The only wrong way to book a hotel room is to be uninformed.
When it comes to lodging options on your vacation, you have choices galore. Booking the best cheap hotel room? That depends on your definition of cheap. I am a big fan of using the word “value” for your vacation dollar spend. In other words, are you GETTING what you’re paying for? Which brings me to a few ideas/questions to consider before you book any hotel room for your next vacation.
My only assumption is you (the person/people) can’t afford to get it wrong. In my opinion, lodging should enhance or be commensurate with the rest of your other vacation elements. The same can be said for your car rental, airline trip and itinerary, etc.
2020 is upon us and once again, I’m writing with a nod to caution in my relentless pursuit to inspire you to travel.
Did you read the story about the screen actress and her family in Lake Tahoe and their Air B&B (or AirBnB)? She and her extended family were literally sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner at their Air B&B house rental when members of her family (including children) started to feel ill. They assumed it was standard travel malaise when the symptoms worsened. It turns out it was Carbon Monoxide. That’s right...their rental was quickly filling with deadly fumes with no warning from Carbon Monoxide detectors installed in the home. It was later learned that all of these detectors were not functioning. Because of the fast-acting group and first responders, nobody was seriously injured. But certainly a close call.
This is yet another reason why I am not a huge fan of any lodging accommodation other than reliable, hotel/motel brands. Of course, this is an isolated incident and it could have happened anywhere in any lodging option. And for experienced Air B&Ber’s, you most likely already have your “pre-check-in” list of items to attend to. But for me, I honestly do not want to have to wonder whether or not the homeowner checked the smoke detectors.
While I completely understand Air B&B’s (and others) value proposition to consumers, this is yet another reason why I do not feel confident supporting the idea of staying or sharing someone else’s home on your vacation. Again, I’m not a gloom and doom guy but please consider the following before booking outside of a trusted accommodation option:
Read Anna’s full story here
Read Air B&B’s latest safety article here
Happy (and safe) Travels in 2020!
At a recent speaking engagement, I was asked "do you really spend 30 weeks traveling per year?" My answer was "yes." As you may know I love to travel, both to host "Beyond Your Backyard," make short form travel videos and for personal vacations. The weeks add up per year and I love it. I stay in a variety of accommodations but, primarily I stay in large chain hotels or resorts. I believe Airbnb has made staying in someone else's home "cool" and convenient for both the visitor and the owner. I also believe it is an excellent option for some travelers, especially seasoned globetrotters. But as you know, this is not a unique concept. Sometimes staying in a vacation rental is just more economical especially when vacationing with larger groups of people in your party.
But for the most part, I prefer staying in large properties for a myriad of key reasons. I do stay at other types of properties such as cute, little cozy inns, vacation rentals, and bed-and-breakfasts. But, a larger property (preferably part of a chain) is my preference. Here are a few other reasons why:
I like earning points with hotel loyalty programs or earning extra miles (or points) when booking with a hotel or airline credit card. The three programs I use the most are Marriott, Hilton and IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group). While I do use online travel companies (Expedia, Priceline, or Hotels.com) where I can read hotel reviews, I actually prefer to book directly with the property or chain. Sometimes by booking directly with larger properties, I can get a better deal booking unsold inventory. This is a major hotel tip: Hotels like to be full and fill every vacant room. A larger property is likely to sell that inventory at a discounted rate, rather than let the rooms go empty.
With larger properties, I have options when booking a room type that best suites my specific needs. King bed, two queens, a one bedroom suite, balcony, square footage bathtub, a gorgeous view, location relative to the elevators, stairs, and/or parking are also considerations.
Websites like Airbnb and HomeAway have really made it easy to communicate with the property owner or manager, but not all owners are as responsive as I might like. Keep in mind that each booking is a little different based on factors like key location, security codes, front gate codes, parking passes, parking locations, and local laws.
Transportation and Favorable Location
Larger properties are easy to get to (and return to) with different transportation options. They may have an airport shuttle for instance. Taxi drivers and Uber drivers don't always have to rely on GPS because they are aware of a larger property's location. And in some cases a larger property is located in a locations city-center.
