Thursday, 22 January 2015

Tips and tricks to get the best hotel room at the best rate!


Don't be a victim of dynamic pricing:


This first hint applies more to booking an airline ticket than a hotel room but, to be honest, I originally forgot to put it in my post on 'Booking an airline ticket' so it is going in here.  

Dynamic pricing is a fancy term for pricing according to demand. Lets face it, peak season will always cost more than low season - fair enough. The problem is that some businesses have, with the aid of cookies, taken dynamic pricing to new levels. Have you ever checked the price of an airline ticket or hotel room on-line a couple of times and then found it is more expensive when you go to book? If so, you have probably been the victim of dynamic pricing.


The way dynamic pricing works is that businesses track your interest in their product by the use of cookies. They know you want that particular flight or room and so next time you log on they nudge the price up. You just think you were a bit slow in booking and missed out on the few early, cheap prices, but the cheap rates are still there - just not for you.

Fortunately for the cognoscenti avoiding dynamic pricing is simple. When you are ready to book: either clear the cookies from your computer or use a different computer.

Click here for a great explanation of dynamic pricing; how it works and how to avoid it. The page is slow to load but it is worth persisting because the article is excellent. 


David and I have definitely been victims of dynamic pricing in relation to airline tickets. I am not so sure about hotel rooms but this article suggests the practice relates equally to booking hotel rooms.


 Use Tripadvisor:


I know, I know Tripadvisor has had its share of bad press recently - with suggestions that not all the reviews are genuine. Well maybe; but don't you remember the days before Tripadvisor when you had ABSOLUTELY no independent information about what you were about to book. The best you could do was rely on the word of a travel agent trying to sell you a room in a hotel they had never been to. 

Just turn your brain on when you are reading Tripadvisor reviews. If there are nine great reviews and one crappy one then maybe the crappy reviewer has a hidden agenda. If the most recent review is really glowing but lots of earlier reviewers were disappointed, stop and think for a moment about whether the glowing review is genuine.

We travelled a lot in the days before Tripadvisor and while we still manage to book the occasional rat infested flea pit it happens a lot less these days.


Hard as it is to believe this B&B had one of the worst rooms we have ever stayed in - You would never pick it from the outside.

Read room descriptions carefully - and with a hefty grain of salt:


English can be a wonderfully imprecise language when it wants to be. Some years ago in Italy on the same holiday as our Great Cairo Catastrophe we booked a 'room without a view' in a quiet family run hotel on the Amalfi Coast. We assumed our room would overlook the carpark or something. However we arrived to discover the sole window opened straight onto a sheer cliff face. The cliff was a towering obstruction about six inches away. We couldn't see over it, under it or around it but we could reach out and touch it. The room was perpetually dark and gloomy.

We got lucky. It was low season and for the first two days of our four day stay there was a vacant room at the front. The owners offered to upgrade us at no extra cost. It was a pretty ordinary room but it had beautiful french windows looking out across the coastline to the sea. I have never appreciated a view quite so much before or since.


The view from our front room on the Amalfi  coast


A couple of weeks later, in Sicily this time, we had booked another 'room without a view'. The 'view' couldn't be worse than our Amalfi Coast hotel, could it? Actually it could. This time there was no window at all. We found ourselves in an internal room with no ventilation except a sky light. The skylight opened just a few inches and even that required us to stand on the bed with a long pole in order to release the catch.

Chain hotels and loyalty programs:


Join hotel loyalty programs. Even if you never achieve anything other than ordinary member status there are other benefits.  Intercontinental, for example, announced  in 2013 that it would roll out free wi-fi to all it's Ambassador Club members.

Loyalty programs are not just offered by the high end. Many of the international chains have mid-range brands where you can afford to stay with the family. We have found that, particularly in the U.S, the trick is to find a brand you like and stick to it. We quite like the Hilton brands - Garden InnsHampton Inns and Homewood Suites.  We'll usually collect enough points on a long roadtrip to qualify for a free night and the points and status credits can be used in Australasia.

If you find a chain which is rolling out a new brand you've hit the jackpot. Years ago when Intercontinental rolled out it's Holiday Inn Express Hotels across the US we scored a succession of brand new hotels - they'd had no time to get old and shabby - at very reasonable prices.


