Booking Hotel Rooms in Europe


Hotels, like any other commodity, are subject to the rules of supply and demand. The more flexible you are about where to stay (and when to stay), the more money you can expect to save.

For lowest rates, use a consolidator.

Hotel managers know they'll seldom fill all their rooms at the published "rack rates," so they often negotiate discount rates with consolidators like our advertising partners, Venere and HotelsCentral.com.

You might be able to match such rates by showing up at the last minute and negotiating your own price for a vacant room, but you can't count on doing so--and you might not find a room at all.

TIPS:

Be patient. Computerized bookings often aren't in "real time," and it may take up to 48 hours (sometimes longer) for the booking service to get a confirmation from the hotel.

Let the booking service offer an alternative if your first-choice hotel is full. This will save time, and it may save money during periods of high demand.

Don't be surprised if you don't get your first choice, especially if you're booking far in advance or during busy periods. (Hotels may decline discount bookings if they think they can fill their rooms at standard rates. To put it another way, discounted room rates are like bargain air fares: They can be hard to get during periods of high demand.)

Remember that rooms will be cheaper during low season, whether you book through a service or on your own.

Avoid tourist-office booking desks during high season or on weekends.

Tourist offices often have hotel counters in railroad stations and airports where you can get a room at the last minute. Although these services are useful in emergencies, they do have several disadvantages:

Your hotel choices are limited, and you could find yourself staying in a dump or at an inconvenient location.

At busy times (high season and weekends), lines are often long. It can be frustrating to wait in line for a hotel referral when you could be sightseeing or recovering from an overnight flight.
Air/hotel packages are another option.

Packages that combine air fare with local hotel accommodations can yield worthwhile savings, especially in the off-season. Some packages may toss in extra perks like local transportation passes or sightseeing tours. Check e-Vacations.com or the ads in your local Sunday newspaper's travel pages to see what's available for the destinations that interest you.

How to get the room you want.

The quality of hotel rooms can vary, especially in older hotels or in cities where the shape and layout of ancient buildings may limit the number of rooms that have good views and sunlight. Although you can request a specific room ahead of time, you can't always be sure of getting it--and if you've never stayed in the hotel, you may not know what to request in the first place.

Fortunately, there's an easy solution in most cases: Check in as early as you can. If you aren't happy with the room you've been assigned, ask to see another. (In hotels, as in many other endeavors, the early bird often gets the worm.)

Consider alternatives to hotels.

If you're on a tight budget, a youth hostel may be worth considering. Many newer hostels have double, triple, or quad rooms instead of the traditional open dormitories, and others (especially privately owned hostels) have done away with onerous rules about check-in times and curfews. Check my city guides for listings.

For visits of several days to a week or more, apartment and cottage rentals can save money while offering a taste of local life. Read my article, A Home Away from Home, for more information on self-catering accommodation.

Private rooms are a possibility in many countries, where homeowners and farmers supplement their incomes by renting out rooms at modest rates that normally include breakfast. Local tourist offices usually have lists of such informal B&B-style lodgings.


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