How to book & search
Pros & Cons
Make the most of reviews
How to book a hotel or guesthouse
Choosing where to stay when you're away is an important decision to make so if you've always fancied living it up in a swanky hotel or like the thought of a cosy guesthouse then read on.
Once you've decided where to go my favourite websites for finding a hotel or guesthouse are Booking.com* and onthebeach.co.uk (select the 'hotel only' option). Booking.com gives you a broad range of accommodation options and allows you to search with location, dates and number of people and then you can pick more search criteria to narrow down your choice. You can also search with a map facility so you can get a good idea of how close you are to the beach or nearest town. This tool is also handy if you need to broaden your search out a bit if you are not finding the results you want. Once you press 'search' a list of accommodation options should come up and you will then need to sift through it picking out the ones you like best.
On the Beach gives you more 'traditional' hotels and is quite focussed on families. They often have some great deals and the search criteria offered is easy to use and the descriptions provided are informative. Whatever website you use to search I always like to look up the hotel's own site as they often have more information, sometimes they offer a better price and if you have any questions you can ask them directly.
While you are carrying out your search keep the following tips in mind:
Make sure you follow the process through to the end to get an accurate total price. All prices will vary according to the time of year and the amount of people going so make sure you have put these in accurately.
It's always good to see interior and exterior pictures of the accommodation to get a feel for the place. Find out how big the hotel/guesthouse is as this will give you a sense of scale. For larger hotels try and get an idea of where your room is in relation to restaurants, pools etc.. Some hotel complexes are huge and different areas will have pros and cons. If you are going in a group or with children make sure the rooms are close by each other by specifying this request when you book. If you are booking a family room check out the sleeping arrangements and make sure they suit your group. Don't try and squeeze extra people into your room without checking with the hotel first as many hotels are bound by law to only have a certain number of people per room.
Top tip: If you have 3 or more children, booking a family room can be more difficult so look at the 'House Rules' section on Booking.com* at the bottom of each property as this will give you their policy regarding extra beds/children. For European cities or the States try Sleeps5.com which has personal recommendations of hotels for larger families.
One important decision you need to make is about food! Make sure to check out which meals are included in the price and which meals you can add on for an extra cost. Lots of accommodation includes breakfast in the overall price although this is not standard so do check. There may also be other options namely half board (breakfast and lunch or dinner - some places let you choose which one and for others it is set), full board (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and all inclusive (breakfast, lunch and dinner with additional snacks and drinks). Always check whether drinks are included - often 'local brands' are included but you pay for more well known brands. For many, especially if you have children, an all-inclusive deal can work really well as there is food available most of the time, there is a wide choice and you know the cost of food up front which makes budgeting easier. Half board can also often offer really good value and a picnic lunch is usually pretty cheap and easy to make. For many travellers food is a big part of the holiday experience so the idea that you have to eat in the same place every day will not be appealing. As always think about what you like to do and what is right for your group and then make a decision accordingly.
If you are travelling out of season make sure that the pool will be up and running and warm enough to swim in. If you are out of season check if pools are heated especially if you have children.
...the top of this page gives you more tools to make good decisions when choosing accommodation. Make sure you read 'make the most of reviews' and 'useful links' which will give you loads more pointers.
Check out the payments terms and the cancellation policy carefully as there is no standard procedure even within the same website.
Pros & Cons of staying in hotels and guesthouses
BUT it is possible to get all kinds of different hotels and guesthouses so also consider the following:
Top tips for using accommodation reviews and ratings
Most accommodation websites now have a rating and review system and these can be super helpful when deciding where to stay. If the site itself doesn't have ratings or only has a few reviews then check out Tripadvisor which has reviews for an astonishing amount of properties. When you're looking through any reviews bear in mind the following points:
How many people have rated it?
All ratings sites should inform you of how many individuals have contributed to the overall rating. 3 people saying something is five stars is a completely different ballgame to 1000 people saying how great it is.
Read the middling reviews
It's easy to say something was brilliant or awful but middling reviews tend to offer a more balanced view with pros and cons.
Don't just look at the star rating
Take time to scan a few reviews to get a flavour of what is bringing the rating down and make your own decision based on what your priorities are.
Look for common themes
What is it that people are complaining about and how important is that to you? Masses of reviews moan about bad wifi and that definitely lowers the overall scores of some otherwise really lovely places. Are people complaining about things that matter to you?
Reviews that allow management to respond are often really telling and will give you an indication about how any future complaint you might need to make will be dealt with.
If you have to book
Sometimes you might not have much choice about where to book because of poor availability or sometimes you might be willing to compromise on rubbish wifi and a crap breakfast because it's in the most perfect location. Just be informed and realistic about what you're signing up to and you might be pleasantly surprised!
Hotels.com - easy to use site with listing for hotels all over the world. Ongoing promotion of 1 free night for every 10 nights booked.
LateRooms.com* - thousands of hotel rooms across the world that can be booked at any time!
Lastminute.com - huge range of hotels globally and Top Secret Hotels which you can book blind for big discounts.
iescape - beautiful range of handpicked accommodation all over the world with really helpful descriptions. Each listing has 'highs' and 'lows' and there is lots of information about child friendly options.
Websites which have a great range of hotels to book as well as flights, car hire and a whole host of other things:
Price comparison Websites which let you compare the cost of the same room across lots of different accommodation websites.