If you need extras like parking, wi-fi or breakfast check the charges when you book:


Parking, breakfast and wi-fi charges can be wicked. Our personal best was A$45 per day to park at the Intercontinental in Budapest many years ago. I shudder to think what it might cost now. 

Again we got lucky. The hotel wasn't full and the manager upgraded us to a room at the front with a wonderful view of the Danube. The value of the upgrade was about the same as the cost of the parking so we figured we came out about square. We had a great time in Budapest and I would recommend the Intercontinental to anyone - just don't try to park there.


The view from the Intercontinental in Budapest - I think - I don't label my photos so I can never be sure - lol.



General tips for not getting the worst room:

  1. If you see the words 'room without a view' - be suspicious. 
  2. Ask for a room on a high floor - they are usually quieter. 
  3. If the hotel is near a busy road ask for a room at the back. 
  4. Ask for a room away from the elevator shaft. Lifts can be remarkably noisy. 
  5. If the hotel has a pool and you are travelling with children request a room opening on to the pool area. If you aren't travelling with children get as far away from the pool as you can. 
  6. Some hotels now allow you to check-in on line before you arrive, much like an airline online check-in. The great advantage is you can choose your room before the crowds arrive. 
  7. If the room isn't up to standard, say so. Be polite and explain the problem. We have found hotel staff and managers to be very receptive to complaints provided they are put in a calm and reasonable way. There is a good chance the problem can be rectified. 
  8. A number of chain hotels have a money back guarantee if you aren't completely satisfied. 
  9. If you are in the NRMA or other (Australian) state based motoring organisation take your card to the US with you. There should be a little AAA icon on the back which entitles you to a 10% American Automobile Association discount at lots of hotels. 
  10. If you don't want to pay extra for things like wifi, parking and breakfast then don't stay at expensive hotels. Ironically the more you pay for your room the more likely you are to have to pay separately for all the extras.
  11. Sometimes you will get a cheaper price if you book with expedia.com but often these are worst rooms in the hotel. If you are a member of a hotel loyalty scheme and want to ensure you are credited with the appropriate points, don't book with expedia.
  12. Unless your room is non-refundable keep checking the rate right up to when you arrive. If you see a better rate, cancel and re-book.




If anyone has any other tips or advice I would love to hear about them.


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51 comments:

  1. Wow, some fantastic tips here! I never knew about dynamic pricing before. And I am a fan of using Trip Advisor but you're right-you need to weed out the dodgy reviews. e.g. we were booking a place in Fiji, and one review gave it 1/5 stars because there was 'constantly sand on the floor and ants as well". Ummm you're in Fiji!

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    1. Hi Jess. lol - You have to wonder what the reviewer thought they would get in Fiji if it wasn't sand and probably a few ants. We have been to Lizard Island a few times - seriously expensive but the rooms all had resident geckos - large green ones and kind of cute, not the sort you get in Sydney. I shudder to think what your Fiji reviewer would have thought of them.

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  2. Great article! There's way more to consider when booking a flight or hotel rooms than dates and prices. They're trying to read people's minds and play games with them, haha. I'll try to remember to clear out my browser's cache next time I book tickets. Thanks!

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    1. Hi Landon. It wouldn't surprise me if dynamic pricing wasn't used for a lot more than flights and hotel rooms. I know we have been caught in the past with flights and I wonder how often we might have been caught with other internet purchases.

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  3. Great tips! Thank you for writing this article. We love TripAdvisor as well and always check ratings before we book anything. All in all, we found that rentals through FlipKey or HomeAway are cheaper than nice hotel rooms (we're a group of four, so we need our space). I'm just discovering the differences in dynamic pricing, and have been browsing incognito as I'm looking for airfare.

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    1. Hi Jolanta, We have never tried Flipkey or HomeAway but are thinking about giving it a go for our next trip to the States. Glad to see you are browsing incognito - the more people that wise up to dynamic pricing the better.

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  4. Great tips. While I know the trick to use a different computer, dynamic pricing still annoys me. I didn't know hotels let you check in on-line. That's pretty cool. Thanks for linking up at weekend travel inspiration.

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    1. Hi Rhonda, Dynamic Pricing annoys me too. The more people that know about it the better. I'm glad to be a part of Weekend Travel Inspiration. I have found some great bloggers through it.

