TORONTO — Booking a hotel is not what it used to be.
Want to stay at a Hyatt? Take your pick. There’s Hyatt Regency, Park Hyatt, Grand Hyatt, Hyatt House, Hyatt Place and, coming soon, Hyatt Centric.
“Branding can get baffling when you’re searching for the right hotel,” Carol Perehudoff of the travel blog WanderingCarol.com admitted.
Gautam Lulla, President of Travel Tripper, said he’s noticed a lot of brand-name hotels offering a more “boutique” experience. He believes that’s because “they’re wising up to the fact that younger travelers prefer this.”
From a numbers perspective, the world’s 10 largest hotel chains now offer a combined 113 brands at various price points, 31 of which didn’t exist a decade ago. And there’s no sign of this trend slowing down.
“Our six brands are actually six different needs,” said Best Western CEO David Kong.
How do you choose?
Clem Bason, the CEO of goSeek.com, has these three tips for starters:
- Pick a few brands that provide consistent service that you love. One to three at most. Those are your “no regrets” choices when travelling.
- Then admit that brand isn’t everything. User reviews trump brand. Use sites like TripAdvisor and Oyster to read reviews and evaluate individual hotels based on actual guest experiences.
- Finally, filters are your friend. Popular metasearch sites like TripAdvisor, Trivago, and Kayak allow you to filter by star rating, amenities, distance, and more. Use these to narrow down that bewildering list of options.
First, though, you’ll need to figure out what your needs are.
“Ultimately, when choosing a hotel you want to look at their location and amenities,” said Gautam Lulla, President of Travel Tripper.
It’s a good idea to check out the neighbourhood on Google Maps, and see how close it is to where you want to go. Do you care about free Wi-Fi? Fitness facilities? A pool?
“Study the online photographs carefully. If a pool is only ever shown from one angle, it might mean it only looks good from one angle,” Perehudoff cautioned.
Online travel agency vs. booking directly from hotel
Both Lulla and Bason agree that, in general, you’re always better off to book directly through the hotel.
Since a hotel doesn’t have to pay a hefty commission to the online travel agency (OTA), “they have more incentive to provide you with better perks and upgrades,” expained Lulla. “The cancellation policies are also much more flexible than booking with an OTA.”
“Fundamentally the online travel agency is a middleman. They mark up the price of the hotel room, often as much as 20 per cent,” Bason added.
“That said, sometimes online travel agencies can negotiate special discounts based on their booking volume with a particular hotel. So every so often you’ll find a real steal on the online travel agency site.”
Hotel Reward Clubs
Are they worth signing up for? If you’re a frequent traveller or have one of the many credit cards that can earn status or points with a particular program, Lulla said they’re definitely worth joining.
“Having status can mean automatic room upgrades, perks such as welcome gifts, lounge access, late check-out, etc,” he explained.
Bason pointed out it can also earn you lower rates, free stays and free Wi-Fi. But you’re best off sticking with just one to two loyalty programs to maximize your points.
The drawback to these programs, Lulla said, is that they tie you to staying in the big-name brand hotels in lieu of independent boutique hotels, “which are often more unique to the place that you’re staying.”
“If you don’t travel enough times in a year to make status on a hotel loyalty program, then don’t worry about it.”
Book now or wait?
This one is a bit of a gamble. If you’re willing to fly by the seat of your pants, being last minute can sometimes pay off. There may be great discounts available if you book the same day as you’re checking in, according to Bason, who recommened the app HotelTonight.
That’s of course only if the city you’re going to isn’t booked up with events and conferences. Lulla advised not to take chances.
“Hotel rates fluctuate dramatically depending on season, holidays, local events, etc. If you want to ensure that you are getting a good rate on the best possible hotel for your stay, book in advance and book direct.”
Final tips: Politeness pays + Ask and you shall receive
“Always be super friendly, polite, and courteous to the front-desk staff,” Bason stressed.
“Then ask if there are any upgraded room types available as you’re checking in. The worst answer you’ll get is ‘no.’
“But you might get a ‘yes’ for just a modest fee or even for free. And a free upgrade is a great way to start a vacation, let me tell you.”
-With files from Scott Mayerowitz, The Associated Press