As promised, here are my secrets for finding a great hotel room online. These time-tested tips have been closely guarded until now – so get ready to travel like Miss Expatria!
We’ll use Paris, France as an example.
First, I go to Wiki Travel. This is just like Wikipedia, but with a focus on each city from a traveler’s perspective. It gets my head into the game and gives me an idea of where I should be staying in the city.
Then I go to Expedia. This gives me a rough indication of what to expect in terms of hotel prices and styles for the city of my choice. I check out the hotels using the map feature, so I can get an even better idea of the areas of town I should be looking in. I don’t love Expedia for booking, but that’s just me; I tend to find better deals elsewhere. However, I do keep the Expedia page up for double checking, so don’t click away from it!
My next stop is Venere. You can use your favorite hotels website, but if you don’t know about Venere, bookmark it now! I click on “Paris” on the main page, and 757 hotels come up. Yikes.
At this point, I choose the “Find hotels on a map” option – it makes my choice easier, because an important rule is: LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION. Don’t choose a hotel based on price alone – you’ll be miserable and since the cheapest hotels are usually located in the sticks, it will wind up costing you more to get to where all the action is.
Now, for Paris, I love the 1st, 5th, 6th, and 7th arrondissements. (This is how people refer to these neighborhoods, for the most part – if you wanted to know which arrondissement a certain place is, check out the postal code of that place – it’ll end in the arrondissement number.) I’m going to start in the 1st. Click!
OK, that gives me 37 hotels – MUCH better. Again, this is why I love Venere – I’m a map fiend, and you get a map close-up at the top, with the map overview on the right, so you always know where you are. Right below the maps is where you can choose how to sort the hotels. At this point, I go by price – there is no point in looking at an awesome hotel only to find it’s a kabillion dollars a night. This depresses Miss Expatria and sends her into her Bratty Princess mode, which should always be avoided. I also have gone by star rating at this point, which can produce roughly the same results.
Alright, now we’ve got a working list. The first thing I look at is the price – again, no use in getting one’s hopes up. The 1st arrondissement is pricey – the Chanel store is here, darlings – so I’m not freaking out that the first one is already 89 Euros a night. In a major city in northern Europe, that is probably the minimum you’re going to find, so get over it now. Sure, you can bare-bones it at a hostel or other place, but you’re an adult, and you’re going to be in Paris – bite the bullet and pay the bucks.
If the price is right, I glance quickly at the star rating, but I don’t let it rule my life. In choosing a hotel, once I’ve settled on location and price range, the single most important factor for me are PHOTOS. Let’s take a look at that first hotel to illustrate my point – Hotel Saint-Honoré.
Once I click on the hotel’s page, I go straight for the photos. This hotel has two photos – one of the reception and one of what I can only believe is their finest room.
The reception photo has several red flags in it – the desk on the right is smashed into the seating area, and is of poor quality. There’s no warmth in the room – no rugs, no color. The lighting above the reception desk is actually OK – you want to avoid any strip fluorescent lighting. It’s also a plus that it opens out onto the street – many one-star hotels are on a single floor in a larger building, which just sucks. But, the overall effect of this photo is sadness.
Now, onto the room photo. The framed picture on the wall is just sad, and shows they’re cheap because there should be a print above each bed. The phone on the wall is tacky. The room is painted stark white – no character. The single running headboard with connected night-stand tells me they are using the cheapest materials available. Also, there is no bedside lamp, just the two on the wall above the beds. The bedspreads look worn and thin – I don’t want to crawl into those beds at the end of a perfect day. And the use of the flash makes it look like a crime scene, and tells me there is probably no view and little natural light.
But, this is a one-star hotel – so I was not expecting anything grand. Go back to the browser window that lists all the hotels in this neighborhood. Let’s skip down past the one-stars to the Hôtel Du Cygne. I chose this one because the tiny thumbnail photo shows potted plants at the front door – a nice touch. And 115 Euro ain’t bad for Paris! Let’s go to the photos!
Outside shot – cute. It looks like a happy place. Rooms – ADORBS! Coordinated colors, fresh look, unusual room shapes – all pluses. I can see from the furniture placement that space is going to be tight – but I might be able to overlook that due to the cuteness. The TV mounted to the wall and the wall-sconces-as-only-lighting remind me it’s still only a two-star – but it’s obvious they take pride in making each room have its own character. BONUS POINTS – beamed ceiling in one photo, and the one thing that gets me every time: SUNLIGHT STREAMING ONTO THE BED. I have chosen between two hotels based on this single factor, more than once. It just makes me happy – and it also tells me that they took some time to plan the photos, as opposed to sending up the maid with a digital camera. They’re savvy and they want to make a good impression – two good things in a hotel.
At this point I check out customer reviews to see if the photos are a lie, or if there were any hellatious experiences – but I weight them as a whole. I like these reviews! I implore you to ignore any bad reviews about hotel breakfast prices – this should never come as a shock to an experienced traveler. Also, what are you doing having breakfast in the hotel, if it’s not free? YOU’RE IN PARIS – GET OUT OF THE HOTEL AND HAVE A CROISSANT.
This hotel has definite possibilities, so I scroll back up to the top, copy the name of the hotel, and paste it into Google. Naturally, there are a bunch of hits – but I am looking for the hotel’s personal website. Bingo!
Looking for, and at, a hotel’s personal website is important. First off, if they don’t have one – don’t stay there. It shows a distinct lack of pride in their business, and in 2007, there’s no excuse not to have one. Number two, check out the quality of the website. Does it look like it was put up in 1996 and left alone? It’s not a deal breaker, but it shows they aren’t savvy. Third, you want to check to see if their prices are better than the travel website, and if they have any special deals you can take advantage of.
I wouldn’t book this hotel immediately, because I want to see what my other options are – but I’ll definitely write down this name and keep the website open. The rates and confirmations for the hotel of your choice, you can figure out on your own – but I usually check for the hotel at other travel websites, and do a quick comparison of prices before booking at my final choice.
Two more pieces of advice. One, if there is no difference in the price, book directly with the hotel through their own website. You’ll have an advantage if you need to change or cancel, and you’ll probably get a name of an employee when they write back to confirm, which can help. And my final piece of advice is this – don’t be afraid to ask for exactly what you want. If you see from an exterior photo that there is a room with a spectacular balcony, ask for it! If you want to make sure you have one large bed and not two single beds, confirm it! If you read somewhere that a particular room is the best, make sure you get it!
OK, enough of my secrets – for now. This is how I search for a hotel room for a major vacation – next up, I want to show you the ins and outs of splurge weekends! And coming up soon, a special post about hotels I have loved, and how and why I chose them. That’ll be fun!