Booking Hotels: How to Avoid Hotel Nightmares

by Beth Graham

I’ll never forget arriving at a luxury hotel in Napa to celebrate our anniversary only to find that half the hotel was under construction and that the gym and spa were closed for renovations. It was a hotel booking nightmare. I’m pretty thorough when researching hotels, especially in unfamiliar destinations. Fortunately, there was copious amounts of wine which filled time I would have spent working out or indulging in spa treatments. So what are the best websites to find hotels and how can you avoid booking bad hotels?

On another family vacation in Greece, we had selected a resort property close to the beach. It was perfect. The first night. When we returned to our room the next night after dinner, we were surprised to find dozens of college kids sitting in the hallway. It turns out it was a celebratory week in Greece (like Spring Break) and the hotel was filled with boisterous, all-night partiers. Years later, I’m still catching up on my sleep.

I’ve learned from these, and other, booking mistakes. Here are my tips for the best websites to find hotels to ensure you don’t find yourself having a sleep-depriving hotel nightmare.

1. Read reviews. It goes without saying, but read the hotel reviews. I tend to read reviews on both TripAdvisor and Google. Most important, sort so that you read the current reviews first. You’ll find out if the hotel is under new management, under construction, or has other issues that could impact your stay. Rely on the advice of other travelers. Look at their photos. Do a Google search of the property name as people may have written about the property outside of the review websites.

2. Search reviews. Don’t just read reviews. Search them. Make a list of top things that are important to you when staying in a hotel. Are you looking for onsite dining? A quiet neighborhood? An indoor pool?  A spotless room? Then, do a search for those keywords within the reviews. For me, I always search words like “construction”, “noise”, and “dirty” to see if other reviewers complain about those topics. If you’re looking for amenities, search words like “pool”, “gym” and “dining”. 

3. Check your dates. Always scroll down and read reviews from the same season/month you’ll be traveling in to understand local events, weather, potential group travel, annual festivals and other variables. We would have selected a different hotel in a different part of Athens on our trip to Greece if we’d known that our trip fell during an annual party week.

4. Map the hotel using the street view feature. This will allow you to see what the streetscape in front of the hotel looks like. Is it on a busy street? Is the entrance neat and manicured? Are there busy business or late night venues nearby that could prove to be noisy? I go so far as to see if there’s a convenience or grocery store nearby for essentials like water. (and wine.)

5. Be aware of hidden fees. Scroll through the hotel details on different sites, as not all are transparent about additional costs. Look for additional fees or restrictions on parking, pets, wifi, and meals. I was shocked to arrive at a property in Miami only to learn that there was a $20 resort fee (and it wasn’t a resort but this is a trend in the industry) and $54 for nightly parking. Those fees add up!

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