American Travelers Really Want Hotel Loyalty Points

July 24, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

How far would you go to earn loyalty points? According to a surprising study by Carlson Wagonlit Travel, some travelers are willing to go farther than you might expect.

American business travelers top the list (47 percent of all respondents) of those willing to risk a certain level of personal safety in order to earn loyalty points from their overnight stay. If given the choice to stay at a property where they’re not a loyalty member or stay where they are, business travelers will choose the loyalty program benefits over their personal safety.

But before you get images of people staying in rough neighborhoods for the sake of a few points, let’s define the sense of “feeling unsafe” most respondents described. Most wouldn’t put themselves in physical danger, but they would be willing to put up with disruptive fellow guests that made them feel uncomfortable. Others (44 percent) said they would disregard their fear of someone breaking into their room so they could earn more points.

The hotel front desk at the JW Marriott in New Orleans, LA. This is where you ask for your hotel upgrade.

The hotel front desk at the JW Marriott in New Orleans, LA.

Among those traveling for business internationally (37 percent), the personal safety concern was less physical. They were concerned their privacy would be breached by their information being given out without their knowledge or someone discovering their room number or procuring a key.

Many respondents also indicated they believed staying on higher floors of a hotel to be safer. Thirty-two percent said they avoid staying on the ground floor if at all possible.

Bottom line? No amount of loyalty points is worth risking your personal safety for. Your work and your life are too important, so don’t take unnecessary risks. Be smart, and don’t make unwise choices. There are other ways to get points!

How far will you go to earn more loyalty points? Where do you draw the line? Leave us a comment on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter page.

Photo credit: Prayitno Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

Chain Hotels vs B&Bs vs Airbnb

June 7, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

When considering your lodging accommodation options, what’s most important to you? Do you want a standard cookie cutter room that will be the same(ish) wherever you go? Or do you want to experience something new and unique each time you travel?

If you’ve only ever stayed in hotels, why? If you’re a fan of Airbnb or independent bed and breakfast operations, what appeals to you about them? Or if you love to stay in cozy little B&Bs, what draws you to them?

These are some good questions to ask yourself as you think through your itinerary each trip. There are some good reasons to stay at any of these three options, and a few downsides as well.

Hotel room in the Renaissance Columbus, OHHotels provide a consistent experience, they’re located close to major attractions or downtown business districts, and you can count on them being clean and maintained for you during your stay. You’re also rewarded with loyalty points and other benefits like upgrades for frequent stays.

Of course, if you’re looking for an individual, unique experience, hotels won’t give that to you. They’re there for convenience and/or price. It’s a place to sleep, or to be pampered if you’re staying at a luxury vacation hotel, but you’re still just one of hundreds of guests.

If you want to investigate a specific part of a city, live like the locals, have more room to relax, and cook some of your own meals, Airbnb offers many options.

An Airbnb house in Santa Barbara California; they have a new tool for business travelers.

An Airbnb house in Santa Barbara, California

Typically, you have a more personal experience, possibly interacting with the owner of the property who may also live nearby. You’re often nestled in a residential neighborhood, and you can discover local finds that are off the beaten path from the heavily frequented tourist areas. You can also save money on your trip by eating in. In order to compete with chain hotels, Airbnb is now rewarding loyalty as well.

On the downside, you don’t always get as much privacy, as some Airbnb rooms are just a bedroom in someone’s house or apartment. That’s fine if you’re going to be out for most of the day, and if you don’t mind bunking with a stranger, but some people don’t like the idea. (If that’s you, keep in mind that you can specify a private house or private apartment on the website; you won’t be surprised with a roommate when you book your Airbnb.)

Long before Airbnb, independent bed and breakfasts provided a similar experience for travelers seeking something unique.

When you book your stay at a bed and breakfast, you may have all the benefits of a hotel—clean, maintained rooms—but you also get the chance to interact with a smaller group of guests and the owner/operator, who may be cooking your meals and can provide expert knowledge about the area’s sites and history. In fact, if you love history, a B&B may be your best bet, as many of them are originally historic homes that have been converted into a place to visit and relax.

