On the Ground
You don't have to be rich to travel wellEugene Fodor
Congratulations! You’ve chosen your destination, booked your flights, but where are you going to stay?
There is so much choice out there, how do you know what is the right option for you? How can you make the most of your money and time when you are there. Read on, and find some tips on making the most of your time at your destination.
How to book
With the growth of the internet, there are now so many ways to book it can be very confusing. On the flip side it means that everyone has the ability to find their perfect solution from the comfort of their living room. Let’s look at the choices out there:
- Book through a travel agent or tour operator – this is the most traditional method, and has both it’s pros and cons. For many the the safety of a well-known company, being ATOL protected is a very important factor. However, often these companies are not as responsive to changes, and special offers as the more nimble On-line Travel Agents and booking engines. This together with their markup means that they may not be able to offer the best prices. In theory, the agent you deal with should be able to offer you expert advice on where you will be travelling, however, it is impossible for any one person to be able to know everything about everywhere.
- Book through a hotel booking site like hotels.com or booking.com – these large multinational companies that offer hotel rooms from virtually any hotel anywhere in the world. They offer the advantage of being able to respond quickly to special offers and sales by hotels. However, there is no person at the other end to offer you destination advice, and you may find yourself booking a hotel above a nightclub or a 12 lane highway in the most dangerous end of town, just because it looks nice and had a great price!
- Book through a tour operator in your destination country. This can be an excellent option, IF you manage to find the right operator. They should know the destination well, have access to the best rates and special offers. However, what if you pick the wrong operator and arrive at your destination and your driver is not there or arrive at the hotel and there is no booking, what recourse do you have? There are many fantastic in country operators, but do your research first!
- Book through the hotel’s own website. For years the best deals have been through the large scale booking engines mentioned in point 2 above. However, increasingly many hotels and hotel chains are now trying to get clients to book directly with them, by guaranteeing the lowest possible rates only if booked directly. Hilton Hotels are the most recent to join the list. Some hotels also keep their best rooms for direct bookers. Our tip is look at the likes of hotels.com and if you see a hotel you like, check with the hotel website directly and make the comparison before you book.
- Book through emerging site in the so called “sharing” economy, like airbnb.com, where you can choose to book a room in someone’s home, or a privately owned self-contained flat/apartment. This can be a great way of doing things, often giving you full home from home facilities and access to someone local who can give you great tips about the destination. Again, though, be careful, don’t just believe what the advertiser says!
- Book through the airline you’re flying with. Some of the major airlines also offer the ability to book hotels and car hire when you book your flight ticket. This can sometimes offer great deals. While the airline might not have the lowest stand alone hotel price, they have the ability to reduce the airfare to make the overall package cheaper.
Loyalty – not just for airlines
Just like most airlines offer a loyalty programme, so do most hotel chains and even some booking engines.
If you like the flexibility of booking wherever you want, maybe consider hotels.com‘s “Rewards” programme. It is a very simple programme that gives you one free night for each 10 nights you stay at hotels booked through hotels.com (the free night is a credit to the value of the average nightly price of the 10 nights booked). Note that some hotel stays may not be included, and some hotels may not be bookable with your free night. However, overall it is a simple programme that rewards you effectively with 10% back on your hotel spend.
By joining one of the major hotel chain loyalty programmes, you can gain benefits while staying at their hotels, and often enjoy perks such as free wifi, room upgrades, free nights etc. Like any loyalty programme the more you spend with them the higher the level of benefits.
Our pick of the hotel groups to consider are Marriott Rewards (Marriott is currently merging with Starwood Hotels and Resorts to create the world’s largest hotel company), Hilton Honours and IHG Rewards Club. Each of these groups offers a range of hotels to suit all budgets, and enough hotels globally to mean that there is usually a hotel in your chosen destination.
See the world, its more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factoriesRay Bradbury