The Booking Game

Since the advent of the internet, acting as your travel agent has become the norm, not the exception. Nowadays, in addition to flights, rental cars, and tours, most experienced travelers book their accommodations. Doing it yourself definitely can save money and turn up the perfect situation, but there are minefields and deceptive practices common in the hospitality industry that can turn that dream vacation into a nightmare.
A multitude of apps, internet sites, and tools make it easy to book and we generally use a combination of them when doing our research and making reservations. Over the decades of booking our travels, we have made plenty of mistakes but with each error; we become a little wiser and a little more cautious as we do our booking due diligence.
Here are some lessons we’ve learned.
Consider the location carefully. Many travelers will save a few bucks by booking on the outskirts of the tourist areas. If they’re not careful, they wind up spending valuable vacation time and money getting to a destination only to stay in a business hotel in the burbs. The room rate may be a bargain, but they might have failed to consider the time drag of long public transportation trips, rush hour traffic delays, and parking searches. Life – and most vacations – are too short. It’s worth spending some extra to be in the center of things, to simply walk out of your hotel and stroll to attractions and restaurants.
Size matters when it comes to rooms. Many hotels have a few closet-sized rooms designed as teasers for booking engines. We could barely find a place to store bags in one London “flat” we rented. Unless you like the coziness of a tiny room make sure to click the details link to learn the room’s square footage to be sure you’re not booking a closet.
Check for deceptive additional hidden fees or taxes. Many hotels, resorts, and chains are adding “resort fees” for things that should be included or that you don’t want or need. Several state lawsuits aim to make these practices illegal. Until then, check the bottom line before you click “Book.”
Make sure you can cancel without penalty. Itineraries change and life happens, so being able to cancel is essential. Some booking companies like have a filter for displaying only cancelable accommodations. Be sure that the option is stated clearly on your booking and save the confirmation or email if you decide to cancel. On our last trip, we canceled a room only to be charged for four nights on our credit card. Because we had an email proving we canceled, the credit card company removed the charge.
Finally, make sure that your accommodation won’t be a nightmare. Twice in Portugal’s walled towns with their ancient narrow cobblestone streets, we experienced challenging and even dangerous situations, trying to drive to and park at our accommodations. Other problems range from lack of an elevator, no air conditioning, noise or smell from the bar below, etc. Dig into the details and read the reviews. Misadventures may make for great stories, but they’re lousy for a relaxing vacation or a good night’s sleep.