But on the downside, it’s like staying in a small hotel. You may have your own bathroom or you may end up sharing one with other guests. If you need your privacy and space, be sure to check out the B&B’s website and room type before you commit.

What’s your lodging preference when you travel? What makes it your favorite? What option do you like the least? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: David Jensen (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)
Scott Cutler, an Airbnb house in Santa Barbara, CA (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Mysterious Hotel Fees Explained

May 22, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

When checking out of a hotel, do you ever really examine the bill that’s slipped under your door before you actually leave the premises? If not, you could be paying more than you expected for your room, thanks to some hidden fees that were tacked on to your bill but didn’t show up on the website when you booked it.

The use of fees isn’t uncommon in the hotel industry. It allows them a certain “sleight of hand” in advertising, claiming a certain room price and not disclosing what will be tacked on when you check out. This isn’t illegal so much as one of those unspoken things that just sort of happen but no one talks about.

So let’s talk about it! Here are some explanations for commonly added fees.

Let’s start with the resort fee. Basically, this allows a hotel to charge travelers for specific amenities that are part of the hotel’s property. It might include access to the business center, the fitness center, or newspaper delivery. It can vary from property to property, with some charging a flat fee while others tack on a percentage based on your room rate. Another little-known fee can be added for lawn maintenance called a groundskeeping fee. You value that there aren’t any weeds in the grass and that the lawn is edged, don’t you? Well, someone’s got to pay for that.

Some Fees are Negotiable

According to the LA Times, these fees aren’t mandated by law, nor have they been “levied by a legitimate taxing organization.” That’s good news for you because it means you can contest them before you ever check in and negotiate your way to a rate you can live with.

However, this is easier said than done.

Hotel lobby. This is the place to negotiate your hotel fees *before* you check inOne strategy for getting out of a resort fee is to know what your benefits are as a member of that hotel’s loyalty program. For example, a hotel can’t charge you for wifi if it’s included as an amenity in your loyalty membership. According to The Points Guy, Nick Ewen, fees of this nature can be waived at certain properties in the Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, and Starwood chains.

If the hotel you’re staying at doesn’t have a loyalty program, you can try to negotiate the resort fee by telling them you don’t want to pay for amenities, such as the pool or the gym, you don’t plan to use. If you don’t do this at check-in, though, you’re going to have a hard time getting waived when you check out.

And don’t try to be tricky: Don’t negotiate and then surreptitiously use them anyway. (That doesn’t work with the pet fee, and it won’t work in this case. Hotels have eyes everywhere.)

Another strange, annoying fee is the occupancy tax. This one is harder to dispute because local municipalities and some state governments have legislated these for the benefit of their city and state. Don’t confuse these with state and local taxes; they’re different. And, on top of both of these, some states and cities charge a bed tax, also known as a hotel unit fee.

For example, in New York City, the New York State Department of Taxation requires hotels in the Big Apple to charge $1.50 per day as a hotel unit fee. Houston charges 17 percent, Palm Springs charges 13.5 percent, and in San Francisco, the charge is 14 percent plus and additional 1 to 1.5 percent in certain tourism improvement districts.

Don’t let late-night snacking at the mini bar end up as an additional charge on your bill. On top of the overpriced item you bought on a whim, you may be charged a restocking fee Ask ahead of time if you plan to “take advantage” of this particular amenity, or stock up on snacks at a local convenience store and save yourself the remorse. (And don’t try to replace it on your own. Many of these minibars have sensors to tell if an item has been moved, and that’s how they know to charge you.)

Be aware that some hotels may charge what they call a “service charge” that ensures the staff are appropriately tipped for making your bed, vacuuming, and leaving you clean towels. If you plan to tip the staff yourself, discuss this with management, not the front desk staff, upon your arrival, but don’t be surprised if the explanation of this fee is frustratingly vague. After all, the housekeeping staff don’t make a lot of money to begin with, so shorting them on tips is kind of selfish and uncool.

