6 Red Flags to Look for When Booking a Hotel

a hotel pool overlooking the ocean
We the People

There are many moving parts to planning the perfect vacation. From settling on which destination to check off our summer travel bucket lists to diligently researching affordable airfare, travel often requires an expert eye. Once you’ve settled on a location and booked your flight, all that’s left is choosing an idyllic place to rest your head at night. Whether you’re booking an insane Airbnb rental or snagging a room directly from a hotel landing page, there are a few red flags to keep in mind before clicking that “reserve” button.

We’ve narrowed down our watch list to the six most common pitfalls to avoid when booking your accommodations. These easy-to-spot fixes promise to have you well on your way to your dream retreat. You know we’re all about curating the proper habitat. When you’re on the road, the proper home away from home makes any journey that much sweeter. Here’s everything you need to book confidently.

We’re all for a bird’s-eye view of the amenities. Location is the first rule of real estate. As such, killer views and proximity to attractions can be a major selling point when it comes to selecting your accommodations. That said, we’ve all come across a hotel site that shows more photos of the nearby sites than of the lodging situation itself. Seeing what the area’s beachfront looks like is nice; however, the focus should be on the rooms and amenities. If it’s not, it might be a red flag. Often hotels in a tourist district feature stock photos that reveal precious little about what their hospitality package personally has to offer. Look closely, and make sure the photos you fall in love with are actually of the hotel (and room type) you are booking.

At the risk of sounding cliché (we know you’ve been told this your whole life)—read the fine print. When reserving a typical hotel, those teeny-tiny fonts must all say the same thing. Right? Wrong. For example, it’s not uncommon for budget hotels in select cities to have rooms without windows. A “small” oversight like this one would obviously have a huge impact on your vacation. If you’re down to book a room devoid of natural sunlight for a week, by all means, knock yourself out, just do so of your own free will. Know exactly what you’re getting by reading the details—all of them—before committing to any stay.

Typically hotels will save their worst rooms for those who book via a search engine. After all, those guests are seeking the best deal and may not be enrolled in a loyalty or rewards program with any specific hotel group. This doesn’t mean you need to swear off Expedia. Instead, compare the cost you find on third-party sites with the hotel’s published rates. If it doesn’t differ much, opt for a direct booking. While you’re at it, be sure to check the hotel’s direct sites for any special promotions. It’s also great practice to call ahead to the concierge and confirm a low rate is not due to a special event. The hotel may be hosting a convention or large event with several rooms blocked off. Get a lay of the land before you jump in with a nonrefundable deposit.

Ah, the joys of the digital age. Don’t believe everything you see on the internet. There are times when a perfectly placed palm tree outside the window is nothing more than the owner’s creative liberty. Spaciousness can even be the result of the lens rather than the actual square footage. Images, particularly of non-chain hotels, are often enhanced to make your stay appear that much more appealing. Look for distortion from a wide-angle lens, and check the room description for square footage. Have a keen eye when looking at pictures, and take that balcony’s view with a grain of salt. If you’re in love with a view posted on the hotel’s site, give the front desk a call and inquire for a similar vantage point. They’ll know the one.

At times, hotel sites may pepper in some artistic license in the way of their descriptors. For example, you can’t always take the hotel’s word for it regarding the neighborhood it is in. “Venice Beach” can be anything from a happening oceanfront boardwalk to a peaceful canal paradise to a sketchy inland alley. Google Maps is your friend. Do your research, and make sure that the hotel you’re picking really offers the type of getaway you’re looking for.

Nope, that’s not a typo. Why? Well, consider the source when trusting other’s opinions. Perhaps a place is a favorite of the spring break crowd because it hosts the best DJs. That’s not going to be very conducive to your relaxing getaway. Another hotel may be a top pick for its peaceful solitude, but you’re looking for a place to have your bachelorette party. Look beyond the five stars, and discover why a place is ranked the way it is before you make any decisions. If you stay some place you absolutely love, pay it forward. Post honest feedback (and fill us in on any particularly great discoveries directly).

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What are your secret booking hacks? Share them with us below.

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