Hotel Hunt: Get the Right Room at the Right Price
If you’re like me and RVs are not an option, then hotels are where you’ll be
staying over the course of your trip. Choosing one can be scary if you
have no knowledge of the area and are working with a limited budget. Here are
my tried-and-true tips to take out some of the guesswork in finding acceptable
1. Chain hotels are usually a safe bet. What’s the budget
for your trip? Our go-to spots are moderate-level hotels such as Best Western,
Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn Express, and others. Large chains tend to have a
uniform standard of style and cleanliness. An additional perk is the included
breakfast. It's nothing fancy—cold cereals, some breads and pastries, coffee,
and fruit. Sometimes you might get lucky, and they’ll have a hot
buffet. Everyone loves the make-your-own waffle machine! It’s a great way
to get something in everyone’s stomachs to start the day and you save on expenses.
Plus, you can grab a muffin or piece of fruit for the road!
2. Do your homework: read ratings, reviews, and phone a friend.
With any level of hotel, research is key. I check out websites such as
Hotel.com, Expedia, Orbitz, and TripAdvisor, typing in the city to find all the
hotels where I’ll be stopping so I can compare prices and look at pictures.
TripAdvisor is a fantastic resource because you can see reviews and pictures
from hotel guests. You’d be surprised at the discrepancy between a hotel’s
photos and the photos by people who actually stayed there. Some places that
look fabulous on the hotel website could actually turn out to be pretty gross
in real life!
3. Before you choose a hotel, research
the location. Do research on the various neighborhoods so that you know
ahead of time that you’re sleeping in a safe place. Do you have friends
who live in, or have visited, the area? Enlist them! When I was planning a trip
to Detroit, I had no idea where to stay (given
that almost every hotel had reviews of thefts and other nastiness), so I called
an acquaintance who happened to live in a suburb of Detroit and asked his advice. He told me that
Dearborn was a
nice, safe place for my family. He was right—it was great! Sometimes
friends can tell you what the Internet won’t. However, if I don’t have any
contacts in the area, and there’s not much posted online, then my general rule
of thumb is that if it’s near a popular activity and it’s a well-known chain,
then it can’t be that bad.
4. Make sure your hotel choices are also bed bug free.
Another important step in researching hotels is making sure the place you’ve
chosen has not been infested with bedbugs. Before making a reservation at
any hotel, always check the Bed Bug Registry at www.bedbugregistry.com. It is an
invaluable resource. You can look up any hotel in any city and see if
there have been reports of bed bugs. Also, in the event that you
encounter bed bugs anywhere you go, please be a good citizen and help out your
fellow travelers by reporting it on the site.
5. Let’s book it! Once you’ve done all your research,
you’re ready to make the reservation. Some hotels and travel sites offer
discounts if you pay up front. This option can save you money, but keep in mind
that if something comes up last minute, you will not be refunded (even if you
have a sob story). However, if you make a reservation and secure it with a
credit card, you can usually cancel up to 24 hours in advance without a charge.
I highly discourage you from booking directly through the hotel website or
1-800 number. Compare prices online and call the front desk at the actual
hotel. On numerous occasions there was a special promotion going on that wasn’t
listed online, and I never would have known if I didn’t call ahead. Also, the
clerk on site can tell you what kind of rooms they have and notate any special
6. Don't forget discounts. Also
to note: it pays to be a AAA member. A membership card can get you valuable
discounts on hotels, car rentals, activities, and even at some restaurants. Another
way to get discounts is to join loyalty programs. Enrolling in a loyalty
program can be a great way to rack up points if you go narrow and deep with a
particular hotel brand. You can get their credit card and earn points on
all your purchases, in addition to your stays, which over time will result in
some free stays. Definitely worth checking out. Hilton
Honors, Marriott Rewards are a couple just to name a few.
7. Print and file. Once you’ve made your reservation, print
out the confirmation and put it in your trip bible for safekeeping.
8. Be ready to think on the fly-sometimes even the best-laid plans
can fall apart. Sometimes, even with the best research, you can end up
driving to a hotel that is way below your expectations and “just doesn’t feel
right.” As a single mom, when this happens to me, I call the hotel to cancel. I
would rather face a cancellation fee than stay in a place where I feel unsafe.
Of course, there are ways around the fees, too. Often times a clerk will cancel
the reservation just like that.
On our last night in Nashville
we booked a very inexpensive hotel near the airport. It looked fine from
the outside but when we drove around back toward our room there were a bunch of
drunk guys hanging off the balcony who started whistling and making suggestive
comments when I got out of the car. That was enough for me to go right to
the hotel office and cancel immediately. The clerk totally understood and
recommended a few other places for me to check out.
9. Safety first. When a hotel
just isn’t what you expected, the best thing to do is drive around a bit and
find where the newer hotels are grouped closed to a few restaurants. Your
GPS can be very helpful with this. You may have to run in to a few to
check prices and availability, but peace of mind is totally worth it.
Always trust your gut—be safe instead of sorry.
Founder of ExploreAll50.com, Alisa
Abecassis is the proud mother of three children – Lilia, 17; Isaac, 15; and
Joel, 14.Abecassis is a blogger and has a bachelor’s degree in political
science from UCLA.