Following on my travel theme, I’ll share my tips for the other major part of a vacation – where to stay.
i mentioned in my post on road trips, that for traveling across the US, there really is no need to plan it all out in advance (except possibly the weekends during a busy travel time). We would arrive in a city, find some free wifi at a coffeeshop or fast food place, and use a combination of http://www.hotwire.com and http://www.tripadvisor.com to find a hotel. Sometimes I would book the hotel the night before if we knew where we were heading the next day.
The number of hotel booking sites and options have exploded since we started going on road trips. Now there are a number of great comparison sites. Tripadvisor used to only provide reviews but now they provide rate comparisons too! This really saves time and work. I am tripadvisor’s number 1 fan! I can say that I have never been surprised by a hotel because I take the time to read through a number of reviews. Just watch for people that complain about things that are out of control of the hotel. You’ll also see that hotels respond to reviews. If you see a bad review, read the response to see the other side of the story. Try for hotels with 90% or higher approval rate. Between 80% and 90% you should still be ok, but anything below 80% is a risk.
Other good hotel booking sites. Trivago is another good comparison site, and I find Hotels.com tend to have good prices. Sites like Expedia and Hotwire make you pay the full cost of the booking upfront and there is no option to cancel. http://www.booking.com has options to book now and pay later and the ability to cancel for free. I have never had an issue with paying upfront, but for my upcoming trip I tried to avoid it because I am booking so far in advance. If you do book through a site where you have already paid, the hotel will still ask for a credit card for incidentals. If you don’t use the phone, mini-bar, movies while you’re there, they don’t charge anything.
When you’re choosing a hotel, know your hotel preferences. For me it’s a comfortable bed, free breakfast and wifi. I am not a neat freak and really don’t care if there is some dust on a shelf. Obviously a dirty bathroom is unacceptable but my standards are not as high as some of the reviews I’ve read. I know people who are fine with hostels. We primarily stay in 3 star hotels. With 4 stars I find the public areas to be more opulent and the beds to be a bit better, but they also ding you at every opportunity; you usually have to pay for wifi, and the breakfast is outrageously priced. Even when I travel for business, I rarely eat breakfast at a 4 star hotel. They also charge for parking, and some even go as far as forcing you to use valet parking. Occasionally it’s a treat to stay at a swanky hotel, but I don’t find them good value for my travel dollars.
If possible, try to find a bed and breakfast. These really add to the travel experience because the hosts are usually very friendly people that have great advice. Also the breakfast is excellent! I know I have a thing for breakfast but I find if we eat a good breakfast, we usually only eat one other big meal in a day, which keeps our budget down.
My last tidbit is on the mystery bookings that hotwire offers. I have done it a number of times and it’s always worked out well. You just have to know the area you are ok with (in more expensive cities, sometimes we’ll opt to stay out near the airport because the hotels are a lot cheaper and just drive in). They give you an approval or recommendation rating. If you stick to over 90%, you’ll get a good hotel. My only complaint was the last time I used this with a Vegas hotel, I didn’t save any money. The amount they charged me was the same as it would have been if I had booked with the hotel. Hotwire lists the prices for regular hotel bookings, so check those before you select a mystery hotel to compare prices. Otherwise, we have gotten some great deals including a 4 star in downtown Toronto for $90/night (of course we had to pay for parking and internet on top of that, but still a good deal). This photo is the view from the patio at the W hotel in Fort Lauderdale, which was another 4 star treat and one of our favourite hotels