Top 5 Things You Need to Know When Finding a Hotel
You've decided to take a trip, but where will you stay?!?
It’s time to start finding a hotel and there’s no shortage of hotel options, but trying to decide which one to select can be stressful. Is it better to stay at a large chain hotel or a smaller private one? Do you base your selection on the number of stars or the reviews? Should you book online through a 3rd party company, a travel agent, or do you call and book direct? Is it better to book early or last minute for the best deal?
Are we there yet? Are you overwhelmed yet? Don’t worry, because I’m going to tell you my best tips on the Top 5 things you need to know when finding a hotel. That way you can make an informed decision to find the perfect hotel.
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#1 Should you stick with one large hotel brand when finding a hotel?
Some people find a brand they know and trust and they are loyal to it. One benefit to sticking with one hotel brand is knowing what to expect because chain hotels have set standards they follow across the board.
Another benefit is that you can sign up to earn points for your stay through loyalty programs. After you accumulate enough bonus points you can use them for free nights.
If you are loyal to the Hilton hotel brand, for example, then you could stay at any of their 16 brands, across 113 countries. They have a variety of hotel affiliates in order to accommodate different price points and needs.
By sticking with the Hilton Hotel brand you know the standard of quality to expect.
Luxury: Waldorf Astoria and Conrad
Full Service: Hilton, Curio, Doubletree by Hilton, Embassy Suites, and Tapestry Collection by Hilton
Focused Service: Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton, Homewood Suites, Home2 Suites, and Tru by Hilton
Vacation Ownership: Hilton Grand Vacations
An additional benefit some hotels offer is special perks to customers who hold a membership to their loyalty reward program, such as a complimentary meal, like free breakfast, or discounted spa services.
I deviate from large chain hotels to private small hotels particularly when I travel abroad. For example, when I travel to Paris I want the entire experience of being there so I don’t want to stay at a typical American chain hotel. If reading my post about the Eiffel Tower in Paris inspires you to visit, then I’d suggest you look into staying at a smaller private hotel. However, just make sure you use all of the Top 5 things you need to Know when Finding a Hotel to help you when making that selection.
#2 What do the hotel star ratings mean to me when finding a hotel?
We all know that hotels have a star rating, but we don’t really know who determines that rating or the criteria used to make determinations for it. The rating and criteria are different in Europe than it is in the United States, so keep that in mind when you make your considerations. In the U.S. we have a maximum rating of 5 stars, but in Europe, their max is 4 stars.
European local governmental agencies and independent organizations dictate the star rating.
Travel agencies, travel guidebooks, national consumer travel associations, and travel websites award the star rating in the U.S. A five-star hotel is seen as the best and the hotel prices will reflect that.
How are the stars awarded?
The stars are awarded by a number of different groups. They each have their own system of rating.
Travel guides have one rating, AAA has its own, TripAdvisor has its rating system, and Expedia has a different rating procedure… are we confused yet?!?
This means that you could see the same hotel on multiple hotel booking sites with different star ratings on each site.
Just because you don’t know who is awarding the stars doesn’t mean you should dismiss the star rating altogether. You should still have a basic idea of what those stars should mean.
🤩 In general terms, what do the stars mean?
Prepare to have your eyes open! This is the most surprising tip in my Top 5 things you need to Know when Finding a Hotel.
One-star hotels, which are the lowest rating, have very basic accommodations with limited amenities if any.
Five-star hotels, which are the highest rating in the U.S., are the most extravagant accommodations in the world, with elaborate amenities.
One star hotel =
A bed and a bathroom
Two star hotel =
One star + television, phone, onsite food (vending machine or restaurant), and minimal housekeeping service
Three star hotel =
Two stars + more stylish decor, better location, larger rooms, some amenities like a fitness room, pool, conference room and business center
Four star hotel =
Three stars + premium furnishings and decor, valet, room service, more frequent and superior housekeeping such as turn-down service, premium amenities such as an on-site spa, hot tub, multiple pools, and fine dining on site
Five star hotel =
Four stars + all extravagant and luxurious options wherever possible. High-end linens and bath products, fresh flowers, personal Jacuzzi, high-end fitness center, on-site entertainment, and items like complimentary champagne and treats.
