Choosing the right hotel is always a trying task, and with the enormous number of promotions, deals and programs out there, it can be downright overwhelming. It doesn't help that these days most hotels have Web sites full of tantalizing photos and slick promotional copy that make you believe you'll be bathed in luxury as soon as you step foot into the lobby. How can you tell if a hotel will live up to its own hype -- and, more importantly, if it's the right hotel for you?
Since every traveler has different needs when searching for a hotel, you'll need to ask yourself what's most important to you. Whether you're looking for a great deal, a great location or a great B&B, we've broken down the hotel selection process to make it easier for you to find the best hotel for your trip.
What Matters Most?
Before beginning your search, ask yourself what type of accommodations you want and what your budget will permit. Does location trump price, or are you limited to hotels under $150 a night? Do you need a hotel with a pool for the kids, or would you rather stay at a small property with lots of local charm?
Once you've decided on your top priority, then you can make a more targeted search. Following are the most common determining factors in choosing a hotel, as well as tips for finding properties that suit each particular need.
Price: Nearly every major booking engine gives you the option to sort your results by price. Don't limit yourself to the big three (Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz) -- you should also pay a visit to aggregator sites like Kayak and Sidestep, and lodging sites like Hotels.com and PlacestoStay.com. And don't forget to check our very own discount hotel deals!
Tip: Use the booking engines to see what's available and test rates at the properties you're interested in, and then go straight to the hotel's Web site to book directly -- most hotels guarantee you the lowest rate when you book on their site, and will match a lower price you find elsewhere.
If price is your only concern, you may want to try bidding on Priceline.com, where you won't see the name of your hotel (only the star rating) until you've actually booked it.
Location: All the major booking sites allow you to view search results on a map so you can see which ones are right on the beach or in the neighborhoods you prefer. Many, including Expedia and Hotels.com, also have the extra capability of searching for and mapping a hotel in relation to a particular point of interest, such as Times Square or the San Diego Zoo. Good old-fashioned guidebooks are another good source for finding hotels in a certain location, as hotels are often listed by neighborhood and plotted on a city map.
Amenities: Most of the major hotel booking engines allow you to specify certain amenities when you're searching, such as a fitness center, swimming pool or restaurant. Travelocity makes the process easier by allowing you to compare up to four hotels side by side so you can easily weigh such factors as star ratings, amenities, rates and room types.
Family-Friendliness: If you're taking the kids on your next trip, you'll want to check for both special deals and family-friendly policies. Your first stop for family hotel and resort reviews should be our brand-new family travel site, FamilyVacationCritic.com; we also love the hotel reviews at WeJustGotBack.com. For bargains, check out Family Vacation Critic's family travel deals and our own family deals.
Luxury: Looking to go luxe? You'll find the creme de la creme in groups like the Leading Hotels of the World, the Five Star Alliance and Boutique Hotels & Resorts International.
Ambience and Local Flavor: If you'd rather avoid the big chains, you're in luck -- there are many B&B's, inns and small independent hotels that don't appear on the major booking engines. However, finding them can take a little time and ingenuity, as Traveler's Ed explains in Finding Hidden Hotel Hideaways. For a roundup of non-hotel lodging, including vacation rentals and home exchange, see Ditch the Hotel: 10 Alternative Ways to Stay. And if you're looking for something truly different -- like a treehouse or an igloo -- take a browse through the Unusual Hotels of the World.
Loyalty Programs and Frequent Flier Miles: If you travel a lot or if you're a member of a frequent flier program, it may be worth your while to join a hotel loyalty program. Not only can you earn points toward a future hotel stay, but you may also be able to accumulate airline miles if your hotel is partnered with your frequent flier program. Check your hotel or airline Web site to see a list of qualifying partners. Many programs also allow you to redeem points for other purchases, such as cruises, car rentals and entertainment.
Eco-Friendliness: Travelers who are looking to minimize their environmental impact can search for green hotels through a number of organizations, including Green Globe and the Green Hotels Association.