Fitness, LIFESTYLE, TRAVEL

CHOOSING THE RIGHT HOTEL FOR YOU!

The Alvear Palace in Buenos Aires

I think it’s pretty clear by now that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE a great hotel. The more cushy and blingy, the better AND, if there happens to be a butler….I’m in Heaven!

But, for my little Diva Missy K, a giant pool is equally important. Rocks, a walk in entrance and numerous waitstaff for those “still in the water” malts or sundaes are equally important.

I think you get the idea. Hotels are a very individual decision. And, finding the one that best fits your family and location is mandatory.

Choosing the right hotel is always challenging, and with the enormous number of promotions, deals and programs out there, it can be pretty overwhelming. It doesn’t help that these days most hotels have Web sites full of stunning photos and slick promotional copy that make you believe you’ll be bathed in luxury as soon as you step foot into the lobby. How can you tell if a hotel will live up to its own hype — and, more importantly, if it’s the right hotel for you?

Since every traveler has different needs when searching for a hotel, you’ll need to ask yourself what’s most important to you. Whether you’re looking for a great deal, a great location or a great B&B, we’ve broken down the hotel selection process to make it easier for you to find the best hotel for your trip.

WHAT ARE YOUR “MUSTS”?

Before looking at properties, ask yourself what type of accommodation you want and what your budget will permit. Is location more important than price, or are you limited to hotels under $150 a night? Do you need a hotel with a spa and fitness center, or would you rather stay at a small property with lots of local charm?

Once you’ve decided on your top priority, then you can make a more targeted search. Following are the most common factors in choosing a hotel, as well as tips for finding properties that suit each particular need.

Price: Nearly every major booking engine gives you the option to sort your results by price. Don’t limit yourself to the big three (Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz) — you should also pay a visit to other sites like Kayak.com, Booking.com and Hotels.com.

Tip: Use the booking engines to see what’s available and test rates at the properties you’re interested in, and then go straight to the hotel’s Web site to book directly — most hotels guarantee you the lowest rate when you book on their site, and will match a lower price you find elsewhere.

MY FAVORITE: When traveling, I like to use my “secret weapon” ….. Lance Stamps from classictravel.com. His direct line is: 888 212 6444. His knowledge of properties is extensive and his taste is impeccable. You can count on being very, very pleased when you check into a property he helps you select!

If price is your driving concern, you may want to try bidding on Priceline.com, where you won’t see the name of your hotel (only the star rating) until you’ve actually booked it. Another useful site to try is Tingo.com, which will automatically rebook you and refund your money if the rate at your hotel drops after you’ve booked.

Location: All the major booking sites allow you to view search results on a map so you can see which ones are right on the beach or in the neighborhoods you prefer. Most also have the extra capability of searching for and mapping a hotel in relation to a particular point of interest, such as Times Square or the San Diego Zoo. Good old-fashioned guidebooks are another useful source for finding hotels in a certain location, as hotels are often listed by neighborhood and plotted on a city map.

MY TIP: The neighborhood issue can be HUGE in foreign countries. This is where someone like Lance is crucial. Be sure the hotel is not going to be in the middle of a “transitional” area before you get there with your littles.

THE EXPERIENTIAL LOCATION: If you’d rather avoid the big chains, you’re good to go — there are many B&B’s, inns and small independent hotels that don’t appear on the major booking engines. However, finding them can take a little time. For a roundup of non-hotel lodging, including everything from vacation rentals to monasteries, see Ditch the Hotel: 10 Alternative Ways to Stay. And if you’re looking for something truly different — like a treehouse or a cave hotel — take a browse through UnusualHotelsoftheWorld.com.

MY TIP: Ask those friends / neighbors who travel extensively. Especially helpful if you want something truly different. They will know of a contact with whom you can communicate. They will also know about “special” things or permits you may need.

GOODIES: Most of the major hotel booking engines allow you to specify certain amenities when you’re searching, such as a fitness center, swimming pool or restaurant. Travelocity makes the process easier by allowing you to compare up to four hotels side by side so you can easily weigh such factors as star ratings, amenities, rates and room types. I like to read the reviews. I also like to consult with those world travelers online…..someone like the Luxury Traveler or Flyer Talk.

