12 tips for booking hotels online

Ana P. Santos
What you need to know about booking online – from the reviews, to the payment, to the things you need to check beforehand
ONLINE BOOKINGS. Booking your hotel online for your next trip has its major advantages.

MANILA, Philippines – There are many advantages to booking your hotel accommodations online. You can compare rates, check forum reviews and have a buffet of different accommodation types.

With so much information and so many options available, the most difficult part is actually how to choose. Here are some tips to make navigating through the online booking maze just a wee bit easier. 

What to consider before booking:

1. Where to book? Everyone knows you should never book directly through the hotel booking website where the rack rate is offered. But did you know that you can email the hotel and inform them about the price you got on a booking website like Agoda or Booking.com, and see if they can offer you a better rate? Because they can save on commission to the third party booking, they just might give that to you.

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2. Same-day booking? In cases when you will arrive and book your stay in a hotel on the same day (such as in case of an weather emergency or a sudden whim which takes you on a detour), it is still better to make your booking online and not directly with the hotel. Some website will even give you a very good deal if you do the booking online after 2pm for the same day—after most of the guests have checked out and they have rooms to fill.

3. What about parking? If you intend to rent a car while on holiday, check the parking fees of the hotel (rates go for about $30 per night in San Francisco, for example). Do a quick search to check for the available parking options in the area.

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4. What type of room? If don’t intend to spend a lot of time in the hotel and it’s really just a place to go home to in the evening, consider choosing a cheaper hotel, but book the more expensive room. You can get a suite for the price of a normal room in another hotel. 

What to look for in the reviews and forums

1. The type of review. Certain websites give points for writing a review—whether positive or negative – but only for those who have stayed in the hotel. The booking website will usually prompt you after your stay to answer a survey or write a review. This incentive system helps ensure that there are fewer fake reviews. And in the long run, by using the same website for future bookings, you can rack up points to get a good discount.

2. The relevant audience. Check who is doing the reviewing. If most of the reviewers are from the same nationality, you might find that the hotel is organized for large tour groups from that country. You can also find out if the hotel is mostly frequented by honeymooners or families with children – the needs of the types of guests are entirely different and may be a factor to consider when booking a hotel room.

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3. Think of about location, accessibility and transportation cost. Location is important, but sometimes if your hotel is just outside the main tourist area but next to a subway, you can save on both hotel and transportation costs. For example: You’ll be hard-pressed to find a hotel room that is less than $100 a night in Manhattan. But if you go just outside the city like say, Queens, you can quickly get a subway to the city.

Before paying: What to double check and verify

1. The bathroom situation. In some countries, the bathrooms of even the four-star hotels are shared. This is common in European cities like Amsterdam or Geneva.  Some hotels like the Hotel Vissoie in Switzerland offer an “authentic” historical stay, and a bath consists of a lovely pitcher of water and a matching basin. There is a common bathroom shared by the other guests.  

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2. Payment. Check if the website will charge your credit card in advance or will do so only the day you arrive at the hotel. It is easier to cancel a booking when your credit card is not charged ahead of your trip—not to mention you can enjoy a longer float on your credit card. If there are no fees for cancellation, you can book a room way in in advance and get the best price for your room.

3. Breakfast? Book a hotel room without breakfast when possible; most of the time, breakfast is overpriced except if your hotel is in a secluded place.

4. The final bill. Check what is included in the price. Very often, local taxes are not included and will add to the bill. Some websites don’t include the VAT when you credit card is debited, and that can add about 20% to your total bill.

5. Checking in and out. Though check-in and check-out dates are usually 2pm and 12nn respectively, be sure to double check especially in a foreign country. The check-in and check-out policy in some hotels are at 4pm and check-out at 10 am.

You’ve booked your plane tickets, secured a hotel room and you are itching to get off the ground. Before you go, print the location map of the hotel and get the phone number in case of late arrival, but also the address in the local language (available on agoda.com).  

Take note of important landmarks next to it; this can be very useful with taxi drivers. And always, always bring the credit card you used to do the booking as some hotels ask for it, too. Enjoy! – Rappler.com

Ana P. Santos writes about sex and gender issues. Seriously. She is also a regular contributor for Rappler apart from her DASH of SAS column, which is a spin off of her website, www.SexAndSensibilities.com (SAS). Follow her on Twitter at @iamAnaSantos.