long way in making sure that you enjoy your stay. Customer service will save you big bucks when something goes awry. For instance, if someone has included in a review that the staff at the hotel went out of their way to return a lost item, you can gauge that in general, they are more willing to work with you rather than against you.
2. Book direct or ask for a price match
Hotel aggregators like Booking.com, Agoda, and TripAdvisor are helpful to narrow down options, but the final check is to see if the hotel itself offers a better rate. I tend to book directly if I’m going on a short trip and only staying at one hotel and the website offers a cheaper rate. However, if I’m going on a long trip that involves several hotel changes and different cities, I find that using Booking.com is more effective because of their flexibility in last-minute changes and their customer service support. Booking.com also offers a price-match, so if you find somewhere else advertising for cheaper, you can call them and they will do a price-match.
3. Check for corporate rates and rewards programs
Many companies offer employees corporate rates. I find this the most useful for expensive cities like London, Copenhagen, or Singapore, and especially where you need a booking urgently and have missed the boat on early-bird prices. It may also make economic sense to join rewards programs. For instance, Starwood Preferred Guest (which has 11 hotel brands in nearly 100 countries) allows you to collect and redeem points as well as unlock exclusive rates.
4. Look out for hidden pitfalls, and calculate the real cost
A fabulous room for dirt cheap? Some common pitfalls I’ve seen include rooms with no windows and a lack of heating in the winter or cooling in the summer. When a deal is too good to be true, you may wish to take a closer look at the fine print. I also like to look at the “real life” pictures that users upload to Tripadvisor to get a more accurate view of what the hotel and rooms look like. One man’s treasure may be another’s poison. A hotel that is highly-rated for families would likely be less suitable for business trips or for couples on their honeymoon.
It is also very helpful to look at Google maps and the street view to find your hotel’s location ahead of time. This is particularly helpful if you plan to take public transport from the airport to your destination. I have stayed in boutique hotels located in hidden alleyways, and without GPS in a foreign country with a foreign language, it may be tricky to find the location (and even more so if your flight arrives in the evening!). Finally, factor in costs like transport from the airport, internet costs (not all hotels have free wifi), breakfast (I tend to skip unless it’s an amazing deal, otherwise I go for local cuisine outside the hotel), and parking costs (if applicable).
5. It never hurts to ask
Especially if you are going to a foreign country where things might work very differently from your home country, it really never hurts to ask the hotel for help. For instance, in a country where you don’t speak the language, it is helpful to ask the concierge to ask them to call the restaurant and make a reservation on your behalf. Another tip on concierge services is that hotels often have tie-ins with restaurants/spa places/tour agencies and recommend all their guests to go to the same companies. In order to avoid “tourist-trap” situations like these, it is always a good idea to do a bit of research ahead of time.
Also, if you have a special occasion, leave a note when you are booking your hotel. Hotels are usually happy to throw in a few special surprises and you may even get an upgrade. You can also request for late checkouts ahead of time and a quiet or non-smoking room if you prefer.
Ally G. updates her beauty blog regularly with product reviews and recommendations. She spends an abnormal amount of time browsing cat memes on the internet and channels the rest of her creative energy in writing dystopian fiction available on Amazon.
Image via Unsplash