I also prefer staying in commercial neighborhoods rather than a residential neighborhood. More restaurants, convenience stores and other businesses are more-likely to be closer when a hotel is situated in a commercial neighborhood (think downtown or a busy suburb).
Service and Amenities
Honestly, I'm pretty low maintenance when I'm traveling, but I like knowing (and sometimes) utilize the services and amenities of a lager property like a fitness center, swimming pool, sun deck, business center, lounge, bar, meeting rooms etc. Room service is sometimes helpful when I want a quick bite or breakfast in my room before I start my day. Valet parking is also sometimes a welcome addition to my hotel bill.
The check-in process is seamless with the use of a larger property's app. In some cases I can open my guest room door with my phone. I also can communicate (via the app) with my property in advance of my arrival with last-minute changes and/or requests. This way, the property is ready for my arrival, therefore making the process as smooth as possible.
And when something's just not right, larger properties are sometimes able to make a change quickly without hassle.
The Room Itself
One of the biggest reasons I stay in larger properties is the ability to control the temperature in my hotel room. A larger property is more-likely to have an HVAC system in good working order.
Cleanliness standards are also a big consideration for me. Large properties have cleaning protocols in place with oversight standards. They aren't always perfect, but at least they are in place.
I also think a little less about whether or some creepy homeowner's son has placed a hidden camera in the smoke detector in the bedroom. of course, this is an extreme circumstance, but it does happen.
Security of the grounds and physical structure(s) of major properties provides a little more peace of mind as well.
Again, these are just a few of the considerations I think about when I travel. I can't stress enough that i stay in all types of accommodation options, but hopefully this gives a little insight as to why I tend to gravitate towards large properties in just about every location I visit.
If you have hotel tips or thoughts to help other vacation thrill seekers, then please feel free to comment below.
Erik the Travel Guy is a respected travel industry expert and host of the Emmy-nominated, nationally syndicated PBS travel television series “Beyond Your Backyard.” He spends, on average, 25 weeks traveling around the world, hosting his show(s), making short-form travel videos and speaking at events and conferences. He lives in New York City and most enjoys spending time with his two daughters.
P.S. For more accommodation tips and stories explore:
Air B&Bs - A Cautionary Tale
Travelocity - A Quick Read
Discover the Basics of OTAs (Online Travel Landscapes)
Time and time again, I have said I love to travel and I am on a mission to get you traveling more often, staying longer and experiencing the potentially life-changing positive power of travel. And if you heed my inspirational words or videos, then you too will find yourself (most likely) in need of an answer to the following question: Where are we going to stay? According to the American Lodging Association there are 5,000,000 hotel and motel rooms to choose from in the United States alone. You read it right; six zeros; five million. That’s a lot! You may also be wondering if a vacation rental, B&B or Air B&B could be the right option. I wouldn’t dare speculate on which option is best for YOU; that’s up to you. But I would like to offer my advice.
If I have a choice, I stay in a hotel or motel. Tried and true brands who have stood the test of time usually have been able to do so for a reason. Meaning, they have earned a right to still be offering rooms at a fair price. The reasons I prefer hotels/motels over vacation rentals or Air B&Bs are pretty basic. Reliability, safety, cleanliness and amenities.
First, I travel a lot so I like earning points with brands I stay at most frequently. This may not apply to you, so let’s leave that off the table for now. By staying at a known brand, I am hedging my bets that I will ACTUALLY be getting what I paid for when I arrive. Brand standards are pretty stringent, so even if you are a franchised property, being a part of that brand (think Marriott, Hilton or IHG) comes with rigorous inspections and compliance. Granted, not all franchise-owned properties are created equal, but in my opinion, it’s a step in the right direction.
Safety is also a big concern of mine when I’m traveling. Security systems, working fire alarms and tourist-friendly neighborhoods are all factors to consider. Hotel brands are in the business of making their guests happy and keeping them safe. This means they have skin in the game and if, in the unlikely event, something goes wrong, they have more to lose than the causal lodging enthusiast.
