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Finding The Perfect Place to Stay

Trying to find the perfect place to stay and spend your holiday can be time consuming and frustrating.  But, the result can be worth the time spent.  We’ve put together some tips to help you find the perfect hotel or vacation rental to make your vacation memorable.

How much do you want to spend per night? 
Determining what your budget per night is, will immediately help filter your possibilities.  If you think you’re budget may be too small to stay in the places you’d like to stay in, there are other things you can consider.  If you’re traveling with friends,  think about staying together and splitting the cost of a better hotel room.  Remember, that it means potentially sharing a bathroom and giving up some privacy, but your budget will go farther.  If your travel dates are flexible, you may be able to save on hotels by traveling “off-season”.

Location, location, location
Think about things you’ll be doing while you’re at your destination.  Location is important.  You really need to take into account where you’ll spend most of your time and how close do you really need to be to that area.  Rates will be higher the closer you are to prime areas. You’ll pay much more in Times Square in NYC, than you might closer to Battery Park and Wall Street. If your destination has good transportation options, being close to where you’ll spend most of your time can be less important if you can get there easily and quickly. In New York City, there aren’t many places you can’t reach in Manhattan by cab in 15-25 minutes, as long as your not going during rush hour. In Europe, you can often stay away from the city center, yet be within 10 minutes or so by train.

Are you open to staying in places other than hotels?
For those traveling on an extremely small budget, hostels can be a great alternative.  You can also consider renting apartments or homes, if you’re going to be in one destination for a longer period of time or traveling in a large group.  When we travel to Europe, we almost always rent an apartment or a house.  In London for example, we can rent a very nice, albeit small apartment in a great neighborhood for 20-40% less than a mid-range hotel.  Plus, we it’s a lot more fun to be in a neighborhood and live like a local.  Another great thing to consider is a home stay, where you can stay with a local family.  It’s a great way to learn about the culture, as well as pick up a few language pointers

How much time will you be spending in the hotel each day?
If you’re going to be out and about all day and really not spending much time in your room, then look for hotels without a lot of amenities.  You really won’t be using them, so why pay for them?  Now, if you’ll be spending lots of time in the hotel, (think beach resort), then you definitely may want to consider spending a bit more money for added comfort, luxury and amenities.

Finding the best type of place to stay on your vacation
When we think about picking a place to stay, we let the type of trip where taking lead us in the right direction. If we’re staying in the same place for a week or traveling with a group of friends, then renting a home may make more sense. Or, if we’re passing through a big city just for one night, we may opt for just a chain hotel. Consider these options as you consider where to stay:

Large Chain Hotel & Resorts
We usually avoid these like the plague. 
If you’re going to travel to another country, do you really want to stay in a Marriott in Frankfurt that looks just the Marriott in Omaha?  Some people prefer the “familiarity” of chain hotels. And chain hotels can work well if you’re just passing through a major city.  They’re usually close to airports, train stations and easily accessible locations. They’ll also have a lot amenities such as on-site restaurants, laundry facilities, pools, etc.  If you’re part of hotel loyalty program, it’s an easy way to cut the cost of your vacation by using your points to pay for a stay.

Depending on the location, staying at a large hotel chain could pose a security risk.  In some foreign cities, these hotels with “highly recognizable names” can become terrorist targets.

Small Chain/Boutique Hotels & Resorts
Our preference is to stay at small chain or independent boutique hotels.
  They offer a more local and friendly experience than the large chains.  Service tends to be much more personal as these hotels are smaller and have a fewer number of guests.  These types of hotels usually have better locations, because they can be located where “large building” hotels aren’t allowed.  An advantage is you’ll also be a bit more away from the “tourist herd” and have much different experience at your destination.

Rental Houses & Apartments
If you’re going to be in one destination for a long period of time, you should consider house or apartment rental.  
While most have a minimum stay of a week, you can occasionally find those that will rent for 3 days or more.  It’s a great way to save money if you’re traveling with a group of friends.  You’ll also be part of the “neighborhood” where you can enjoy local cafe’s, restaurants and shops that other visitors would not get to experience.

