When I first started traveling the only way you could book an overseas hotel was either via your travel agent or directly with a very expensive overseas fax or by a via slow mail correspondence (not email!).
The major problem for me was that the price of a hotel room was always at least $100, even now I think that’s a lot for a hotel in Asia at the time it was out of the question!
How things have changed for the better – but still people use agents to book hotels – why? I have no idea! I use several booking sites – but in Asia my favorite is agoda.com though for Thailand many like swasadee.com. The odd thing is that often you can book hotels cheaper through these agency sites than through their own websites. Also safer I think as the technology to accept web bookings is fairly sophisticated and a lot of local hotel’s websites look like they have been put together by the 15-year-old computer geek son!
So how do you pick a hotel from a website? Well first I pick a location – location matters much more to be than the actual hotel – because it has much larger effect on my holiday – location will give you options or not for eating, sightseeing and shopping.
Once I have a location narrowed down I usually hop onto tripadvisor.com and check the comments and ratings. Now I don’t expect to see perfect ratings – in fact if I do it sounds to me like the hotel is buying reviews. Rather I am looking for candid phots and realistic reviews. Well what is a realistic review – well the hotel above cost us about about US$36 – and some people complained that it wasn’t sea front! Well the hotel didn’t say they were seafront – in fact they said they were central and down a quiet alley – both of which were true. Some people will complain that water goes all over the bathroom from the shower – that’s standard in Asia -so long as there is hot water I don’t care. You can’t book a $30/night hotel and expect 5-star service including a fold-down service!
Also I look for complaints that actually affect me – I don’t travel with kids so I don’t care if the balcony railings are bit far-apart for toddlers, I do however care if there is a loud bar next door.
Consider the date of the review too – the latest hotel I booked has several reviews complaining about large and noisy Chinese tour groups in February. However, Chinese generally travel at Chinese New Year – which was February this year – low season I don’t expect a problem.
I also ignore complaints about expensive restaurants in the hotel – so long as there are other eating options nearby – I hardly ever want to eat “in-house” anyways.
If you book from one of that major booking sites the chances of anything going wrong are slim – but it does happen. Protect yourself by printing out and taking your confirmation with you and always using a credit card – so you can do a charge-back if there is a problem.
Hope these travel tips help you plan your next vacation!