Cleanliness is a huge one for me. Bed Bugs, stained sheets, rings around the toilet or showers, dirty carpets, insects or rodents and other disgusting details lurking in the shadows (most of which are invisible to the naked eye) can ruin a good night’s sleep and/or your entire vacation. Hotel brands have strict cleanliness standards. Of course, they don’t always abide by them, but at least they are in place. They also have practices and procedures in place to address the occasional cleanliness issue.
Amenities and services are also a factor in my lodging decision. I like knowing what is available to me when I check in. Minibar, snacks, laundry, dry cleaning, concierge, ironing board, hair dryer, cocktail lounge, reliable internet, safe parking and valet are all services/amenities I may require for a comfortable stay. When you stay OUTSIDE of a known brand, these items/services are sometimes hard to come by, not available or simply inconsistently offered across the board. Of course, you may not care about any of these items, but when I’m traveling with my family, something is bound to come up and I want to solve the issue efficiently and cost-effectively.
Traditional B&Bs are another matter to consider altogether. These business owners DO have skin in the game but we’ll save that discussion for another post.
I’m not against Air B&Bs. There are plenty of Air B&B owners who DO treat their home as a business and I applaud them for doing so. I am simply offering my cautionary tale as I want YOU to have an amazing trip and mitigate as many risk factors as I can think of before you step foot outside your house.
If you are debating cruises vs. all-inclusive resorts with your travel companions, then congratulations! You are one step closer to experiencing a potentially life-changing vacation!
The good news about both travel options is both are great options. The cruise industry and the all-inclusive properties worldwide have all evolved based on guest preferences, technology, and industry-wide improvements and oversight.
Which vacation option is better?
Cruisers love to cruise, and they might shrug at other vacation options, even an all-inclusive resort. Others tend to hate cruising but love the one-stop shopping of an all-inclusive. The reality is that both vacation options have pros and cons, many which are similar. If you don’t know which category best suits you...let’s dig into the details.
An all-inclusive resort is generally as it sounds. You pay one price in advance for your room, all meals, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and non-motorized watersports. Extras may include golf, spa treatments, excursions or day trips, WIFI and premium or upcharge restaurants. When evaluating which all-inclusive is perfect for you, a little self-reflection is in order before you plunk down your hard-earned dollars.
The Pros of an All-Inclusive Resort
Known costs – The pros begin with you know what you are paying for upfront with little room for surprises. My suggestion is to check with a qualified travel specialist on which all-inclusive is right for you based on your preferences. Be honest and don’t be afraid to say exactly what you are looking for, chances are that property exists and good travel professional knows which ones to recommend and which ones to avoid.
Central Location - One of the other pros of an all-inclusive is you can make it the hub for all your exploration. By booking an all-inclusive (just like an ala carte resort), you always return to the same room each night. But remember, you get what you pay for.
Upgrades - If the resort has a club level or private check in or concierge, I suggest you splurge and pay for added service, amenities or a larger room. You don’t want to get there and realize for just a few extra dollars a day you can avoid some of the crowds by “upgrading”. Making real-time changes to your accommodations can sometimes be problematic.
Immersion Experience – One of the biggest benefits of an all-inclusive you are in the space place for your entire vacation, which means you can immerse yourself in the local culture. You can get out and explore every nook and cranny of the region.
Cons of All-Inclusive Resorts
Limited programming – One of the biggest drawbacks that some consumers complain about at an all-inclusive is boredom. The programming options are at your own pace which means, if you don’t participate, you may find yourself a little bored. Also, selecting the correct resort for YOU is essential. Otherwise, you could end up at a property that doesn’t meet your needs. Simple questions like kids or no kids, romance and reflection or party hardy, what’s your budget, what time of year do you wish to travel...will all affect price and property selection.
Destination Costs – Keep in mind, the all-inclusive may be in a destination that you have to fly to. If budget is a concern of yours, then remember that airline ticket pricing will vary based on the season and supply and demand.
I would suggest if you are traveling outside the US for an all-inclusive, that you also secure a vacation insurance policy in case of a medical emergency or the unlikely evacuation.
