I’m excited! In 7 weeks and 4 days, I’m jumping on a plane and flying to London … but who’s counting! My youngest daughter went to the UK for a Gap Year in late December so I’m heading over for three weeks to see my gorgeous girl and take in some sights at the same time. You can read a little more about her adventure here: Bon Voyage … My Sweet Girl …
We will be staying in London for 6 days, travelling to Paris for 6 days, heading up to Edinburgh for 4 days, flying to Ireland for a week and then it will be time to say farewell! I booked my flights about a month ago … thank you QANTAS Frequent Flyer points … and I’m now booking our accommodation. After your airfare, accommodation is the thing that will probably drain the bulk of your holiday budget, therefore, getting the best hotel for the cheapest price is important. So, today I thought I would share with you some tricks I’ve learned over the years to ensure I get the best value for money and stay in the best location for my needs.
WHEN DO YOU PLAN TO TRAVEL?
Before I even book flights, I consider the “timing” of when I will travel. If you can avoid school holidays (not just here but also the country you’re travelling to), peak seasons or times when there are significant sporting, cultural or other events ocurring, you can save a small fortune on the cost of your accommodation. As much as possible, I tend to travel “off-season” and, if you can be flexible, try to rearrange your itinerary to avoid weekends where possible in expensive destinations, as these nightly rates tend to be expensive as well.
PREPARE AN ITINERARY AND PLOT IT ON A MAP
I start by preparing a basic itinerary and put together a list of any attractions or places I want to see. I grab a map and plot those so I get an idea of how far I will need to commute either by walking, bus, subway or rail to see them. I work out what’s close, what isn’t and try to get an idea if any of these places are grouped together or spread out in all directions. One word of advice, be realistic about what you want to see and do because if you try to squeeze in too much in too little time you’ll only end up stressed and disappointed. One of my favourite tools is Google Maps because I can zoom out to get a general overview of any city or zoom in for more detail. It will also give clear and specific directions on how to get from A to B, how far it is and the various ways to get there.
START SEARCHING EARLY
I start my search for hotels as early as possible and certainly as soon as I book my airfares. You can pick up some great “Advance Purchase” specials. Alternatively, if you don’t have much notice, sites like Wotif or Last Minute can feature some really great deals from hotels looking to fill unsold rooms.
CHOOSE AN AREA/NEIGHBOURHOOD/SUBURB
Once I’ve learned a little about where I’m going and I’ve orientated myself a little, now I start thinking about areas/neighbourhoods/suburbs that will be convenient. This is when the research begins and it truly is about location, location, location because the right hotel can make or break your holiday. I usually start checking out at least three potential areas, taking into account my budget. Be careful here to also research areas that you should avoid, most especially in regards to your safety. My first port of call is usually always Trip Advisor. It’s free to use and allows you to see how hotels and other styles of accommodation have been rated by travellers who can leave a review sharing their experiences and opinions on all aspects of the hotel, which are then ranked in order accordingly. You can spend many hours if you choose to read lots of reviews but it can be time well spent when you stumble onto a hidden gem. That’s what I’m always on the lookout for … a little boutique hotel in a great location that’s a fantastic price, has beautiful comfortable rooms, amazing customer service, great facilities and is close to transport and the things I want to see. These reviews can also be a valuable source of tips including restaurant recommendations, ways to save money and even specific directions of how to get around.
COLLECT A SELECTION OF BROCHURES AND TRAVEL GUIDES
I always grab some brochures and travel guides for my destination from a travel agent and the library. Not only can I see the range of hotels available from budget through to luxury, but brochures will sometimes feature hotels that have “Bonus Offers”, things like “stay 6 pay for 4”. Once you average the nightly cost it can be cheaper than booking online or through the hotel.
WHAT TYPE OF ACCOMMODATION IS MOST SUITABLE?
