Have you ever made a hotel booking mistake? Most of us have at one time or another, whether it's booking a non-refundable rate that we end up needing to cancel, or later realizing we could have received more benefits, perks or points for our stay.
Fortunately, hotel booking problems are often (although not always) less expensive to resolve than airline ticket booking errors (see Top 12 Airline Ticket Booking Errors to Avoid). Here are some of the problems I hear about most frequently from TravelSort readers and from new TravelSort Clients who have made some of this mistakes in the past, before booking their hotels with me.
1. Not Checking the Deposit and Cancellation Policy Before Booking
It can be easy to just skip over the fine print, and not realize that you just made a non-refundable booking or were charged a deposit at time of booking, until you look at your credit card statement.
Hot to Avoid: Make sure the find and read the hotel deposit and cancellation policies. Sometimes you'll need to click on a link to read them–do it! Often resort properties will charge 1-2 nights + tax, and sometimes the full amount of the stay will be charged 21, 30, 60 or 90 days in advance of the stay, depending on the property.
2. Booking a Room That Doesn't Accommodate All of You
This is especially a common problem for guests booking entry level rooms in Europe, where it's quite common for a room to only accommodate two adults, and no children, due to strict fire code regulations. Some rooms are even just for one person, not two.
How to Avoid: Don't assume you can fit your family (even just a family of three, with one child) in all entry level rooms, especially when traveling in Europe. Sometimes hotel sites list the maximum number of guests the room can accommodate; Four Seasons is especially good at mentioning how many adults and how many children may sleep in a given room or suite type. But if it's not mentioned, be sure to ask the hotel directly, or have your travel advisor check with the hotel.
3. Not Understanding the Mandatory Resort Fee or Other Extra Fees
Many hotels in resort locations (the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaii, etc.) and even some in non-resort locations (think Las Vegas) charge mandatory resort fees that include internet access, local calls, access to the fitness center, and such. Other mandatory fees can include an extra bed fee, if you need one for someone in your party, a pet fee if you're bringing a pet and the hotel allows pets, and sometimes one-off fees such as a mandatory New Year's Eve dinner at some properties.
How to Avoid: The resort fee should be disclosed during the booking process, but if not, and you're booking a Vegas hotel or a resort-type property, you may want to double check before booking, to avoid an unwelcome surprise. Similarly, if you'll have more than two people in the room, check to see if there's an extra fee. You'd be surprised–some properties charge a significant fee even for kids in the room that don't need extra bedding. See Park Hyatt Maldives: Most Expensive Extra Bed Fee Ever?
4. Booking a Luxury Hotel Without Virtuoso or Preferred Partner Benefits
If you're booking a 5 star luxury hotel that's a Virtuoso member or that has a preferred partner program (such as Aman Resorts, Four Seasons, The Peninsula, Mandarin Oriental, Rosewood, Ritz-Carlton, etc.) you're leaving money on the table if you book with the hotel directly instead of with TravelSort or your Virtuoso luxury travel advisor. That's because by booking with TravelSort you'd enjoy a complimentary upgrade (usually based on availability, but sometimes guaranteed at time of booking), complimentary daily breakfast for two, a property specific amenity such as a $100 food and beverage credit, and sometimes additional perks such as a complimentary airport transfer.
Not only are you missing out on complimentary upgrades and breakfast if not booking with a Virtuoso or Preferred Partner luxury travel advisor, you also have a greater risk of being “walked” (put up at a different hotel) if the hotel is oversold, or of being assigned an inferior room for the category you booked.
How to Avoid: Become a TravelSort Client and book your luxury hotel stays with Virtuoso or preferred partner benefits.
5. Booking a Prepaid, Non-Refundable Rate That You Later Need to Cancel
It's tempting to simply book a non-refundable rate as soon as you have your trip plans, as this is often the lowest rate. The problem? 1) You may later need to cancel for a reason not covered by your credit card or other travel insurance; 2) prepaid rates are usually not eligible for Virtuoso or preferred partner benefits; and 3) sometimes rates decrease after you book, but you've already locked yourself into that non-refundable rate.
How to Avoid: Be sure to weigh the pros and cons of the non-refundable rate, especially when booking very far in advance and for expensive multi-night stays. You may be best off reserving a Virtuoso or preferred partner rate that permits cancellations and provides benefits as well as putting you first in line for upgrades.
6. Not Rechecking Your Rate for Rate Decreases
While often hotel rates for the best hotels will increase, as rooms sell out, sometimes they decrease, and you could find that a hotel or resort room you booked months ago actually now costs less on the hotel Web site.
