2.17.2014

:: Tips for Booking Hotels in Europe

One thing that I really enjoy doing while living in Poland is trying to book trips on a budget. As part of this, I need to find hotels. As I have started planning trips, I find that hotels are the hardest thing to book so I thought I would share my process to maybe help you plan your trips abroad. 

Here's Morning Kawa's guide to hotel booking:

Step 1: What Do You Want to Do?
Before you even start looking at hotels, make a list of the things you want to do/see and start plotting on a map (I usually use Google Maps).

If I am going to a popular city and plan to visit all the tourist landmarks, the website A View on Cities is also good. Here's a look at their Paris map. The red stars indicate the most popular sites, followed by red dots, and then blue dots as the least popular tourist destinations. 
As you're looking at your landmarks, you will start to see a pattern/general area you will be during your days. Since our trips are usually short, we like to stay in the area we plan to spend most of our time. That way, we aren't wasting time getting to where we want to be. Of course, this will impact your budget but we have found it is worth spending a little bit more on the hotel to balance out the transport costs. Oh, and if you want to avoid staying in touristy areas, that is another way to look at it ;)

In general, I have found that the touristy areas offer the nicest hotels at competitive prices because there are more of them located here. Also, as you're plotting your trip, keep in mind early/late arrivals/departures. You may want to stay next to the airport or train station one day to help avoid potential transportation disasters. 

Step 2: Area Exploration
So now you think you know what area you want to stay in - but you're not done researching yet. Do a quick search on the area just to make sure.

For example, search the phrase, "What area should I stay in when visiting Paris?" Read through a handful of forums/blogs from people who have been there before. If this is new to you, start with Trip Advisor or Lonely Planet - I find these sites offer the best advice. After reading these posts, you'll quickly be able to tell if the area you thought you wanted to stay in really is a good fit for you and the type of vacation you want to have.

Here's a screen shot from a Lonely Planet Article about where to stay in Paris. 
Step 3: Start Your Hotel Search
Phew, Steps 1 and 2 sure are a lot of work before you even start looking at hotels. In general, it takes me about a week of research before I even start the hotel search. 

I almost always use Hotels.com for my hotel search. The reason is because of their Welcome Rewards program (stay 10 nights, get one night free). We were just able to book a hotel in Istanbul for free one night because of the program. I'm a fan of free nights and you should be, too. This site is also super easy to use, which helps. 

Step 4: Create a "Top Choice" List of about 10 Hotels
Now I start creating my Top List of Hotels before the final decision. Here's some search guidelines that I have found the most helpful when creating my top choices: 
  • Welcome Rewards: Since my sole purpose of using hotels.com is getting rewards make sure the hotel participates in the program indicated by 'Collect Welcome Rewards.' Some hotels don't redeem them, but if you haven't earned the free night yet, that's less important. 
  • Location: The best feature about this website is that you can search for hotels by landmark/ neighborhood. For example, if you want to stay by the Eiffel Tower, select that area and compare results based on distance. 
  • Star Ratings/Price: I always start with 4 and 5 star hotels that fall in our price range BUT some places are just more expensive than others, e.g. Rome, Paris, London, Amsterdam...so then I include 3 stars. I can almost always find hotels in our price point in the location we want - and we aren't huge spenders. I would rate us about $$, not the cheapest (hostels coming in at $) and not the most expensive (like The Four Seasons $$$$$) - we're somewhere in the middle. 
  • *Guest Rating/Comments: A very important feature and more important than star ratings. Do not ignore this. I NEVER book anything below a 3.5 rating and I aim for a 4-5 rating. When reading the comments, make sure you read them from all countries. I have noticed that Americans are a bit more critical than other countries so you want to make sure you get a good sample of guests. This also helps you prepare for things you might not have thought of, like when someone says, "Yikes. It's located down a dark alley" or whatever. Also, look at the number of comments, if the rating is 4.8 and there are thousands of comments, it must be a good spot :) Not to mention, travelers are really good about commenting on the actual location of the hotel. If it really is in a great location, you'll know by reading the comments. 

