Time was when you could pick a hotel at your destination based on the number of stars it had. Today it’s not so simple: Different sources and websites have different ideas of what constitutes four-star vs. three-star vs. two-star, and standards vary even more from country to country. Assuming that a five-star hotel is automatically better than a four-star could land you in a tiny room in a mammoth hotel with fancy dining rooms and a business center you’re never going to use. Assuming that a four-star is better than a three-star could land you in a city-center hotel with thumping nightlife and extortionate valet parking. Furthermore, nowadays more and more hotels offer unique local experiences that aren’t reflected in star ratings focused on a property’s physical attributes and amenities.
To zero in on the right place for you, think beyond star ratings and look for a hotel that’s well suited to the purpose of the specific trip you need it for. Here are seven important factors to consider before booking a hotel:
Do you need your hotel to be within easy walking distance of something—say, the beach, the convention center, or a public-transportation hub—or will you be driving? For a city trip where you’ll be sightseeing on foot, you might want to stay smack in the heart of town. But if you’ll have a car and will be driving each day, you might be happier in a motel on the outskirts with easy highway access and a parking space right outside your door.
TripAdvisor Tip: TripAdvisor makes it easy to find hotels in the right location. When searching for a hotel, you can filter your results in destinations by areas such as neighborhoods or proximity to prominent attractions. Every destination’s hotel page includes a map of hotels in that town or city that can be filtered to show only hotels that fit attributes such as price, style, brand and amenities. Maps are also accessible on every individual hotel listing, so you can double-check its location before booking it on TripAdvisor!
How much time do you plan to spend in your room? Will you be just showering and sleeping there, or will you be making it your base of operations for the trip? The more time you plan to spend in your room, and the more people who will be in it with you, the more space you’ll require. Remember that one of the keys to a happy family vacation is to choose accommodations that have a common living area separate from sleeping spaces, such as you’ll find in a suite hotel or in an extended-stay property with one- and two-bedroom units and even full kitchens.
How many beds do you need, and of what size, for everyone to sleep comfortably? Bed size and configuration become especially important when you’re traveling with kids: Since rollaways and cribs are typically not guaranteed, you either need to choose a hotel that guarantees them (think five-star), or you need to choose a room where you’ll be able to sleep comfortably even if you don’t get them (e.g., a hotel brand that uses queen-sized beds rather than double beds).
TripAdvisor Tip: When you book on TripAdvisor, you’ll see details about the specific type of room you’re booking including bed details, room amenities, and often even a picture of the room type!
You can’t know the true cost of a hotel room unless you know what amenities you will require and which of them the hotel provides for free. How important to you are free breakfast, Wi-Fi, and parking? Often these come free at three-star hotels but could easily cost you an extra $50 a day at a four-star. Do you want a pool or fitness center? A microwave or mini-refrigerator? Do you require room service, or certain in-room technology for work? Find out what’s included in the rate and, if it’s not, how much extra it will cost you.
* Hotel size
Often you may find more local flavor in a small, independent inn or bed and breakfast than in a big chain. On the other hand, the larger a property—say, a big beach resort or ski resort—the more facilities it will have to keep everyone in your group happy, and the more room types it will offer to ensure you get the personal space and bed sizes you want. Facilities and services will also open earlier, and closer later, than at a small hotel.
TripAdvisor Tip: Beyond room descriptions, you can find hotel amenity details and number of rooms on the “Amenities” tab on every hotel. You can also filter by specific amenities when searching for a hotel.
Some hotels—often hip, high-design properties—are neighborhood hangouts, with lobbies that are places to see and be seen. Even some really large properties—think grande dames that have become institutions over time—ooze local color and serve as an “it” place for meeting up for drinks or dinner.
* Cancellation policy
Is there a chance that your trip could be cancelled or you might want to switch hotels? If so, note how many days or hours before arrival you’re allowed to cancel with no penalty. Some hotels in cities and suburbs might give you until 72 hours before, or even until 6 p.m. the night of your arrival, to cancel with no fee. But cancellation penalties can set in months ahead at properties in vacation destinations, especially resorts on small islands.
TripAdvisor Tip: TripAdvisor shows you cancellation details before you book on the site. After you’ve completed the booking you’ll receive a confirmation email from the booking partner with details about how to make changes to your reservation. All of this info can also be found on the “Bookings” section of your profile.
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