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  5. Some very good tips! I am so lackadaisical when it comes to room booking...I should pay closer attention!

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    1. Hi Corinne. We all should pay closer attention - lol. Fortunately I have D for that. He pays close attention to pretty much everything.

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    2. Yes...that's my husbands new chore as well! LOL Thanks for linking up with Weekend Travel Inspiration!

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  6. Excellent tips - especially about the room with(out) a view.....

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    1. Hi Sarah. Thanks for saying hello. The room with(out) a view thing is just another tiny disaster to add to our list of travel lessons learned.

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  7. Great tips! I cannot believe those rooms without views!

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    1. Hi Carly,
      We couldn't believe it either. Especially the one in Sicily with only a sky light. And it was a pretty crappy skylight at that - lol.

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  8. Great tips! I like to get value for my money and don't always know how (other than hostels!). Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Hi Andrea,
      We like to get value for money too. Sometimes at $1,000 a night we feel like we've had value and sometimes at $150 we haven't. No-one likes to feel ripped off but I confess that sometimes we spend a lot of money, stay at lovely, posh places and feel it was worth every cent. The best is when you get a great price and a really lovely hotel but that doesn't happen all the time.

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  9. Very useful tips. Thanks for educating me about "dynamic pricing". Never heard this term before. Great idea to drear my browser's cache. Thanks for linking up to #TheWeeklyPostcard.

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    1. Hi Anda. The whole dynamic pricing thing annoys me - so spread the word. One of my twitter buddies said yesterday that he has heard of it being used in relation to shopping on-line.

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  10. Some great tips there - I am usually great at traveling but I am going to Hawaii and I left it so late - my wallet felt it for sure!

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    1. Hi Bec. We have been to Hawaii twice and just loved it. I hope you have a great time.

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  11. These are great and practical tips. I do remember those days before Trip advisor and pretty much hoping the hotel came close to the marketing photos. I've always cleared my cookies before I'm ready to book. I just didn't know the term dynamic pricing. The views you posted here are beautiful.

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    1. Hi Mary, We have definitely done better in the hotel stakes since the advent of TripAdvisor. Thanks for the kind comments.

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  12. Hi Lyn, thank you so much for educating me about dynamic pricing. This has happened to me several times in the past and I have just thought I wasn't quick enough to get the cheaper price. In future I will know better!!!

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    1. Hi Fabulous. That's exactly what we thought when it happened the first couple of times. It was really annoying because it put such pressure on us to book our flights quickly.

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  13. Excellent points. We travel extensively, and this past year did a marathon road trip of 7,500 miles. This time around we booked on the go, but only stayed at Holiday Inns. I knew what I was getting, and the standard was NEVER compromised. It was well worth the few extra dollars, and returned itself in the points that we earn. Who knew about those darn cookies, we did several years ago, and do all the looney look on one computer and book on another!!! Check airlines!!!! Interesting that you say hotels are now following suit, I will bear that in mind, cheers!!!

    xoxoxo

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    1. Hi British Mum. D says we win - lol. On our last road trip in the US in 2014 we did over 8,000 miles. We collected lots of Hilton points at Hampton Inns and Homewood Suites and right now we are enjoying the result - staying with Gold member privileges in the Hilton in Taupo New Zealand.

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  14. I never thought about websites using cookies to charge you more! That's a bit sneak isn't it?

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    1. Hi Jess. Someone recently told me they do it with on-line shopping as well. We have definitely been caught out with airfares but we're pretty careful now.

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  15. At least that room on the Amalfi Coast didn't advertise itself as a 'room with a cliffside view!'

    I've learned my lesson about checking the fine print - especially about places that say 'free wifi included' but then act surprised when I expect that wifi to be in my room, not in the office across the street which is only open a few hours a day.

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    1. Hi Jess. Yes the whole wifi thing can be really annoying. How often do you see free wifi only to find that you have to go into the lobby to use it. We need wifi when we travel so it is something we look at very carefully. In Australia we just use a portable wifi device - it's so much cheaper than paying exorbitant rates for hotel wifi.