Cruising is ideal if you like the idea of exploring different ports of call for a short period of time. Think of it as a chance to get a quick glimpse of these destinations to decide whether you wish to return on future visits.
The very first rule I live by when selecting a cruise is... who else will be on that ship? That’s a big one for me. I take lots of vacations for two basic reasons, work and pleasure. Work is one thing but for my own personal vacations...it matters to me who I am sailing with. But more on that in a moment.
The cruise industry is a big industry and cruise companies have lots of ships and itineraries to choose from. On the plus side, you’ve got options. The Caribbean, Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico, Europe. Ocean cruising vs. river cruising. Much like an all-inclusive, you pay upfront for certain things such as port charges, taxes, your stateroom, gratuities, amenities, entertainment, food and nonalcoholic beverages. Of course, there are lots of ways to part with your money as well after your initial purchase. Premium restaurants, WIFI, alcoholic beverages, spa treatments and shore excursions are a few that come to mind. It’s safe to say some cruise companies/itineraries include all the extras so no additional cash is needed on board.
Factors affecting price include:
Pros of Cruises
Ease of travel - You only need to get to your embarkation city and then get on the ship. Which may mean, the airlines will play perhaps a smaller role in your trip planning.
Multiple activities - Yu can be as active as you choose. The cruise director and his or her staff have activities, lectures and entertainment going on around the clock both on your at sea days and some of the port days.
The Food – The larger the ship the more options you have every day. Gone are the days of a just a steam table buffet and a cattle call. Also, cruise lines understand the needs of passengers when it comes to dining. Most lines have flexible dining times and like the rest of the travel industry the dress codes have been relaxed...for the most part depending on the cruise line.
Cons of Cruises
The ship could leave you – The ship will not wait for you should you be delayed and miss embarkation. Getting to the next port of call is at your expense.
Appears crowded – Another potential con to cruising is you will be near potentially thousands of people while you are on board and presumably when you are in port. However, it is important to note just how big these ships are. They can easily accommodate this large number of passengers and crew, so you are comfortable and happy.
The cruise industry builds itineraries with two basic types of days...at sea days and port days.
Static itineraries – You pretty much must stick with the itinerary the ship is. If weather affects your trip, you may miss a port or change a port of call due to extenuating circumstances.
Cabin space – It is not the largest place to call home for a week, but it does serve its purpose. An upside here is getting adjoining staterooms or a multi bedroom suite so you can feel free to spread out just a little more.
In addition, unless you are an experienced cruiser, I would always book at least a balcony cabin. Cabins are divided into inside cabins with either 1) no windows or a virtual balcony (a giant television that acts as a window with real time view), 2) an ocean view cabin which is a cabin with a window, 3) a balcony cabin or 4) a suite. I suggest you seriously consider booking a suite. It will cost more but the extra amenities in my opinion are worth it. Concierge service, private areas of the ship reserved for suite guests, priority dining and shore excursion bookings, and expedited embarkation and disembarkation are just a few of the perks that ease the annoyances of travel. Plus, in most cases you’ll earn more loyalty points towards achieving “frequent cruiser” status which provide even more amenities and services.
Cruise lines like some all-inclusive resorts have loyalty programs; I suggest you sign up immediately once you book.
How to book a Cruise
Planning and booking a cruise can be done online directly with the cruise line. However, I strongly suggest you use the advice and booking services of a trusted travel professional. They are an invaluable resource when it comes to selecting the perfect cruise for YOU. They also have access to deals and specials that are either not available or hard to find online.
We announced last week that while the staff here at Erik The Travel Guy takes lots of trips, to help bring you the latest and greatest info, we want you to be a part of the selection process.
You can vote at erikthetravelguy.com/vote or leave a comment on this video in the comments below.
Keep in mind, this video is for educational purposes only. This video also contains some editorial opinion by yours truly. Facts contained here may change without notice. We try to keep up with the changes, but I strongly encourage you to do your own research before making travel purchases.
As I said last week, leave a comment, ask a question and suggest future episodes in the comments section.
