If you're looking for a place to stay, it's easy enough these days to search an online booking service and find a list of hotels ranked by price, with helpful-sounding star ratings attached. We've learned the hard way that using just that minimal information can land you in a dirty, ill-kept hotel with a desk clerk that would make Psycho's Norman Bates look like a goodwill ambassador.
Here's an example: Expedia says a hotel (name withheld) is 3-star property, available at only $89 per night. Sounds like a bargain, but real people who have stayed there rate it a C+ at best, with comments such as "Customer DIS-Service here" or "The rooms... are equipped with marginal furniture and mattresses." This place to stay begins to sound like less of a bargain by the minute.
What's a traveler to do? How can you find a nice place to stay short of picking the nicest hotel in town and paying top price for it? The answer lies in knowing how to use available online resources and doing lots of research.
How to Find a Place to Stay
These simple steps will improve your chances of finding a nice place to stay for a good price. The first thing you should know is that the "star" ratings many websites assign have more to do with the amenities a place offers than they do with whether the rooms are clean, the desk staff friendly or the neighbors noisy.
When choosing an area to stay in, hotels in business parks are often very good weekend values. Not only are they less expensive then, but they usually have lots of amenities and are quiet, too.
- Start at Tripadvisor, where you can find hotel reviews written by travelers just like you. Enter the city or town name you're interested in and the word "hotels" in their search box (example: bakersfield hotels).
- Use the same process we do for evaluating the reviews.
- Some hotel chains guarantee you'll get the lowest rate by reserving through their website, including Hilton, Holiday Inn, Ramada, Marriott, Sheraton, Westin, Howard Johnson, Choice Hotels (Quality Inn, Comfort Inn and Suites, Clarion, Sleep Inn and Quality Inn) and Intercontinental (which includes Staybridge and Candlewood Suites, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Crowne Plaza). If hotels from these chains are on your list, go directly to the hotel website. Don't forget to check for AAA rates and other specials.
- If you have time, call the hotel. Consumer Reports consistently reports that they get the very best rates 40 percent of the time by doing this, even in the Internet age.
- In January, 2011, Consumer Reports Money Advisor offered an additional tip for shopping through websites, especially ones like Expedia or Travelocity. Clear your browser's cookies before starting your search. Otherwise, the website may remember what you were willing to pay in the past and change the rates it offers you based on that. Alternatively, you could use a different browser program only for travel bookings, with cookies turned off. If you don't know how to clear your cookies, this article will help.
- If you still have time, you may be able to get a nicer place to stay for less money through Priceline or Hotwire, using our tips for getting it done quick. While these services won't tell you the name of the hotel until your reservation is completed and paid for, they can offer some excellent prices on top-end properties. A simple strategy here is to choose the nicest hotel class available and bid $10 to $15 less than the best rate you've already found, or follow our detailed instructions for greater savings.