Homestays
If you really want to “live like a local” and are going for an extended stay to a destination, you should also consider a homestay. With a homestay, you’ll actually live with a local family.  While this is usually extremely popular with foreign exchange students, the concept has expanded to just about any traveler who will be staying somewhere for a month or more.  Homestays give you the best chance to immerse yourself in a culture, see how the people live and work, plus it’s a great way to quickly learn a language.  A friend of ours did a homestay in Guatemala last year for a month, to learn Spanish.  She said it was an experience that changed her life.

Check hotel ratings from guests before making your selection

Check a variety of hotel rating sites before you make your decision to book. Ratings vary from website to website.You can look up one hotel on Orbitz and it’s 5 star, yet on every other website it’s 3 star.What do you do?

With a little simple research, you can get a good feel for what a place is really like.The easiest way is to Google the hotel name along with the word “review” and “rating”.That should give you a quick list of sites that rank the hotel, along with comments from guests.You can then make your own conclusion as to which rating is probably the right one.

We prefer TripAdvisor.We’ve found the ratings to be almost always spot on.Of course, you do have to use some discretion if there are only a couple of reviews.You may also have to “throw out” a those reviews that are “out of whack” with the others.You’re never going to please all of the people all of the time.

Another thing we look for when checking hotels on TripAdvisor is hotels that actually respond to reviewers comments.If they take the time to read their own reviews and take feedback, that’s a fairly good sign that they’re concerned about providing a great experience to their customers.

Finding the best hotel rates and dealsl when looking for a place to stay on vacation can be challenging.  While many hotel and booking websites offer “The Best or Lowest Rate Guarantee”, that’s not always the case.  If you read the fine print, most say the guarantee is for rates available on any “publicly available” website.  So, what about “private, members only” websites or “unpublished” rates?  It pays to do your research before you book a stay.  

Where to find the right places at the right rates

Here are some tips we use to make sure we always find the best hotel rates and deals out there. 

Where should you start your search?
A great place to start your search is Kayak and TripAdvisor.  Kayak can quickly and easily scour hotel rates for a destination in seconds, while giving you options to simultaneously conduct the same search on ExpediaOrbitz and host of other travel websites.  TravelAdvisor recently added a feature that once you pick a destination, you can do a single search for rates among it’s top rated hotels.  Starting there will give you a good idea of price ranges for your dates of travel and help you start narrowing the list of potential candidates.

While some boutique and small resorts also show up on Kayak and TripAdvisor, you can also check LHW (Luxury Hotels of the World), SLH (Small Luxury Hotels), and LuxuryLink.  Don’t let the terms “luxury” in their names scare you off.  Form time to time, they have phenomenal deals that don’t always appear on other websites.

For home or apartment rentals, the best place to start is VRBO.  We’ve used and rented from owners on VRBO several times and have been very satisfied.  Like anything else, you want to make sure you do your due diligence by reading reviews from previous renters as well as checking Google on the internet.

Where to find even better hotel rates and deals
Sometimes to get the best deal, you may need to be flexible on your travel dates.  Or, you may need to be flexible on location.  Either way, you can save a ton of money if you’re in the right place at the right time.  Deals come and go, so you need to check sites often.  Also, you can’t hesitate.  Many deals are for a limited time or limited number of rooms.  If you snooze, you lose.  If you find the deal of a lifetime, you need to be ready to book the stay.  Also be aware, that most of these deals have rates that require a pre-pay and are non-cancellable and non-refundable.

We use Travelzoo frequently. Travelzoo has great rates for top-name highly rated properties for travel in the next 30-90 days. Their website is updated regularly, however big updates are made on Tuesdays. The best way to make sure you don’t miss anything is to subscribe to their email newsletter.

