Monday, August 30, 2010

California Dreamin' – Choosing Accommodations in the USA

Jacksonville, Florida motel
While I prefer to stay in short-term apartment rentals when traveling, trips involving many brief stops in several cities make that impossible. Since David and I are facing that scenario on this California trip, we've followed our tried-and-never-found-wanting approach to getting a good room at the best price.

The first step is to check the Trip Advisor site. It is loaded with helpful information.

Hotels are ranked by popularity based on readers' reviews, and the reviews themselves supply invaluable information, even an occasional photo. David and I usually spend hours poring over the reviews because it is in this section that we learn vital information that is never available on a hotel's website. If we want to know if the noise from a busy street will keep us awake all night or if breakfast is worth the sacrifice of sleeping late, the reviews will tell us. If you prefer, however, to use your own criteria, rather than rely on readers' reviews, you can re-sort the listings according to a set of filters. Choosing a price range, room style, traveler ratings, hotel rating, location (Close to city center or train station?), and amenities allows you to customize your search.
Trip Advisor has many other helpful sections to help you learn about the area. There are a Google map, photos, a list of top-rated restaurants and things to do, plus a forum where you can pose a question for anything that, difficult as it is to believe, Trip Advisor might have forgotten to tell you.

When we finally find a place that looks promising, we can check the price by using Trip Advisor's search engine to find out what Expedia, Orbitz,, Venere, Getaroom, Book It, and Booking would charge. The data is entered once on Trip Advisor's site, and pop-up windows give prices and room types for each of the hotel discounters.

Our second step is to check with Hotels Combined. What I like best about this site is that it is simply a search engine that directs customers to individual suppliers' sites to make reservations. In other words I tend to trust it a bit more because it does not profit from the reservation.

Their site promises it ...”combines hotel deals, from all major travel websites into one free, quick and easy search,” and they're not kidding. They check 32 suppliers, ones you may never have heard of before, to make sure you have access to all the hotels available. Once the list is generated, you can set the filters for location, price, star ratings, hotel brand and features, and property type (In larger cities, apartments, resorts, and B&B's are also available.)

When you've made a choice, another click leads to the page where the suppliers are listed with their room types and prices. For San Francisco, I randomly clicked the Good Hotel where prices ranged from $79.20 with Get a Room to $134.38 with Skoosh. If you've never heard of Skoosh or any of the other companies, click on the question mark beside the supplier's name. It will tell you if it's a verifiable and trust-worthy travel site and what the method of payment will be. Some of Hotels Combined suppliers immediately charge your credit card the full amount of the reservation while others adopt the more standard approach of billing you when you check out. If this is important to you, you will definitely want to know this information before placing your reservation.

If you want a bit more information about the hotel before making a commitment, the site supplies a box at the bottom of the price-listing page with a photo and description of the hotel and its amenities. Other tabs take you to a map, photos and reviews.

After reading dozens of hotel reviews, checking maps, and consulting with Trip Advisor and Hotels Combined on price, David and I feel as though we know everything about the hotels we've chosen except the color of the shower curtain! The last step is to make sure we're getting the best possible price, and there's no way to make absolutely sure unless we check with the hotel itself.

Armed with our list and the lowest prices we've found, we consult the hotel's website, enter our travel dates, and sometimes find a pleasant surprise--the hotel/motel itself often offers cheaper rates than any we can find elsewhere.

But, whether we reserve with the hotel, Trip Advisor or one of the suppliers form Hotels Combined, we can rest easy knowing we've done our homework and have found the best accommodation for us at the best possible price. And that, for tightwad travelers, is the first step to a memorable vacation!

(We found the Lombard Motor Inn in San Francisco, with good Trip Advisor reviews and free parking, for just under $100 a night!)

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