I am one of the fewer people on Earth who actually prefer staying at a hotel rather than staying at their own home. Not that my home is anything short of nice and cozy and beautiful, but being at a hotel gives me this fuzzy feeling of comfort that I can’t adequately put in words. Not sure whether it’s the fact that no matter how much mess I leave in the morning, I always come back to a bed that is made and towels that are freshly folded. Or the fact that each hotel stay translates into a change of scenery and a much appreciated twist to everyday routine. But whatever the case may be, what I am really trying to say here is that the ‘accommodation’ piece of the trip planning process ranks high up there in importance.
Clearly, not all hotels are created equal with the better ones tending to cost more (duh!). The key is finding those for which the curves of affordability and quality cross each other; or put in another way – the ones that offer best value for your money. This ‘goal’ is, in essence, my guiding light in the hotel selection process.
I start with – tripadvisor.com. The site, which I consider to be my sort-of travel ‘bible’, has a massive collection of highly informative hotel reviews for a good chunk of the accommodations existing on Earth.
So up in the right-hand corner, there is a text box, where I enter the location I am interested in, so that I can get to the next page, where I can find links to lists of Hotels, B&B/Inns, Restaurants etc. for that particular location (example). I click on the ‘Hotels’ link and there goes a list sorted by ranking of all hotels in the area. As logic goes, the establishments with the best reviews are ranked first. I scroll down this list until I reach the range of prices that correspond best to my budget. Then I look at the candid photos taken by fellow travellers and if I like what I see, I move on to check whether the hotel is available for the dates I need it. More often than not, the hotels with the highest rankings get fully booked many days in advance and if there are any rooms left they usually go above the highest end of the price range shown on tripadvisor.com. In any event, as soon as I come across a top-of-the-list hotel that is a) available and b) affordable, I eyeball its reviews to get a better idea of whether it works for me or not.
The above looks like a lengthy process, but I have done this exercise hundreds of times, and I have literally automated the way I read through the text by paying attention just to things I care about. One example is proximity to places of interest and ways to get there. If it is too far for sightseeing purposes, then there are at least a few reviewers that would share this. Another example is the cost of any add-on services. I have been to a handful of hotels which would charge a humble nightly rate, but would make up for it with exuberant parking rates or meal prices. So I am on the lookout for any mention of such practices.
I have also learned to seed out the unduly elated reviews that use phrases such as ‘fantastic’, ‘fabulous’, ‘great’ without an actual description of what has been so spectacular. The fake reviews are fairly easy to spot: they are written by Tripadvisor users that have no other contributions and normally benefit non-chain family owned properties. They tend to repeat as a structure of sentences and way of expression (‘My aunt and I stayed at XXX hotel and we really loved it’ and ‘My fiance and I stayed at your hotel and we really enjoyed it’). And in many cases, they alternate with dismal reviews from real travellers.
One tiny drawback with the Tripadvisor ranking is that it does not treat the newer hotels nicely. When we went to Taipei we stayed at this excellent semi-boutique three star hotel, which was ranked 200+ (out of 300) even though its sole review was good. The number of reviews also plays a role and when they are too little, the hotel simply lives down the ranking ladder until it gets more travellers to write about it.
In order to not miss excellent accommodations that share the above characteristics I use expedia.com to get a list of available hotels sorted by price for the location I am interested in. I sort through that list by looking at the adjoining photos and list of amenities until I find something I like. Then I proceed to reading the Tripadvisor reviews, regardless of where the hotel falls within the rank, and sometimes I would come across gems such as that hotel in Taipei, which turn out to be an excellent value for money, despite their ranking. Since we are on the expedia.com topic, it is worth mentioning that expedia has its own review base, but I have found its value to be more supplemental than replacing the information I can get on Tripadvisor.com.
I have also used booking.com (quite helpful ranking), hotels.com, agoda.com as well as actual hotel websites to book accommodations for our travels. More often than not, the hotel websites would list a higher price than one of the consolidating websites, but occasionally there would be promotions you can’t find elsewhere.
I did not mention priceline.com as I recommend only for cases where finding the cheapest nightly rate for a certain category class is a top priority. The bidding portion of the website operates in a such way that one is guaranteed that he’ll get a certain hotel category, but obviously not all 4 star (or 3 star) hotels are created equal. Some are drastically worse than others and the ones that discount their beds on priceline.com are more likely to be among the ones that layer the bottom ranks of Tripadvisor.com. Of course, this is generalizing things and I know plenty of people who have gotten excellent deals on Priceline, but I still stick with the way I see this website (see first sentence of this paragraph).
Before I close on this super-long post, I wanted to share pictures of one of the best hotels we have ever stayed at. This is Chateau Mcely in the countryside around Prague, Czech Republic