#3 What about the Hotel Reviews?
Now that we know the stars aren’t enough when considering a hotel room, let’s talk about the reviews.
Here are a few things to consider when reading hotel reviews….
How do I spot fake reviews?
Sometimes there are “fake reviews”.
They do this in order to make a business look better than they are. Look to see if a reviewer has a profile picture, or if this is their one and only review.
Consider the source.
Did you know that on some sites (like Google) you can click on the person’s profile icon and see the reviews they left for other places? If Karen has 14 reviews, and they are all bad, you might want to reconsider the weight of her 15th negative review on this hotel.
What is the star rating compared to the number of reviews posted?
Some sites award the star rating strictly based on the reviews. That means if only 10 people posted reviews (8 of them are perfect and 2 of them are bad) it will read with a greater rating impact than if there were 1000 reviews total.
Consider the date of the review.
Sometimes staff changes and renovations are made. Therefore, if there are several bad reviews, BUT they are all from a few years ago, and there are also a number of good reviews that are recent, it could be safe to assume that the problem has been fixed.
I know you’re excited about finding the perfect accommodations for your trip. Don’t forget to read about How to Make a Simple Travel Journal and Travel Scrapbook so you can remember ALL the details of your experience!
#4 Where should you book your Hotel... from a 3rd Party or Direct?
I think most of us start out researching online. You start in Google and the next thing you know you think you are comparing multiple sites for the best price.
Some 3rd party sites, like Priceline, promise to give you the lowest rate “guaranteed“. They also offer to price match if you find a better deal somewhere else, but that means you will have to do the work to see what prices are out there.
I decided to show you how one hotel compares in price on multiple sites. I’m looking for a hotel in Niagara Falls on the New York side. I wasn’t impressed with the locations or reviews for typical chain hotels so I decided to go with a private hotel that had good reviews on multiple sites, a good star rating, and a good location. The hotel I am using for this comparison is called The Giacomo.
Using GOOGLE for finding a hotel:
I did a basic GOOGLE search for July 26th – 28th and here is the price range for the room rates.
In the picture you can see Priceline and Booking.com are claiming the cost is $161 per night, Agoda is claiming the cheapest price at $143 per night, and the rest are claiming a price of $212 per night.
The part they don’t tell you is that there will be taxes and fees added to the prices and they can be different on different search engines. This means that the lowest prices you see displayed might NOT be the cheapest hotel rooms after the fees are added.
I will be selecting a room upgrade, but the figures I’m showing below are for the same exact room across the board.
I will also tell you the different star ratings on different sites. Google ranks the hotel at 4 stars, and a rating of 4.5 out of 5 based on 534 reviews.
Using Priceline for finding a hotel:
The final price from Priceline is $414.74.
Priceline shows this as a 3-star hotel. On their site, they show a rating of 9.1 out of 10 from 199 “verified guest reviews”.
Using other 3rd party sites for finding a hotel:
HOTELS.COM, EXPEDIA.COM, ORBITZ.COM, TRAVELOCITY.COM, HOTWIRE.COM, and CHEAPTICKETS.COM:
The pricing and information are EXACTLY the same on these sites. The final cost is $421.74 at all of them.
(Notice that in the end, it is only $7.00 more than Priceline, as opposed to the larger difference in price that appeared in the initial Google search.)
Since they all have the SAME EXACT pictures and reviews it would make sense to assume that they are basing their scores using the same information.
All of these sites gave a review score of 4.6 out of 5 based on 969 reviews.
Using Booking.com for finding a hotel:
The final price is $414.73, which is only one cent less than Priceline.
Booking.com gives the hotel 3 stars and a rating of 9.1 out of 10 on their site based on 434 reviews.
Using Agoda for finding a hotel:
The final price is $413.00.