Consider also the standard of accommodation you need. If you’re travelling to a beach area and plan on spending a lot of time around the hotel, you might want to spend more money on “resort style” 4 – 5 star accommodation. If, however, your hotel will be little more than a place to sleep and shower, a more budget friendly, basic, clean hotel room could be all you need and certainly a lot cheaper. A luxury hotel will always be appealing but it usually always come with a hefty price tag.
Ask friends, family and work colleagues for recommendations. They can often suggest fantastic places to stay that you may not have found, even after hours of searching, or somewhere that may not be on your travel agents usual list.
VISIT POPULAR TRAVEL WEBSITES
Once you’ve found your hotel, now it’s time to get the best price. When searching on Trip Advisor you will be prompted to enter your check in and check out dates as well as the number of people needing accommodation. Once the list appears, you will see pricing information and you can click on those tabs. I have booked and paid in the past through: www.agoda.com, www.bookings.com, www.expedia.com, www.hotels.com and www.wotif.com and never encountered any problems. Most online booking engines offer price comparisons between several hundred sites meaning you’ll generally get the lowest price available. There will also be pricing available from other booking sites/engines but I personally avoid any that I’ve not heard of and stick to the ones I know and have used previously. Some prices quoted on some of these lesser known sites are super cheap but I always work on the theory that “if it’s too good to be true, it usually is” … and a little bit of digging has usually proved that I was right to trust my instincts.
VISIT A HOTEL’S WEBSITE/SOCIAL MEDIA PAGES
I also check pricing directly on the hotel’s website and their social media pages, as these can be places where discounts and special promotions are advertised. Don’t be afraid also to email any hotel directly and request a quote for their best rates.
JOIN HOTEL PROGRAMS
Memberships to Hotel programs like Accor, Starwood Preferred Guests, Club Carlson or Hilton HHonours, to name a few, can either offer discounts on accommodation rates, free extras like breakfast or wi-fi and even allow you to use points towards free nights. I’m a member of all the reward programs listed above and will always visit these sites to compare prices. As long as I can get the best price, accumulating some points is an added bonus.
SIGN UP TO AIRLINE FREQUENT FLYER PROGRAMS
Airline Frequent Flyer programs are also worth checking out. I’m a Qantas Frequent Flyer Member and, once I choose a hotel, I always visit www.qantashotels.com to compare prices. If I can match the best price that I’ve found elsewhere, I will book and earn points for the booking. I have also used my Qantas Frequent Flyer points to book accommodation.
CONSIDER OTHER TYPES OF ACCOMMODATION
Be open also to different styles of accommodation. My eldest daughter recently travelled through Europe and most of the accommodation was booked through Airbnb. Hostels and backpackers are great for younger people whereas there’s also great savings to be had staying in Bed and Breakfast style accommodation or even pubs. Where you stay can also be a culturally significant part of your holiday experience. We’ve travelled to Japan a couple of times and almost always stay in the traditional Japanese ryokans … a great experience, much cheaper than the larger hotels and the perfect way to experience and enjoy some local culture.
TALK TO A TRAVEL AGENT
Finally, as part of my research, I also have a chat to a travel agent … firstly, for any recommendations and secondly, to see if they can beat the best price that I’ve found. Every now and again they can come up with a price/deal through a travel wholesaler that I can’t find despite my best efforts. They can also recommend some great hotels based on feedback from their clients.
If you don’t have a lot of spare time, a travel agent take care of all your holiday bookings. However, if your happy to put in some time and effort, you might find some great savings. I personally enjoy being in control of my own travel arrangements and quite enjoy the challenge. I don’t need to trust that someone else has fully understood my needs and I don’t want to limit my options by putting my arrangements into the hands of one person who has a smaller selection on offer, as opposed to unlimited access via the internet. Booking and paying over the internet is now relatively easy and most times, any questions I have about a hotel can be answered by simply emailing the Reservations Department. As long as you stick to using reliable, well-known sites, you shouldn’t find the process too stressful and you will definitely become more confident as your experience grows.
So, tell me, are you comfortable making all your own holiday arrangements or do you always use a travel agent? If you do your own bookings, has it always been “smooth sailing” and can you suggest any other tips?
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