LUXURY: If you’re looking for a truly upscale and distinctive place to stay, you’ll find the creme de la creme in groups like the Leading Hotels of the World, the Five Star Alliance and Boutique Hotels & Resorts International. Again, Classic Travel (Lance) has this category MEMORIZED. He will ALWAYS give you the inside info on the level of luxury you can expect!

CLUB LEVEL LOUNGE

HOTEL CLUBS AND LOYALTY PROGRAMS: If you travel a lot or if you’re a member of a frequent flier program, it may be worth your while to join a hotel loyalty program. Not only can you earn points toward a future hotel stay, but you may also be able to accumulate airline miles if your hotel is partnered with your frequent flier program. Check your hotel or airline Web site to see a list of qualifying partners. Many programs also allow you to redeem points for other purchases, such as cruises, car rentals and entertainment.

THE “LITTLES”: If you’re bringing the kids / grand kids, you’ll want to check for both special deals and family-friendly policies. Your first stop for family hotel and resort reviews should be : FamilyVacationCritic.com. For bargains, check out Family Vacation Critic’s family travel deals.

THE REAL DEAL:

Very few of us book a hotel these days without checking out reviews written by fellow travelers on sites like TripAdvisor, Booking.com and other booking sites. This is where you can read other travelers opinions about how friendly the staff is, how clean the rooms are and whether the Wi-Fi actually works (without standing on your head in the shower or out on the bluff).

Many review sites also allow users to post photos of their hotel — which are usually more realistic and less glamorous than the professional snapshots you’ll see on the hotel’s own Web site. Another good source of unfiltered photos: Oyster.com, whose eye-opening Photo Fakeouts contrast marketing photos with candid shots of what the hotel really looks like. This is almost always eye-opening!

Of course, it’s always a good idea to take traveler reviews with a certain degree of skepticism. Overly fawning reviews may actually have been written by hotel employees in disguise, while some negative reviews may come from super-fussy travelers who simply have an ax to grind. But despite the occasional misleading review, most traveler ratings are an honest, unbiased and invaluable resource when deciding between hotels.

GOOD OLD SCHOOL PHONE CALLS TO LOCATION:

These days you can do most of your research on the Internet, but sometimes it still pays to pick up the phone. Calling a hotel directly, rather than dialing a chain’s main 800 number, might get you a room at the last minute or during peak travel times.

National reservations desks often have a cap on the number of rooms they can fill at any given hotel, with the rest left to the hotel’s own staff. Those working at the front desk have a better sense of the hotel’s capacity and will be more likely to check for cancellations or no-shows. Whomever you call, having a list of prepared questions will help you. Avoid calling in the morning or mid-afternoon, when front desks are busiest. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Does one side of the hotel have a better view or less noise?
  • Is the hotel near public transportation?
  • Is there a restaurant, and is breakfast included in your rate? The “Club Room Level” is a great option…check to see if your hotel has this option. Or, if the travel club you belong to affords this option.
  • How far is the hotel from the beach/theater/meeting/convention center/highway?
  • How safe is the neighborhood?
  • What is the hotel’s cancellation policy? Is there any flexibility should you need to cancel or your flight is late?
  • Does the hotel offer smoking/nonsmoking rooms? Do they allow smoking anywhere in the hotel as you can still smell it if you are a non-smoker?
  • What are the hotel’s environmental policies? Are there amenities or do you need to pack them? How are the towels? Is the staff responsive to additional needs? I am a towel hog and water hoarder…..the struggle is REAL!
  • What facilities are there for the disabled?

If you are overseas or in a bed and breakfast, ask if there are shared bathrooms or showers, and how many there are per room. This point makes me sweat! But, I have heard some terrifying stories about foreign hotels that ask you to “relieve yourself in a hole in the ground”…..just sayin’. Also, ask about air-conditioning and where to make meal arrangements. Keep in mind that if you’re not dealing with a known chain, user ratings and guidebook reviews are suddenly even more important — and you should always ask about special packages and rates.

I’ve covered just the basics here……feel free to reach out and ask if you have specific sites or locations in mind. We will do our best to share our information.

Travel safely and most importantly, ENJOY! Life is short – it’s never too early for Champagne!

xo,

Rosanna (The Travel Obsessed)

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