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  16. Great tips. I'm terrible at arranging and booking stuff and I've stayed in so many TERRIBLE places that I think this post will really help me! Thanks for linking up with Weekend Travel Inspiration!

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    1. Hi Margherita. We've stayed in some shockers over the years but we've also found some really lovely places. I'm happy to be a part of Weekend Travel Inspiration.

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  17. I am always skeptical when I read any online review. Thanks for all of your other tips. We have been staying at the same hotel our last few vacations, but I will keep these in mind when we want to go somewhere else.

    found this on Mum-bo Monday.

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    1. Hi Audrey. Be skeptical by all means but also remember there are a lot of genuine reviewers out there who just want to give their fellow travellers the benefit of their experience.

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  18. Hi Lynn, thanks for sharing these precious travel tips. I was almost a vicitim of dynmic pricing for an airline.I was surprised how fast the fare went up after checking it the first time few minutes earlier. Fo some reason, I didn't finalize the booking at that time. I tried rebooking about 12 hours later and it went back to the old price. It's good tip to use other computers and clearing the cookies.

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    1. Hi Marisol. I'm pleased you didn't get caught out - I'm sure we did a few times before I learned about dynamic pricing.

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  19. I've never see the "room without a view" description on a hotel. That's kind of funny! Usually the rooms will say "garden room" or "courtyard" or whatever it is that you're looking at. I guess they really meant you don't have anything to look at with those.

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    1. Hi Adelina, I suspect that the description was very deliberately used in order to mislead potential customers without falling foul of 'misleading and deceptive conduct laws'. Strictly speaking the rooms fitted the description but of course if the description had been more complete it would have turned a few people (including us) away.

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  20. What an informative post! Great for those who are novices at travelling. I got a giggle out of your advice about "room with a view". So true! Be suspicious. Be very suspicious! Hahaha. Thanks for linking up at #mum-bomonday

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    1. Hi Kelly. I'm glad you got a laugh out of my post. Travel experiences are great to look back on with amusement.

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  21. I had no idea about dynamic pricing, this is great tip thank you! And I'm definitely going to keep away from room with no views from now on!

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    1. Hi Pearl, I don't think many people do know about dynamic pricing which is one of the things which makes it so insidious.

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  22. We've been aware of dynamic pricing for a while now...and we browse in Chrome using 'incognito mode' when researching hotels etc, as that doesn't create cookies. Great tip about the AAA - I didn't realise that reciprocal benefit for Australian driving associations. I've just checked the back of my RACV card...and sure enough, AAA symbol! Often, I book direct with the hotels rather than through a reseller such as booking.com or expedia...as I've been finding I can get the same rates, and I can then deal direct with the hotel in the event of cancellation or change of dates.

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    1. Hi Fairlie, We find booking direct is usually better and you're right about getting the same rate. I use chrome - I must check out incognito mode. The reciprocal rights thing used to extend to getting free maps from the AAA - not sure though if that might have stopped.

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  23. Hi Lyn, These are great tips! I never knew you could check-in early at some hotels and choose your room! Which hotels do that? Id go for them first if they suited my travels. Such a great idea, more hotels should do it.

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    1. Hi Globetrotter, Some of the chains do it, especially if you are a member of their loyalty programs. We've just done it with the Hilton in Taupo, New Zealand and on our last trip to the US we did internet check-in at quite a few Homewood Suites, and Hampton Inns which are part of the Hilton chain.

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  24. Great tips here! I keep reading about this tip of clearing cookies and I didn't know about that so I'm definitely going to bear that in mind. Must have been awful to have a room with no window - I know I would feel a bit cooped up in that and I completely agree about the Trip Advisor thing - I still think it's excellent but like you say, you just have to make sure you are taking things with a pinch of salt and being open-minded to the possibility of hidden agendas etc.

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    1. Fortunately we got beautiful weather even though it was winter. We didn't spend that much time in the room. More and more people are starting to wise-up to the cookies thing. I read about it on another blog just this morning.

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  25. A point to think about with the loyalty programs and you are NOT a frequent traveller is they are usually free to join. If it's the first time you've used that chain just join anyway. You never know if you will stay with them again, also if you have read reviews and discovered to ask for a certain floor or wing then you will have more chance of your request being answered as you are a member.

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    1. I absolutely agree. You lose nothing by joining.

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