Now, you may think you're done, but there is one final step that is essential in ensuring that your stay is a pleasant one: you must get the best room in the joint.
Nothing is foolproof, but here are a few tips for landing the best available hotel room on your next trip.
Plan Ahead, Arrive Prepared
There are ways to get upgrades and preferential treatment at a hotel just for being you. Join the hotel's rewards program and get credit for each of your stays; this is an easy way to earn upgrades, discounts and even free nights. You can also get these types of perks through your airline's mileage program, so ask which hotels participate.
Join a travel club for discounts, and seek out deals that could help you afford a better room than you might ordinarily choose. Try the Entertainment Book, which comes with a card that can save you money not only on hotels but also on dining, airfare and other travel-related benefits. AAA membership is also good for hotel discounts. And don't forget to check out our discount hotel deals for discounts on accommodations around the world. Save a few pennies on the front end and use the savings to upgrade yourself to a better room!
Do your research. Sites like TripAdvisor and VirtualTourist offer honest hotel reviews from real travelers, many of whom include details on what their individual rooms were like. Read travel guides, scan ads in newspapers and magazines, join frequent anything clubs, talk to anyone who has been where you are going and keep notes about everything you find out.
You should also visit the hotel's Web site before you go. Often there will be photo galleries or even floor plans that will give you an idea of what the rooms look like and which ones might suit you best. Hotel Web sites also will occasionally have upgrade or discount coupons that you can print out and take along. Consider checking out Room77.com, a site that searches hundreds of others to find the best deal on a hotel room. You can specify preferences in the search, such as value, noise level, size or view. On certain properties, Room77.com even offers detailed floor plans, virtual views from the rooms and interior photos.
Hotel Room Views: Do They Really Matter?
When staying at a resort that has multiple buildings, you may want to ask the resort to e-mail or fax you a plan of the property. Google Earth can give you the lay of the land, even revealing how close the buildings really are to the beach -- or the highway. Then give the property a call to describe what you are looking for (best view, proximity to beach, etc.) and ask for their recommendation as to the room or suite that will best meet your interests. While discussing the options, you can refer to the property plan and the Google Earth map to determine whether to take their recommendations or select another option of your own.
You may also want to obtain and bring along with you a brochure or a print-out from the hotel Web site when you go to check in. If you don't get a satisfactory room, explain that you expected the type of room represented in the photo/description when you made your reservation (or at least something similar).
Remember to be realistic in your expectations. If you're traveling to a chain motel where most of the rooms are pretty much the same size and configuration, there may not be much of an upgrade available -- though there may be a better view on one side of the building or the other. And keep in mind that availability may be limited if you're visiting at a busy time of year when the hotel is sold out, or if you're staying at a bed and breakfast where rooms are booked on an individual basis. However, it never hurts to ask!
How to Get the Best Hotel Rate
At the Front Desk
Presumably, at this point you're prepared. You know what type of room you want, and you've presented your frequent stay card and your free upgrade coupon. Even so, make it painstakingly clear what you expect. Be firm but polite when making your requests; employees will be much more willing to help you, even bend over backwards for you, if you treat them kindly.
Consider the noise factor; look out for the locations of restaurants, parking lots and pools. Upper floors are generally quieter. You should also ask which side of the building has better views, particularly if you're facing the beach, mountains or a city skyline.
Tell the front desk that you want to see the room prior to checking in, and before moving your luggage. Be sure to address any concerns immediately before you get settled in.
Also, if it's any kind of a special occasion and you haven't mentioned it, this is the time to do so. Don't feel foolish telling them it's your anniversary, birthday, baptism -- whatever!
What Not to Do at Your Hotel
Traveling with Kids?
When traveling with children, make sure to select hotels that offer amenities for them such as play areas, nearby parks, pools and (most importantly) free meals. And for longer stays, you may want to consider booking a room with a kitchenette -- it will make your life easier and can save you money, even if you just use it for snacks or reheating leftovers.
A lot of hotels have suites for just a few dollars more. Think about that if you are traveling with several people, as most hotels offer suites with two full beds and a fold-out sofa. Another alternative to paying full price for two adjoining rooms would be to ask about a "junior room." These are smaller rooms that are usually priced much less. This is a great idea if you are traveling with older children.
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Editor's Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, which also owns VirtualTourist.