Although this was the cheapest price, you have to pay close attention because it wasn’t the same exact room as the other sites were showing. One room was cheaper but if you read the fine print it was because it didn’t have any air conditioning. That is an important factor! Also, they were showing a special “discount coupon” but the price wasn’t much different from the other sites that didn’t have a coupon.
Their hotel’s website shows this as a 3–star hotel. It also has a rating of 9.3 out of 10 from 19 reviews.
**By now you should have seen that each website can have a different score based on the people who wrote reviews on that particular site. This is why it is so important to look at more than one site when trying to find the best accommodation.
Using TripAdvisor for finding a hotel:
TripAdvisor is one of my favorite sites to read reviews. Did you know that they have the option to book trips as well? That is to say, they are in a partnership with Agoda. It didn’t come up in my Google search, so I had to go to the site directly.
I went to TripAdvisor to check on their reviews. The hotel I want to stay at ranks #2 out of 54 hotels in Niagara Falls. There are 1,105 reviews on the site! (I’ll admit that initially seeing the 3-star rating on some sites made me really nervous, but after all of my research I feel much more confident that I found a good hotel.)
It turns out that TripAdvisor (meaning Agoda) was the lowest price for the room I wanted at $403.80. Overall, there was not a huge difference between the most expensive and least expensive options. More specifically, it was only $17.94, but that’s about the price of a good martini at one of the local restaurants!
What about booking directly from the hotel's own website?
Sometimes it is cheaper to call and book directly. That’s because hotel owners have to pay the 3rd party site so it is possible that they will offer you a better rate to book directly with them.
Unfortunately, in this situation that was not the case. When I called the front desk to book I was told it would cost $487.92. Then they offered a 10% AAA discount but that is still more expensive than booking through a 3rd party site.
Certainly, it’s always good to call for a quote because you can get a feel for the staff by how they handle the call. In this case, the woman who answered the phone was friendly and patient so I’m glad I called.
#5 When is the Best Time to Book your Hotel?
People often wonder, when is the best time to get the best deal? Should you be booking hotels early? Do you wait and see if you can get a last-minute deal?
The answer is BOTH.
I suggest you book a hotel early but make sure it has free cancellation policies. Then, when it gets to be a week out from your next trip you can look to see if a better deal has come up. If it has, cancel the first reservation and book the better deal.
In the meantime, if you find that you don’t have time to research the cheapest hotels, you know you still have the original good deal that you booked.
I did my best and my hotel room still sucks! ☹
I’ve stayed in some really amazing hotels and I also have stayed at some really disappointing places. Not too long ago I booked a room at a Sheraton Four Seasons Hotel for our Christmas trip in Nashville, Tennessee. It had a 3-star hotel rating and a 4.2 out of 5-star rating from reviewers. Since I have stayed at that hotel chain before, and never had a problem, I trusted that option.
Meanwhile, the hotel room had mold on the ceiling, smelled like mildew, and the carpet was warped from what seemed like a leaky air conditioner (hence the mold and mildew smell). My favorite part was the band-aids on the smoke detector. It was BAD!
The crazy thing was that I didn’t go and complain or ask for a new room because I was afraid of being perceived as “high maintenance”. (At this point I know that was really stupid.) After I got home and I wrote a private review to let them know about the problem. They apologized and that was it. I should have given them the opportunity to fix the issue right then and there, but I didn’t.
PLEASE don’t be afraid to kindly address the situation if you have an issue. Above all, it’s your money and you should get what you are paying for. Next time, I won’t make that mistake.
Hopefully these top tips for the “Top 5 Things you Need to Know when Finding a Hotel” will help you to find a hotel that enhances your experience!
* My Personal Recommendations for Booking a Hotel! *
Personally, I’m giving BOOKING.COM and AGODA a 5-star rating, because they are companies I know and trust. What I look for in a company are great rates, price matching, and a great cancellation policy. That’s how I know I am getting the best value.
My readers and I have had excellent experiences with these companies. Click the links to book your next hotel NOW!
LET’S CONNECT: I shared with you my “Top 5 things you need to Know when Finding a Hotel”. Do you have any tips or tricks when it comes to selecting a hotel? Comment below.