Booking aggregators and dedicated websites have made easy holidays super accessible to everyone. Here are our top 10 tips on how you can go about it to best effect…
Gone are the days when you’d leave all your bookings to the travel agent. Most travellers prefer to have a say in the sort of resort they are going to be checking in to. A multitude of dedicated websites bring the options to your fingertips, literally. I’ve planned and prepped for entire trips — even international ones — on my smartphone, from the comfort of my bed! But, while the sites are user-friendly, there are some things that you should keep in mind while booking online.
Shhhh while you search
Put your device on incognito mode before opening any booking site, be it for air travel or hotels. This ensures that their algorithms don’t track your searches and raise the rates.
Keep your options open
Don’t be bewildered by the number of options on a site. The more there are, the better your chances of finding something that suits all your requirements. Enjoy the process of scouting for a nice hotel. Go through the images, picture yourself in the room, see if staying here could make you happy. This is not something that you could do in the past. Having the luxury of all the details and images of a hotel room before you reached the destination would be considered a modern-day miracle by old-time travellers!
Be clear about the specifics
Use filters to narrow the search as per your preferences. Think about what sort of place you’d like to stay at. Are you someone who likes the assured luxury of a five-star resort or one who likes the homey hospitality of a homestay? Do you want a room with a view or one on a non-smoking floor? Are you travelling with children or a pet and hence need rooms that can facilitate a happy stay for them as well?
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Shop around, but sensibly
Compare rates on multiple sites as different ones have different arrangements with properties. But there are benefits to always booking on the same one, as they often have a loyalty programme that gives you additional benefits and discounts. Also look at customer reviews to see what people have said about the reliability of the booking. Some travellers have been cheated by fly-by-night operators and found their bookings amiss at the last minute.
Money back guarantee?
Decide whether you need a fully refundable, partially refundable, or non-refundable booking. The latter will be the cheapest option but is also risky if your travel plans are subject to change. Also, note that some sites offer further discounts or cash back on different modes of payment. You can also check whether your credit card has some special offers that can give you additional benefits.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
In my experience, it’s better to book your flights, hotels, and excursions from different providers instead of a bundled booking. This works better because each of these can be done from a website that specialises in it and you also can get better deals. But make sure you use the same email address for each so that you can find all the vouchers easily when you need them.
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Sometimes, it could be advisable to book directly from an airline or hotel website instead of going via an aggregator. Again, comparing the availability and rates is of the essence. You can make the best choice yourself. I’ve often found that it helps to call the hotel that you’ve chosen and discuss the details with them directly. They can help you get the room of your choice, make sure you get an understanding of the amenities they offer, and perhaps even give you a better deal when it comes to the tariff.
Read between the lines
Watch out for the fine print. Is breakfast included? If the resort is in a remote location, you may need to have all your meals there, so you’ll need to check whether lunch and dinner cost a king’s ransom. What about activities and services that are being promised? Are they included in the tariff, or will there be hidden costs?
Home in on the hotel
Look at the maps option on the booking site to pinpoint where the hotel is located vis-à-vis the airport or train station, all the attractions and dining options at the destination. Verify that a ‘city centre’ property is in the city’s important district, not just at its geographical centre. Check the hotel’s accessibility, whether the ‘last mile connectivity’ is good or if you’ll have to drag your LV luggage up a muddy track!
What you see isn’t always what you get
Caveat emptor or ‘buyer beware’ is something that applies even more to online bookings! Remember that hotel claims and pictures can be deceptive. My suggestion would be to go see as many images online to get a real feel of the property. And it’s important to go through guest reviews to see what other travellers experienced during their stay and corelate with the hotel’s own promises and images. There are also online forums and travel groups on social media sites where you can crowdsource honest takes on a destination or hotel.