All hotels, and their hotel rooms, are not created equal

Finding the right hotel, in the right location, as well as the right room, is a very important part of planning travel if you ask me.  I know that not everyone agrees with this: “It’s just a place to sleep” and “I want to save money for other things while I’m on vacation.”  I’ve heard them both and although I don’t particularly agree with the first one, I do understand the second.

To me, a hotel – and where it is located and what the room is – is part of the joy of travel.  It’s more than a place to lay your head at night but it’s a place to relax and to unwind even if you are only there for a short period of time.  And as obvious as it may sound, you do have to wake up in the morning and the feeling you have when you wake up, and what you see and the comfort you feel are key.

So how do you find the right hotel?  First and foremost, do you research.  Travel sites can be useful but to be honest, I’m not a fan simply because I’m suspicious and wonder what people are paid to post reviews or, on the flip side, annoyed by the rantings that happen because someone didn’t do their research.  Personally, I like to read travel blogs (not just because I write one) as well as magazines, newspapers, and even tour groups.  This gives me a starting point from which to seek out further insight on the hotels that strike my fancy.  Because, after all, if you don’t trust your instinct, what can you trust right?  If you’re not a fan of modernist and clean lines, don’t choose those hotels regardless of the price; you won’t be happy.  Likewise, if you don’t like brocade, and Turkish carpets, or florals like Laura Ashley threw up, don’t go there.  Trust your gut.

What about chains like Marriott, Hyatt, or even Holiday Inn or Best Western (which is great in Europe, for the record)?  I’m not a fan of chain hotels, especially when I am traveling outside of the United States but I will say that there is much to be said about hotel membership programmes so if your travels are in the US, find a chain that you like – those that are classic, those that are funky, or those that are cheap – and stick with them.  Remember: most hotel rates aren’t that drastically different once you’ve identified a category that your membership is in and that few-dollar difference can mean the difference between an upgrade and that room next to the service elevator.

Which brings up my next bit of advice: you DO NOT have to accept the first room you are given, regardless of it being a chain or a boutique hotel.  A friend told me a long time ago that “someone has to get the bad room… it just isn’t going to be me.”  I used to get a lot of ribbing from friends and colleagues for refusing the first room given and requesting another room.  But when they were annoyed by the ding of the elevator or the jangle of the ice machine while I comfortably relaxed and tuned out, well, they stopped ribbing me.

Be nice.  And smile.  The folks at reception, wherever you are staying, have to deal with lots of people day in and day out so a kind word, and an engaging smile is not only human decency, but it also may mean that the room you are given is just perfect.  But if it’s not, don’t disturb the room and head back to reception and request another room.  But be specific about what’s not to your liking.  “I don’t like it” really isn’t helpful and won’t lead to much whereas if you can say “I don’t like rooms facing east and the early sunrise”, that gives your host somewhere to start.

But remember, the above is useful except when you arrive early or arrive late, neither of which I ever plan to do.  When you think about it, it makes sense: arriving early means that there are few rooms available, if any, and once something becomes available – especially if you try the trick of lurking in the reception area which never works, I promise you – that’s what you get.  Likewise, arriving late means that there may be few, if no, alternate rooms from which to choose.  So, you know those “check-in times” listed on their website?  Try to adhere to them as you’ll have the best chance of scoring that perfect room.

So let’s return to the other aspect of travel that I often hear: “I want to save money for other things”.  You and me both.  I have made it a specialty to score the best place, at the best price, ever since I began traveling.

So we’ve done our research and identified hotels that look right.  And notice that I said “hotels” in the plural.  If you get your heart set on one particular location, you’re really not going to save any money by comparing prices and offers.  Try to identify a handful of properties that appeal to you, both in terms of what they look like but also where they are located.  And write to each one.  Yep, you read that correctly: write to each hotel, introduce yourself and your plans, and ask for their best available rate.  It should go without saying but just to be safe: you can’t wait until the last minute to write and hope for a great offer.  You. Have. To. Plan.

Once you’ve received replies from each hotel, then it comes down to comparing the offers and what works best for you.  Remember, just because one of the hotels is cheaper than all the others, consider where they are located and what that means for your travel plans – sites to visit and the bites to experience.  Return to their websites, and confirm that the hotel still gives you all the feels that you were hoping for.  Your gut was right when you first started but is it still correct?  Double-checking never hurt anyone and can only lead to the perfect vacation and holiday experience.  And once you’ve made a decision, do the right thing and write to the other hotels thanking them for their time but that you’ve chosen a different property and that you hope to visit their property soon (even if you aren’t, but you might).

Remember: someone has to get the “bad” room, it just doesn’t have to be you.  Take your time, do your research, write some emails and most of all, be polite and considerate when you check in and you’ll be on your way to the start of a memorable holiday.

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