Choosing a Hotel: 10 Ways to Book Smarter
Choosing a hotel in any city is really not that hard and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time and research. Perhaps this is something I’ve become refined at over time, but it’s a pretty cut and dry strategy I use to maximize efficiency. Once my flight is booked, my usual strategy towards booking a place to stay is quite simple. Over time, I can usually accomplish this task in a nice fifteen to twenty minutes. Because seriously, time is valuable!! So perhaps we share the same strategy, but maybe you can also pick up a thing or two from my tips as well.
1. Choosing a Hotel by Location
First, I figure out which sites I want to explore the most, then Google search hotels relative to that location. I make a note of those. For me, it’s always worth spending a bit more money to be close to somewhere central, especially if time is of the essence. For example, we stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel in Sydney recently, but it was in the heart of The Rocks district. Since we were only in Sydney for just a few nights, it was MORE than worth being in the heart of this beautiful city and waking up to a view of the Opera House every morning. So that’s why I always start with location rather than price. If a hotel can offer a significantly better experience, we don’t mind shelling out a few more bucks.
2. Choosing a Hotel by ‘Ranking’ on TripAdvisor
Once I’ve narrowed down my location, I usually go back to TripAdvisor and sort all the listings for the city based upon ranking and I check-mark prioritize “luxury.” Yes, honestly, we like our fancy hotels…I guess it’s something about being in your thirties, but those twenty-something hostel days are over. I analyze the prices from here and read the reviews for the top 10 ranked places. If I see a TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice Winner, I first review those. Depending on where I’m staying, I’ll also look at bed and breakfasts. I love these because you can still get a customized experience but for a lot cheaper too. While traveling to places in smaller areas like New Zealand, we often prefer staying with a family. There’s really no better way to interact with the locals. Plus, this stay below was beyond magical…
(Location: The Croft Bed & Breakfast, Te Anau, New Zealand.)
3. Choosing a Hotel by Guidebooks or Magazines
If you have a guidebook on lodgings or hotels, definitely use it. After I’ve read some reviews on top-ranked places or TripAdvisor Winners, I’ll then consult my SLH book that I own because sometimes their recommendations are pretty good. I take those into consideration and see how they review as well on TripAdvisor before choosing a hotel.
4. Choosing a Hotel by Experience Desired
Sometimes your hotel is actually a large part of your travel experience. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to stay in a castle in Scotland?! That’s my dream…But sometimes, the hotel itself constitutes the majority of the travel experience. Case in point: the first time I went to Bali, we splurged and got a room for a few nights in a beautiful villa called The Komaneka at Bisma. It wasn’t tremendously expensive, but it was a splurge if you look at how cheap other options to stay are in Ubud, Bali. There are times to splurge, especially when there’s an exceptional experience at the hotel.
I guess to be completely honest, I do choose my hotels based upon the pool. If the hotel has an incredible infinity pool or location, then it changes everything for me.
5. Choosing a Hotel by Membership Perks
A couple of years ago, my husband spent several months in South Korea at the Westin Hotel and ended up racking up some serious SPG perks. For a while, we used to try to book SPG hotels simply to use those perks. I guess I’m not a huge fan of this all the time because it monopolizes a lot of your options. But if you travel a lot and desire platinum status, then I guess this makes your choice a lot easier! Membership perks are a definite factor when choosing a hotel.
6. Choosing a Hotel by Price
I save price for last because I firmly believe that in my years of traveling, some of my best experiences were because of the amazing hospitality at places I’ve stayed at (e.g Japanese ryokans), and often there’s a certain refinement of hospitality that unfortunately does cost a little more. Some folks may not care a bit about the quality of hospitality, but it’s something I appreciate.
And of course not every place that costs more will offer you a better experience, and I’ve stayed at bed and breakfasts that were super cheap but beautifully run. BUT, I never let price dictate my options in the beginning and it goes both ways in terms of cost. Why shut yourself off from potential experiences from the get-go?
If I find lodging that I truly feel justifies more money in terms of experience or location provided, then I’ll definitely weigh that into consideration. For example, we stayed one night at the Phulay Bay Ritz-Carlton in Thailand. Let’s just say, it wasn’t cheap. That said, it was worth every.single.penny.
TIP: Booking with early-booking rates a month or more early on the hotel’s website always saves a lot of money.
7. Choosing a Hotel With Raving Reviews (Most Important!)
Ok, so I’ve saved my favorite tip for last. This sounds obvious, but it’s almost always a flawless indicator and a strategy that saves me a ton of precious time in researching. If I see a hotel with an absolute ton of raving reviews, and it’s within my budget and preferred location, I usually just don’t waste much more time and I book it. That little bar graph on the top of every hotel listing on TripAdvisor is what I like.
A hotel that has either a high ranking or a clear majority of (A LOT of) 5 star or Excellent votes is my biggest indicator. Usually, these kinds of places are marked with a series of raving reviews that are all raving because it has the perfect location, hospitality, infinity pool, and everything else that makes it a magical experience. But these places are also very popular because the cost is also really good! So it’s all about finding that sweet spot, that’s how you know you hit the jackpot.
Usually, these places are a gem and I pounce on them and mark them up in my TripAdvisor profile. For example, we just stayed at the Hoi An Ancient House Village Resort & Spa. It’s ranked the #5 place to stay on TripAdvisor, has a single $ sign, but their stats are literally almost all 5 stars with 141 Excellent votes, 29 Very Good, just 6 in the Average category, and 0 in the Poor or Terrible categories. And the reviews are all raving. Generally, once I see these kinds of stats and reviews, and it’s in a location that’s fitting, the search is OVER. However…
8. Always Read the Bad Reviews
I still take some time to read some bad reviews just in case it’s supposedly haunted or someone spotted a bed bug or bloodstains, etc. Ew. See the next point.
(Location: Sydney Harbour Bridge)
9. Check the Bed Bug Registry
Yes, there’s an actual registry/database that catalogs hotels with bedbugs. Pretty cool site. Sanitation is definitely my top priority when choosing a hotel.
10. Beware of Inflated Reviews
And last, I’ve found that TripAdvisor’s reviews can be trusted more in some places than others so it’s always a good idea to keep that in mind when planning your trip. I wrote an article questioning its inflated reviews and how to prevent being a victim as much as possible.
Sometimes I already know where I want to stay. But oftentimes, I have to start from scratch and this is pretty much how I book solid stays regularly without wasting too much time on research. So there’s my strategy on choosing a hotel, which pretty much consists of knowing what my priorities are, relying primarily on key TripAdvisor indicators, optimizing my experiences, and keeping an open mind. I guess I’ve learned over the years that staying at a slightly more expensive place really is worth it if you gain a lot more experience out of it, but every new stay depends on your unique travel objectives.