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The Journal Sentinal published a story about an ongoing investigation of a 20 year old American tourist who died at an all inclusive resort in Mexico. The family believes she (and her brother) were targeted and drugged by the resort staff in an attempt to extort money from them. The family's attorney asserted that perhaps the resort was mixing brand name liquor with grain alcohol or other additives that can be toxic, harmful and fatal. The story was well written and well researched. I applaud the Journal Sentinal for quality journalism. The story itself is heartbreaking and it troubles me.
You can read the story here.
I'm not one to overreact. If anything, I am here to remind you that millions of Americans will visit all inclusive resorts (where your alcohol is included) this year. And with minor exception, they come home happy and extremely satisfied with their trip. The biggest danger being dehydration and too much exposure to the sun.
This horrific incident took place at a reputable resort owned and managed by an excellent company. If the allegations are true (which would be very hard to prove) that employees are mixing alcohols in an attempt to extort money from tourists, then this is a problem. However, the likelihood of proving that is pretty slim.
So what can you to protect yourself? Nothing...really. This is a numbers a game and the odds of being targeted by rogue employees for nefarious reasons is pretty slim.
On another note, this is HUGE story for resort owners. Pay close attention to this story, launch meaningful and private internal investigations and insure this ISN'T happening right under your nose at your properties. The last thing Americans need to hear is their free booze may kill them in Mexico. If that's the story that is heard, then they will simply go somewhere else.
My fellow travel adventure-seekers, just a quick note today to remind you to tip your housekeeper. That's right, the brave men and women who venture into multiple guest rooms and suites every day and pick up after us deserve a gratuity. But how much? I can shed a little financial light on the subject.
As a general rule, between $1-5 per day (per person) is completely acceptable, although anything is always appreciated. There's no need to perform a Google search, but their is plenty of sufficient data that supports this figure. A similar figure is suggested by the American Hotel and Lodging Association.
We remember to tip the valet, the bellmen, the front door attendants because, well frankly, they are standing right in front of us. But the housekeeper's job is to work in the background. Therefore, sometimes people simply forget. If the housekeeper is exceptional, then a little more is also appropriate.
I always tip about $5 per night when I am traveling for business (in a three star or better hotel/resort). If my children are with me, I tip a little more. In addition, I leave the money on the table with a note to the housekeeper, thanking them for their hard work.
Oh, and saying hello to the housekeeper is also a nice touch. Most housekeepers work hard and, frankly, its a thankless job cleaning up after people. So spread the love and show them you care.
This is kinda scary if only because of its simplicity. You arrive at your hotel and check in at the front desk. When checking in, you give the front desk your credit card (for all the charges for your room). You get to your room and settle in.
Someone calls the front desk and asked for (example) Room 620 (which happens to be your room). Your phone rings in your room. You answer and the person on the other end says the following, "This is the front desk. When checking in, we came cross a problem with your charge card information. Please re-read me your credit card number and verify the last 3 digits numbers at the reverse side of your charge card."
Not thinking anything you might give this person your information, since the call seems to come from the front desk. But actually, it is a scam of someone calling from outside the hotel/front desk. They ask for a random room number. Then, ask you for credit card information and address information. Sounding so professional that you do think you are talking to the front desk. If you ever encounter this problem on your vacation, tell the caller that you will be down at the front desk to clear up any problems. Then, visit or call the front desk and ask if there was a problem. If there was none, inform the manager of the hotel that someone called to scam you of your credit card information acting like a front desk employee. This was sent by someone who has been duped ... and is still clearing up the mess.
P.S. Please help spread the word by forwarding this to everyone you know. Who knows, you might just help someone avoid a nasty experience.
I am on a mission to get you traveling more often. As the host of the Emmy award- winning, nationally syndicated television television for PBS and the Create channel, "Beyond Your Backyard," I travel (on average) 25 weeks per year. I am very grateful for the opportunity to meet cool people, experience new places, eat delicious food and work with the best production crew in the world. Hopefully, through this blog, you will join me on my travels and be reminded just how exciting it is to be alive!