  • Photos: Yes, the photos are important BUT don't base your choice only on this. Some hotels have the money to hire professional photographers and others don't. That's life. If the place doesn't look like the photos, it will be written in the comments. Another good reason to read them. 
  • Features: What's important to you? Free WiFi? Breakfast included? Of course, this list changes based on what the "goal" of your vacation is. Are you going to Greece for a beach vacation and want a sea view with balcony? Or, are you driving through Germany and want to make sure you have free parking? I also always just double check that the following are at least mentioned: hair dryer (if yours isn't from Europe, it probably won't work), air conditioning (in summer), private bathroom (don't assume) and bed size (two twin beds are popular, if you hate this idea you should know to look). 
  • Refunds: This is important if there is a chance your trip could get cancelled. Some hotels have free cancellation and others don't. Sometimes, you can pay a little bit more for free cancellation. If this is important to you, make sure you check this before booking. 
  • Payments: Less important to me personally, but usually you have to pay at the time of booking through hotels.com. However, there are some hotels that let you pay when you check out. This payment would be in the country's currency and if you're paying by card you could get hit with extra costs from your bank for completing the transaction. Just something to keep in mind. 
In my example search below, you can see this hotel just says you get a 'bed' could be anything... But, you have free cancellation, can collect Welcome Rewards and pay later. 

Step 5: Make Your Choice!
As you can imagine, Step 4 also takes me quite a bit of time, usually a full 2 days. But once I have my top list, I wait until the following day to final book - sometimes you need a fresh mind and find something you previously missed. 

Before I book, I re-read the comments (most important to me), re-look at the star rating, re-look at the overall guest ratings and re-look at the amenities/features. Hotels will start to either stand out or fall short. If a hotel is in the same price with the same ratings, the features start to become more important. Of course, I want to get 'more' for our money. Now's your chance to get picky - maybe someone said the hotel had a terrible bed. You can now rule that one out. Keep crossing them off until you're left with your favorite. And book it!

Other: When Should I book?
One other quick thing I wanted to mention is when to book. This is tough and I am still trying to figure it out. However, I have found that the earlier, the better. For example when we went to Gdansk, the #1, 5-Star hotel in the city was about $80 two months before we went and just one month later, it went up to $250. So in my experience, if it's a great deal at a great hotel, just book it (and maybe pay a bit more for free cancellation if you're not sure). I think 3 months out is ideal but I'm still learning. Anyone know?

That said, I do have some friends that wait to find a hotel until they actually get to the city (eek!). They say they get great deals. I just can't do that, I like to at least know where to go from the airport, but if you can roam free like this - more power to you and let me know how it works out. 

That's It! Once I have my hotel booked, I always feel a bit better about the trip. It's easy to plan what to do and see, but where to sleep seems to take a lot more work. 

Of course, if you have any hotel booking tips, I would LOVE to hear them! And, Happy Travels :)

7 comments:

  1. Great post! I absolutely love to travel and love planning out my trips. I love Trip Advisor! I have used it so many times especially for the reviews which is important to read when you travel. I also found a new site called stay.com which allows you to plan your whole trip, book a hotel and make an itinerary that you can view even if you don't have the internet.

    I went to Poland last summer and I had a great time. I LOVED Krakow but I have yet to make it to Gdansk. Do you have any tips on how to learn Polish?

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    1. Thanks so much for your nice comment and for the Stay.com recommendation! I will be sure to try it out soon :)

      As for Polish, that's tough - I have been taking lessons for about 7 months and 2-year olds speak better than me ;) I think the best advice I have is:
      A. Learn how to read Polish first. It's a whole new alphabet with new pronunciations. I have been using a book called Krok po Kroku and it comes with a CD to listen to the alphabet and words/phrases/conversations so that's a good place to start.
      B. Once you have the reading down, then pick a few phrases to learn each week before moving onto the next.
      C. Study infinitive verbs (e.g. to love, to run, to play, etc). Once you have those memorized, putting them into sentences become easier (keep in mind the endings pretty much always change but if you know the basic meaning of the words, it starts to make more sense).

      I hope that helps a bit and good luck!

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    2. Thank you for your response and for the recommendation. I will have to check that book out. I am Polish American but I don't know any Polish and after visiting last summer I definitely want to learn. I don't know if you have heard of dinolingo.com but they offer Polish dvds for children. The reviews online mention that it is popular with young kids because it is an educational cartoon. If you want just the dvds they are available on amazon. Keep up the great work on the blog and best of luck with your studies. : )

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    3. Thanks for the recommendation - I will be sure to take a look :)

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  2. Thank you for providing the information. I am already using this tips for booking the hotel and I have recently booked a hotel called The Zuri hotel.
    Official Zuri Website

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  3. Within next few days I'm going to Europe and I hope that here provided tips will surely be handy for me to choose the best hotel there. Thanks

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  4. You did very great job and useful information for travelers. This is help them to book their hotels in online very easily. Thank you.

    Hotel Booking Online

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