The Art of Choosing and Booking a Hotel & Why I'm a hotels.com Loyalist
Whether you're doing an overnight shopping trip or a week long vacation, choosing a hotel takes strategy. Let me explain!
If you're someone that stays in a hotel at least couple of nights per year you should consider carefully how you choose the hotels you choose, and what mediums or platforms you use for booking.
Generally speaking, people I meet fall into one of two categories:
1) The "I love a specific hotel brand!" type - These people generally like to stick with a specific brand of hotels or a hotel umbrella group. For example Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) has a long list of brands within its group including; Sheraton, Four Points, Marriott, Westin and many more.
Some people find something they like and want to stick with it! And frequent stays at a hotel group can get you all sorts of perks including; free room upgrades, late checkout, points that can convert to airline miles or gift cards, free nights at those specific hotels, etc.
The negative is, of course, that you may feel limited sometimes in your hotel choices and you may not always be able to get a fabulous deal on a stay.
2) The "I prefer to use a booking website" type - These people do not want to be limited to a specific hotel group or brand. They may like to visit boutique hotels where they cannot accumulate points in-house. They may be budget travellers and choose hotels based on price. Or they may simply like to switch it up a little! But they still want to earn points! Typically third party booking websites will give you points per each night you stay at a hotel booked through them and in turn you can earn free nights or other rewards. I fall into this category.
The negative is that no hotel brand ever recognizes your customer loyalty by treating you like royalty when you check in. And there are rumours that third party bookers get the worst rooms!
Third Party Booking Websites
Here's why I'm personally a fan of third party website booking:
- Sometimes I want to book something luxury and sometimes I want to be super low budget. Third party booking allows for both in the same points scheme.
- I like to test out local boutique hotels sometimes, and they are rarely part of a hotel group.
- In some of the areas that I travel to, hotel options can be limited, so with a third party site that lists across all brands, I can usually find something.
- Stay 10 nights, get a free night. Now that's a simple, uncomplicated rewards program I can get behind.
- If you're not interested in collecting the points from the website's points scheme, there is often an option to collect Airmiles or Aeroplan points in lieu of hotel rewards. (Be warned, this does not usually give you the best bang-for-your-buck)
Do Your Research
Choose a website or hotel group and stick with it! Sign up for their points program and subscribe to their emails right away. You'll find out about promotions! If you're going the third party site route, there are many sites to choose from, hotels.com, expedia.com, booking.com, and agoda.com are a few of the major players.
Check out their websites, read up on their points programs and price matching policies. Check out the availability of hotel listings they have in the cities that you frequent. Do your homework!
What Works for Me
Personally, I'm a hotels.com diehard. I mean it. They're my favourite company of all time. And here's why:
- They have a great, uncomplicated rewards policy. You stay 10 nights, you get one free at the value of the average of your 10 previous nights. If you want to stay at a more expensive hotel, you pay the difference. No blackout dates. Easy.
- They have a great price match policy that has recently been improved and updated! Check out my blog post on this policy for an in-depth review!
- They have the best customer service I have ever experienced, anywhere. They're patient when I hold up their phone lines price matching all day. They have priced matched me many times where my request didn't exactly fall within their rules. Last year I was invited to be part of a customer focus group where we were asked for feedback and suggestions for improvement. A lot of our suggestions actually ended up making it to the site! Once when I accidentally booked almost a full month of hotel bookings for the wrong dates at a non refundable rate, they felt so bad for me that they changed the dates for free anyway! And once, when I called them late at night because my hotel said I didn't have a booking, they asked me to pass the phone to the manager and they sorted it for me, free room upgrade and all!
Hot tip: Most of my price matches come from a lowered rate on hotels.com itself or on agoda.com. You can use google's hotel price feature or websites such as trivago.com to quickly compare a hotel's price across multiple third party sites.
It Ain't All Sunshine and Rainbows
There are a couple of things hotels.com does that really irks me though:
- You can't collect rewards nights when you use one of their discount coupons. This tells me that they value business from new, or infrequent customers more than their loyal customer base. And unless the discount code is for more than 10%, it's usually not worth it.
- They sometimes send a coveted Double Rewards Code (usually to a random selection of people that have completed a hotel review). But the expiry date on the code is within such a small window that even a frequent traveller like myself has a hard time using it before it expires.
- I've heard from people that work in the hotels industry that they charge the one of highest commissions and are not the greatest at customer service from that side of things. But I have no experience in this.
Is this post sponsored? No. I'm not making any money from hotels.com here! The moral of the story is - Do your homework and find out what travel booking options work best for you!
Got a hot tip or a question? Disagree with my hotels strategy? Hit me up in the comments!
If you work in the hotels industry, I'd also love to hear your perspective on hotels.com!