As we mentioned above, there are also a number of private, members-only websites that can have great rates.  Some cost nothing to join, while others can have hefty fees.  Our favorites that we are members of are (and these are free, once you score an invitation): JetsetterSnique Away and Vacationist.  These sites sales last for a very short time (usually 3-5 days), so when you see it and like it, you should book it.  One advantage over Travelzoo is that usually their “window” of time that you can make a reservation for, is longer.  Sometimes up to 4 months in advance.

We’ve booked a few trips using Jetsetter.  For example, in NYC, we saved over 50% at Cooper Square.  In Puerto Vallarta, we booked a stay at Garza Blanca Resort in a 2BR, 2000 sq ft Oceanfront Suite for $420 instead of the $810 rack rate.  Splitting that amongst four people, it’s less than $110 per night per person at a 5 star resort.

What about all inclusive rates?
Sometimes the additional charges for all-inclusive resorts far outweigh what you’d normally spend on food and beverage.  All-inclusive sounds like a good deal, but you really have to determine what you’ll be doing during your vacation.

If you’ll be away from the hotel doing a lot of day trips or activities, all-inclusive may not be such a great deal.  You also need to take into account where you’re going to stay.  For example in Mexico or Asia, you can get great food outside of your hotel at unbelievable prices.  Some people never get to experience true “local cuisine” because they feel they have to always eat at the hotel since they’re paying for it in the all-inclusive rate.

Also research what kind of beverages are included in the rate.  For example, many resorts indicate that they serve premium alcohol. Ask what’s premium?  In many cases, it’s a “locally” made liquor.  Also consider how much you’ll be drinking.  If you’re doing a “spring break” type vacation, maybe all-inclusive is worth it.  Otherwise, it may sound good as you plan your trip, but you may end up actually paying more.

Tips before you book 

Think about a room upgrade
Sometimes it may be worth spending a few extra dollars on a room upgrade.  If you’re going to be spending a lot of time in your room, a bit more space can be a good thing.  Also, many larger hotels have “club levels” for their best guests, which usually include a “happy hour”, free internet, free breakfast and more personal attention.  In some cases the room rate can be as low as an additional $20-$30, yet with all those amenities, you’ll actually get that amount back and more.  Plus, you can always take your chances and ask for an upgrade when you check-in.

Double check rate rules and cancellation policies
The devil is in the details.  Before finalizing your booking, make sure you read and understand the hotels rate rules and cancellation policies.  Many smaller hotels and resorts may only allow you to cancel more than two weeks prior to your arrival.  After that you may pay a penalty or be charged for a full stay.  Some “great rates” may also require a pre-payment or require even more advance notice of cancellation.

Consider prepaying for your room
If you’re 100% certain your going to stay come hell or high water, then you usually can save some cash by prepaying your hotel.  Occasionally, some hotels/resorts will even let you cancel some prepaid rates and refund your money, but you should always make sure to read the rules first.  Before you prepay, also consider what the chances are that the rate may actually go down prior to your stay.  If you prepay, you may over pay.

Never assume anything
Just because one hotel chain does this, or other hotels do this, don’t ever assume.  Just because one hotel in a chain has free internet, doesn’t mean another one in that same chain does. 

Smoking or Non-Smoking
While many US hotels are now non-smoking, that’s not so in the rest of the world.  If you want a non-smoking room, make sure you check before you book your hotel room.  Non-smoking rooms are harder to find in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Fees, Fees and More Fees
Hotels have taken a cue from the airlines and now add many fees above and beyond the rate you’re actually booking.  Resort fees, parking fees, internet fees, and on and on.  When comparing hotel rates, make sure you take into account all of these extra charges, some of which may be mandatory.

Always recheck your rate before you leave on your trip
If you didn’t prepay for your reservation and you’re still within the cancellation window, you should always re-check your rate.  Rates can often drop after you make your original reservation.  Why overpay?  As long as the room type you want is still available, make a new reservation first, then cancel your previous one.  Also, if you made a reservation at a hotel that was your “second choice”, check your “favorite hotel”, to see if a room has become available since you made your reservation.  Travel plans change all the time and they may have had a cancellation that will allow you to get the room you really wanted.

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