Keep in mind that some hotels have taken their cue from the airlines and have begun charging for those little “extras” you may consider complimentary, such as:

  • Extra towels
  • Local phone calls
  • Late checkout
  • Choosing your own room

One last piece of advice about these fees: don’t get caught being charged a cancellation fee if you have to cancel your reservation. You may not be aware that some hotels charge you for the night if you cancel less than 72 or 48 hours in advance.

What kinds of hotel fees have you encountered on your travels? Have you been able to negotiate them off your bill or been surprised to find them? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Radesigns (Pixabay.com, Creative Commons 0, Public Domain)

How to Find a Cheap Hotel Room

February 6, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

According to Nomadic Matt (no, not me), former cubicle dweller and 9-to-5-er turned full-time traveler, finding a cheap hotel room isn’t as much about database results as it is about knowing what you want.

Having traveled the world full time since 2006 and authoring How to Travel the World on $50 a Day, he qualifies as an expert about how to do worldwide travel on the cheap. While he typically stays in hostels and books through Airbnb, he knows that there comes a time when those options aren’t available or may not be preferred by other travelers.

So he did a little experiment. He created an itinerary and plotted it on the major hotel booking sites, Agoda, Booking.com, HotWire, Orbitz, and Travelocity. What he found surprised him.

Hotel pricing is a lot more set than airline pricing and tends to fluctuate less. I wouldn’t spend hours searching hotel websites or days tracking prices like people do with airline prices. I’d spend, at the most, 30 minutes on booking a hotel. I found that the variation between sites isn’t enough to justify more time.

Hotel room in the Renaissance Columbus, OHHe did find that there were two clear winners in this site war experiment: Booking.com and Agoda.com. While they didn’t aggregate the largest number of places to compare, each provided him with the best selection of cheap establishments.

His opinion of Orbitz and Travelocity were mixed because both are owned by Expedia and therefore pull from the same databases for their results. He also found that they tended to provide results toward higher end of what he was requesting.

While he felt Priceline and Hotwire gave him excellent results, he didn’t like not knowing what hotel he was choosing until after he’d paid for his irrevocable reservation.

Based on his research, here are Matt’s suggestions for booking a cheap hotel.

Look at hotel websites directly. They often offer deals and will match whatever price you find on another website. Booking directly allows you to accrue loyalty points, which translate into free nights in the future, but you can only rack up points if you book direct.

About loyalty programs—sign up. “The best way to stay cheap is to stay for free,” Matt says. There are other ways to earn points besides stays, such as using credit cards that tie to the hotel chain you like, and shopping portals.

Bartering may work. If you want a better rate, you won’t know if they can give you one unless you ask. The best times to ask are mid-week and during non-peak travel times when the hotel may have empty rooms it’s trying to fill.

Membership has its privileges, and members of AAA and AARP get discount rates. Something you may not know is that AARP is open to anyone, not just people who are in their 50s!

Another little known way to earn loyalty points and increase your status is to purchase discount hotel gift cards. They allow you to book hotel rooms at discounted rates too. Giftcardgranny.com is just one example of such a site.

Lastly, take advantage of someone else’s reservation. Their cancelled reservation, to be exact. If someone cancels a reservation at a hotel, rather than being stuck holding the bathrobe, hotels often put these rooms on sites such as Roomer.com at discounted rates so that they can recoup a portion of the cost. Someone else’s loss could be your gain, so check it out if you’re looking for a room a day or two before you need it.

How do you shop for hotel rooms? Do you have any tips or tricks for finding cheaper hotel rooms, especially without sacrificing comfort? Leave your ideas for us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: David Jensen (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Stuck With an Expensive Hotel Reservation? Sell It

November 9, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Have you ever had this happen? You’re scheduled to go on a business trip and the client cancels? Or plans change and you have to push your trip out by a couple weeks. You’re outside the cancellation window for your hotel, and you’re left holding the proverbial bag, so you can’t cancel the room without paying the entire cost of the room.

Two companies want you to know there may be a solution by essentially “subletting” your room.

RoomerTravel and Cancelon have both created services that allow you to list the hotel room you can’t use for a reduced price. “The average discount is forty-five percent,” Richie Karaburun, managing director for RoomerTravel, told The New York Times.

