6 common hotel booking mistakes (and how to avoid them)
These days, it's easier than ever to book hotel accommodations. With properties offering ever-changing deals and various third-party websites touting low prices, securing a hotel room (and a discounted one, at that) is only one click away. But while the online booking process may be more convenient, many travelers still make small missteps that can end up costing them. U.S. News spoke with travel industry experts to find out what some of these common oversights are and how travelers can easily avoid these blunders the next time they make a hotel reservation.
1. Not Knowing When to Book
According to Todd Dunlap, managing director of Booking.com, Americas, there is no hard-and-fast rule for the best time to book, but anticipating the seasonality of a destination and taking into account the most popular times to make reservations can help save you money.
"People like to go to warm destinations in the winter months, so if you're targeting a highly desirable destination, it may make sense to book early. If you are going to a destination with a lot of availability it might make sense to book later," Dunlap says.
Regardless, travelers should try to avoid the most popular booking times, when rates may be more inflated. According to Trivago.com, the most popular times to book hotels are at 6 and 9 p.m. EDT on Tuesdays. (Thursday evenings are a close second.) Checking prices multiple times between Tuesday night and Sunday (the least popular day to book) may yield different, possibly lower, prices and allow you to secure the best deal.
And according to Jeanenne Tornatore, senior travel editor at Orbitz.com, you're more likely to score a discounted rate when you book a package deal that includes airfare or a rental car.
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2. Assuming You're Getting the Best Deal
While many discount booking websites say they offer the best prices, the only way to know if you're getting the best deal is to do a little comparison shopping. If you know the specific hotel you want to stay in, see if there are any promotions offered on different websites. If the hotel advertises a low price guarantee, you'll be able to price match if you find a lower rate than what the hotel is offering online. Still deciding on which property will best fit your needs? Tornatore suggests using one site to compare different hotels and room rates within your desired destination. If the hotels offer similar prices, look for which properties provide desirable amenities such as free Wi-Fi, free breakfast or free access to perks such as a fitness center or a pool.
"It's something to always look for because – at the end of the day – those are things that will cost you money, so it adds value to your stay," Tornatore says. Tornatore also points out that hotel brands and discount websites may offer extra incentives to those who book on mobile apps. In 2016, an estimated 51.8 percent of Americans who book digitally will do so with a mobile device, up by more than 10 percentage points from 2014, according to digital marketing research site eMarketer. Because of this trend, companies like Starwood Hotels & Resorts and Travelocity offer perks and discounts to entice customers to use their mobile apps.
An even simpler way to snag a deal is with a promotional code. "That's the easiest way to save money on your hotel booking. It's just like using a coupon when you go to the store," Tornatore says. Search for these codes under the "deals" or "sales" tabs on booking websites or browse websites like Groupon and LivingSocial. Conducting a quick Google search for coupons for specific hotel brands or properties will also yield results from multiple sites.
3. Overlooking the Basics
With the swift nature of online booking, sometimes basic details can be overlooked and end up costing you. A mistake like booking a room across town from where you'll be spending the majority of your time, along with similar missteps, can not only be inconvenient but also put a dent in your wallet with added transportation costs or cancellation and rebooking fees.
To alleviate this, Jon Eichelberger, head of business development and strategy at Trivago North America, suggests making a habit of double-checking all of the booking information before inputting your credit card number. Looking over everything, from the travel dates to the number of guests, will keep you from having to spend time (and possibly more money) than you would after making your reservation.
Additionally, if the hotel is in an unfamiliar location, utilize online maps to make sure it is situated near the attractions you'll be visiting and the activities you want to experience during your trip.
4. Not Reading Customer Reviews
When evaluating a property, don't skip over the user reviews. Reading through reviews from previous guests can give you an idea of the property – everything from the quality of service to whether the hotel's photos are an accurate representation of the property – so there aren't any surprises when you arrive. Sifting through reviews (even the bad ones) can help you determine if the hotel is the right fit for your trip.
According to Dunlap, sites like Booking.com offer millions of authenticated reviews for the properties on their sites. "It's one of the more valuable ways the Internet brings richness to the decision-making process," Dunlap says. You can also use consumer review sites, such as Yelp and TripAdvisor to search reviews for specifics, like how pet-friendly a property is or what guests think of the on-site restaurants.
5. Not Reading the Fine Print
Taking the time to read the fine print can lessen the chances of any surprises popping up at checkout. Keep an eye out for extra fees that aren't included in the room rate. On top of sales and occupancy taxes, which vary by location, some hotels charge a daily resort fee. These mandatory fees can cover everything from use of the pool to Internet access to additional on-site amenities. "Sometimes you'll pay those resort fees at the hotel, so just knowing whether there is one or not can make a big difference," Tornatore says.
Also, note the cancellation policy, which is especially important to review when you're prepaying for a room. Eichelberger points out that many travelers book nonrefundable rooms because those rates are usually lower, but if you have to change your travel plans it's unlikely that you'll be able to get your money back.
Dunlap adds that travelers should consider if the policies are in their best interest. "Understand if it's a site that's going to charge you when booking or if it's a site that's going to allow you to pay when you stay. If you're going to pay when you stay, do you have the flexibility to cancel? Or are there charges or fees associated with that?" Dunlap asks.
Also, determine whether or not the hotel offers a rewards program and learn the stipulations on how points can be earned. Generally, points can only be obtained by booking directly with the hotel, but being a rewards member can often score you perks, like in-room Internet access, without having to pay more.
6. Not Following Up With the Hotel
Many hotel sites and third-party sites allow you to leave detailed information for the individual property. This information can include special requests ranging from a rollaway bed for a child to asking for a quiet room away from the elevator.
While a hotel will typically honor the requests made, you can't always assume the staff will see that information prior to check-in. It's a good idea to call the hotel directly after booking to ensure your needs will be met.
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