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One of the most stressful decisions you’ll have to make when planning an out-of-town vacation is choosing the hotel. Unless you’re following a friend’s recommendation, you’re likely choosing a hotel you’ve never seen before based on photos on the Internet. Photos are chosen from the best angle that hides all the room’s imperfections.
I have something of a talent for choosing amazing hotel rooms without ever having set foot on the property. I live about five hours from New York City, so most of my hotel booking experience is for NYC specifically. But the tips can be applied to any destination. I’ve found great hotel rooms in both Key Largo and Orlando by following my own advice.
If I’m taking a solo overnight trip – like the time I decided to drive from Upstate NY to Maine just because – I often stay at generic chain hotels such as Days Inn. The no-frills, room-with-a-bed located off major highways.
Expedia, Orbitz, Hotels.com, Etc
Very few people use travel agencies now that it’s so easy to find and book your hotel on the Internet. Now it’s a question of which website has the best deals and is the most trustworthy. I use Expedia exclusively just because I’m a creature of habit. I do feel that Expedia and Ortiz are basically the same sites.
In fact, many of the sites have the same hotels for the same prices. It really comes down to personal preference. I like Expedia’s interface and some of the other sites have too many pop-up ads – looking at you, hotels.com. Despite the funny commercials, I’ve never tried Priceline and I’m not even sure how it works.
Even hotels are being pushed out of the vacation industry these days. Now everyone is about the Airbnb, but I’m old-school and would prefer a staffed hotel instead of someone else’s home.
Shared Bathrooms Explained
Hotels in big cities such as NYC often have cheap rooms that say “shared bathroom.” In fact, if the listing doesn’t specifically say “private bathroom,” that most likely means it’s a shared bathroom situation. The layout of how the shared bathroom is set-up depends on the hotel.
When I go to NYC, I often stay at The Jane. The rooms are as small as a ship’s cabin and there are two or three bathrooms on each floor that everyone on that floor shares. There are two toilets, two showers and a communal sink in each bathroom. The toilets and showers have locks that indicate if they are in use.
I’ve never had a problem with this type of shared bathroom. To me, it’s the same as going to the bathroom in a public bathroom. However, some people might feel uncomfortable with the idea, especially if it’s a family vacation.
I’ve never experienced this myself, but some hotels have a bathroom between two rooms. The doors to the bathroom lock, but that doesn’t seem very safe to me. If you prefer a private bathroom, expect to pay a bit more for your room and be sure to read the room description before booking.
Watch for Extra Fees
I have noticed that more and more hotels are charging “resort fees,” “cleaning fees,” or “accommodation fees” on top of the rate of the room. These charges cover the “free” Wi-fi and aren’t charged until the day of your stay. It is typically an extra $20 PER NIGHT. I avoid hotels that have these fees as much as possible.
Another thing to remember when booking hotels is that almost all of them now require a deposit with a credit card. This deposit can be one price for your entire stay or per night. For example, the hotel at the MGM Springfield in Massachusetts charges $150 deposit per night. That’s $300 for two nights. The deposits are refundable after you’ve checked out, but that’s $300 that won’t be available to you for up to a week after your vacation, depending on how long it takes the hotel to refund the deposit.
Expedia lists the deposit fee along with all the other information about the hotel, but you have to scroll down to the bottom of the page for the information.
Location, Location, Location
If your vacation includes a road trip, location isn’t something you need to worry about because you can just drive from the hotel to your destination. However, in bigger cities that encourage public transportation, the location is important.
One thing to look for is how close your hotel is to the nearest subway station. If you spend all day walking around a city sightseeing, you won’t want to spend much time getting back to your hotel at the end of the day. Of course, you can always take cabs, but keep in mind that the fare still goes up even when you’re stuck in traffic.
Read the Reviews
Before I book any hotel, I read a few of the reviews to see what other people are saying about it. It’s important to keep in mind when reading negative reviews that they probably aren’t 100% accurate. Many people complain in an attempt to get free stuff, especially on the Internet where negative experiences get the most views.
Aside from the reviews, the star rating is also something to consider. Every site uses a different rating system. Expedia uses the 5-star system and I rarely choose a hotel that’s under 4 stars.
I hope these tips help you find the perfect hotel.