Depending on the location of your hotel room, though, you could still recoup its full price. Sellers can ask any price for the room, although neither company guarantees its resale.

If you're stuck with a hotel reservation you can't cancel, you can try selling it.

The Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City

Here’s how it works: A seller lists their room on either site. RoomerTravel takes a 15 percent cut for their services, Cancelon takes ten. Services are free to buyers. Potential buyers can see rooms for resale on Kayak and Trivago, RoomerTravel lists theirs on Skyscanner, and Cancelon users can also see what’s available through TripAdvisor.

The downside for consumers using these sites to book a room is that there’s no way to know whether or not the room is being offered as a resale.

Once the sale is finalized, both companies contact the hotel on behalf of the seller to make arrangements for the change to the booking name and credit card guarantee.

Both RoomerTravel and Cancelon are experiencing growing pains and travelers have expressed some concerns when they choose a room and receive confirmation from Cancelon or RoomerTravel instead of the hotel chain they thought they were choosing. But lack of brand awareness should dissipate quickly, especially as more people realize they can offload their rooms, or find rooms at a surprising price.

Right now, the hotel industry is cooperating but remains cautious. Rosanna Maietta, a spokesperson for the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA), told The Times, “the AHLA is aware that sites like this exist and is constantly monitoring new entrants like these to the digital marketplace and their impact on customers.”

Would you ever “sublet” a room through RoomerTravel or Cancelon? Or do you prefer a more proven method? What would it take for you to try one of these services? Let us hear from you in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Alan Light (Wikimedia Commons/Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

Five Things to Do in a Hotel Room

October 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Whether you’re staying at a high-end resort or a budget motel, there are some aspects of staying in public accommodations that are universal. Everyone should do them, no matter in which part of the world you’re resting your head for the night.

SmarterTravel.com shared two different articles — things to do and things to never do in a hotel room — and we picked a few of our favorites. Do these before you decide to unpack.

There are a few things you should do before you settle into your hotel room.

There are a few things you should do before you settle into your hotel room.

Look for bedbugs. They’re hard to spot, but evidence of their infestation is not. Examine the mattress pad, comforter, and furniture for brown bloodstains, which are the fecal remains of the insects’ processing of the blood they ingest while you sleep. If you see evidence, ask for a new room. Bedbugs are not the kind of souvenir you’re looking for from any trip.

That light switch you’re about to flip is full of germs. Don’t touch it until you’ve sanitized it with a portable wipe or a washcloth from the bathroom that you’ve squirted with some liquid hand sanitizer. Wipe down the remote control, door handles, bedside clock radio, and phone. (Especially the remote control.)
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How Can You Get Good Deals on Hotel Rooms?

September 12, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Hotel room in the Renaissance Columbus, OHBusiness travelers often have to find ways to extend their travel budget, or reduce some of their travel costs. It’s possible to reduce the costs of a night in a hotel, with just a little research. These are a few ways we’ve found, thanks to a recent Business Insider article and our own travel experiences.

  • Hotels located in business districts are usually not busy on the weekends and resorts are usually looking for guests mid-week, so check out these to see if you might benefit from the chain’s need to fill rooms during its off-peak time.
  • Corner rooms or rooms at the end of the hall often have more square footage without an extra cost. It never hurts to ask. This won’t save you money, but will still feel like an upgrade
  • If you’re hoping for an upgrade, try checking in at the end of the day and asking what’s available. Be careful to procure a reservation before arrival, though. This strategy might boomerang if you arrive late and there are only premium rooms left.
  • If you have some flexibility in your arrival and departure times, as well as where you stay en route to your final destination, consider checking out Hotels.com’s Hotel Price Index, or registering for alerts through Kayak. You’ll get real time information on prices paid, including taxes and fees, and when prices are dropping. It’s like having your own travel agent.
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Four Easy Ways U.S. Hotels Could Help Save the Environment

June 3, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Many hotels claim they’re interested in saving the planet and they’re demonstrating their commitment by offering to allow travelers to reuse sheets and towels during their multi-day stays.