How to Avoid: Periodically recheck the hotel rates, so that you or your travel advisor can rebook at a lower rate, still with all Virtuoso or preferred partner amenities. Make sure it's the same room type and bed configuration, however; I've had clients who point out a lower rate, only to discover it's for 2 double beds, when they need a king bed, and in fact all the king bedded rooms are sold out (or vice versa, especially for Vegas: they need 2 queen beds, but all those are sold out, and only king bedded rooms are left).
7. Not Earning Hotel Loyalty Points for a Stay Made with Virtuoso, Preferred Partner, or Directly with the Hotel
Some travelers know all too well that third party bookings typically don't earn hotel loyalty points, and don't realize that Virtuoso and preferred partner bookings made via a luxury travel advisor are the same as booking directly with the hotel, when it comes to earning hotel loyalty points.
How to Avoid: Be sure to provide your hotel loyalty numbers to TravelSort or your luxury travel advisor, so that you can earn points for Virtuoso and Starwood Luxury Privileges stays.
8. Not Earning the Maximum Hotel Loyalty Points Possible with the Right Credit Card
Have you ever made or paid for a hotel booking and realized you could have earned more points simply by using a different credit card?
For example, if you're staying at a Park Hyatt, use your Hyatt Visa to earn 3 Hyatt Gold Passport points per dollar spent, in addition to your Gold Passport benefit of 5 points per dollar spent and Platinum or Diamond bonus points, depending on your elite status. Similarly, with the SPG AMEX, you'll earn 2 Starpoints per dollar spent on Starwood hotels from the credit card, in addition to the 2-3 Starpoints per dollar spent at Starwood hotels, depending on your SPG elite status.
How to Avoid: If you frequently stay at a given hotel chain, get the hotel's credit card so that you can earn more points from each stay. And don't forget to use that card when making or paying for a booking; put it in your wallet before your trip, for stays where you'll be paying for the hotel at check-out.
9. Making a Hotel Booking in a Foreign Currency with a Credit Card That Charges Foreign Transaction Fees
Many hotel bookings are made in U.S. dollars, but what about international hotels? Some new travelers accept the hotel's offer to convert the bill into dollars at check-out, but this is a big mistake, since you'll end up paying needless foreign exchange fees from the hotel's unfavorable exchange rate. And what about deposits at time of booking for foreign hotels?
How to Avoid: When you or your travel advisor is booking a foreign hotel, if a deposit is required or if you've decided it's worth booking a non-refundable stay, ensure that the card you're using doesn't charge forex fees. That means: *no* AMEX card except the AMEX Platinum (the only AMEX card that doesn't charge a foreign exchange fee) and usually means a Visa or MasterCard that charges an annual fee, since no annual fee cards charge a forex fee.
10. Procrastinating When Booking Winter Break/New Year's Stays
I can't tell you how many prospective clients contact me in the summer, wanting a Christmas/New Year's stay at the Four Seasons Maui at Wailea or the Four Seasons Hualalai or Amanyara or other popular Caribbean resort. Not only do these resorts have 10 night minimums, they have waiting lists even at the 1 year out mark–basically, you have a slim to no chance of getting in if you haven't been coming there as a repeat guest for years.
How to Avoid: Trust me, even if you could manage to get into these properties for winter break/new year's, this is not the best time to go, both in terms of crowds and the peak season room and suite rates. I understand that it's the kids' vacation, but I recommend picking another off-peak or shoulder season time to travel to these resorts. If you must travel during this time, consider a city break or a more remote locale that isn't as busy during the festive season, and aim to book a year in advance.
11. Relying on an Online Booking Site's Description of the Hotel and Room
If you do book through a third party site such as Hotels.com, Expedia, etc. anyway, beware of relying on that site's description of the hotel and its rooms, since these sites disclaim liability, usually with the caveat that hotel details “may include inaccuracies.”
How to Avoid: If certain hotel or room features are important to you, be sure to check directly with the hotel itself before booking.
12. Canceling a Hotel Booking Made Through a Third Party Site with the Hotel Itself, Instead of the Site
Awhile ago I heard from a reader who booked a hotel through Expedia, then cancelled it directly with the hotel. She was upset not to get all her money back, as she was still charged by Expedia.
How to Avoid: You need to cancel a hotel booking through the site you used to make it; so if you make a third party booking, be sure to cancel it that way as well, and not directly with the hotel.
Have you ever encountered these or had other hotel booking problems?
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