The lobby of the Bellagio Hotel

The Bellagio Hotel

While this is a small step in the right direction, Yahoo Travel found some other ideas that have been incorporated around the world that could really make a significant impact in the environment.

Here are a few of our favorites:
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New Technology to Reduce Hotel Noise

February 3, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’ve ever been in a hotel trying to sleep and the wedding party — or fraternity formal, high school band, college football team, or rampaging horde of invading Mongols — returns from its festivities, you know how frustrating it can be to have your peaceful night interrupted.

Now imagine if the hotel could monitor the decibel levels in its rooms and environments and handle the partiers without you having to call down to the front desk?

Quietyme does just that. Founded in 2012 and currently deployed at the Radisson Hotel in Madison, Wisconsin, as well as throughout the HotelRed chain, Quietyme installs sensors in rooms for $3/month subscription and samples the noise level in those rooms once per second.

The Phoenix HotelIt streams the results to the front desk so that management can proactively respond. Through independent studies, Quietyme found that its technology reduced hotel noise levels by 65 percent at properties where it was deployed. It also helped reduce property damage.

According to the JD Power’s 2015 North America Hotel Satisfaction Survey, hotel noise is the second largest problem guests report to management after Internet connectivity. According to Huey Zoroufy, chief technology officer for Quietyme, instead of reporting the problem, customers are going online and leaving poor reviews about their stays. Quietyme gives hotels an opportunity to anticipate their clients’ needs, and solve problems before they become problems.

That anticipation translates into a higher score for the hotel, according to the same JD Power study. Hotels scored 310 points higher out of 1,000 if they strongly agreed that the staff anticipated their needs rather than responded to them.

Don’t be surprised if you see this type of technology spread to more hotel chains in the coming year. It might make you think twice about what kind of “in-room activities” you choose to participate in, or not participate in, while on vacation.

What do you do when you have noisy hotel neighbors or other hotel noise? Leave us a comment here or on our Facebook page.

Photo credit: Ben Chun (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons)

Eight Ways to Spot a Lousy Hotel

January 12, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

You know the feeling you get when you show up at a hotel, and it’s nothing like you imagined? That sinking feeling when you open the door to your room, and wonder if someone is playing a prank?

Thankfully, today there are many tools at your disposal online to help you spot a lousy hotel before you get there.

The Cecil Hotel, which inspired the American Horror Story: Hotel series.

The Cecil Hotel, which inspired the American Horror Story: Hotel series.

  1. Photos. If the pictures online feature close-ups or artistic shots that don’t give you a clear impression of the room or the amenities, chances are something’s up.
  2. Too good to be true Photos. If the property seems to feature amenities that don’t jive with the neighborhood, like a beach in Kansas, or they feature something that seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  3. Dated website. If it’s obvious, either by the outdated material or the glaring typos, that the hotel’s management doesn’t seem to care that much about maintaining its online presence, you should be wary of your physical presence on their premises.
  4. Google Maps street view. If the site is short on pictures, but touts its amazing location, do yourself a favor and put the address in Google Maps to take your own look around. Sketchy neighborhoods can’t be hidden when you do a 360 view at street level.
  5. Poor reviews. You can usually tell if the recent reviews are factual or fake. Take note if every review is glowingly positive or completely negative. Black and white reviews aren’t a true representation of a property or an experience.
  6. Poor online etiquette. If management replies to the negative reviews online, that should be your first clue. Customer complaints should be handled privately, not responded to publicly. The one caveat: if management is actually showing how they’ve positively responded to a situation, that’s great. But if they get into arguments with customers, that’s not so great.
  7. Bed Bug Registry. It’s a real site. It only takes a few minutes to do a quick search before you book your room, instead of frantically searching for the bedside light in the middle of the night to find what you felt crawling on you!
  8. No interior photos. If the site has no pictures of the accommodations but only of the area surrounding the hotel, odds are what you see around is better than what you’ll see inside.

How do you spot a lousy hotel? Do you have any favorite websites or review sites? Tell us about them in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

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