A tried and tested guide
Over the past 20 years, I have flown hundreds of thousands of miles for business travel and have stayed in hundreds (if not thousands) of hotels. During this time, I have put together a little guide on how to get good hotel rooms. Just so we’re clear, by “good” I don’t necessarily been some crazy penthouse, although I have stayed in those and they are awesome. Some hotels just do not have that kind of super-deluxe rooms, so you have to try to get what the “best” is for them without paying an arm and a leg.
First of all, I recommend booking directly through the hotel chain (or the specific hotel) itself, not buying through a discount hotel website like Expedia. My reasoning behind this is: when you buy from a third-party vendor like that, you are choosing from a pool of rooms that typically do not sell, and you have to ask yourself: “Why would those rooms not sell?” Typically the reason is because the room is right next to the ice machine or the elevator, or construction is happening in the building, or the room is really dark, or some other reason that the hotel definitely knows about or they wouldn’t have put it on there for so cheap. Bear in mind, I’m not saying I know this for certain, this is just a theory I have come up with based on extensive experience with both hotel clearinghouse sites and working with the hotels directly. Sometimes the reason the hotel has rooms on one of those sites is just to make sure they get the exposure and traffic from the site, not that there is an issue with the room. But, you wouldn’t know which was which, because by buying from a third-party, you have distanced yourself from the hotel itself.
Speaking of distancing yourself from the hotel, another reason NOT to book a hotel room from a third-party site is: most hotels are not going to be motivated to go out of their way to accommodate you, since they have already gotten their money for that room, and often the money they got was steeply discounted because they listed it on one of those sites. Without exaggeration, I was once told by a hotel desk clerk that since I had booked through a third-party site, they actually were unable to alter my reservation, even though the room I ended up getting was completely terrible, had a cockroach in the tub, and was ON TOP OF A FIRE STATION. So, that would explain why the room was such a good deal. Did I mention the fire station? Seriously. One of the most stressful nights of my life. Zero sleep, and the next day I saw other tired hotel guests in the elevator who concurred that they did not sleep at all. Turns out they had also booked through the same “clearinghouse” type site, and that is basically where the hotel dumps all the rooms that regular hotel guests transfer out of once they hear the first fire alarm go off. YIKES.
OK, so maybe I’ve convinced you to book directly through the hotel. If not, I can go on (and on). The bottom line is, what you need is leverage once you get there, if you find that the room they have you in is not what you want. You get leverage by booking through the hotel itself, because in that scenario, you are not pre-paying. The hotel WANTS you to pay your bill and stay there again, so they are going to go out of their way to please you since you are THEIR customer, not the third-party site’s. Hope that makes sense.
When you call to make the reservation, be sure to ask how many floors the hotel has. You want to get as close to the top floor as possible (with the ideal scenario being that you’re on the top floor). I say “as close as possible” because some hotels reserve the top floors for VIP / frequent traveler type guests, so they are not going to let you up there. If the hotel is a smaller chain and has four floors or something, they should be able to put you on the top. I have several reasons for this “top floor” request. For one, you need to sleep in order to have a good trip. You have no idea/ no control of who is going to be in the room above you, and the last thing you want is to find out at 3 am that you happen to be underneath a room full of stompy, noisy party girls, or be rudely awakened at 5am by someone’s rambunctious 3 year old twins who just have to dive-bomb off their bed onto the floor (which is the ceiling right above your head). I try to avoid staying underneath anyone at all costs, and I will pay more if a higher floor is available. “Top floor” is at the top of my list (no pun intended) because I have found that this one factor alone can be the difference between a great hotel room and a terrible one. I would always take a smaller room on a higher floor, any day of the week.
The next thing you want to ask for is “Not near an ice machine or an elevator.” The reason for this is also because of noise. Most newer hotels are now in the practice of putting the ice machine in its own enclosed area, but depending on when the hotel was built, that ice machine might be right across the hall from your room, in which case you are going to have to listen to that all day and all night. Not fun when you’re trying to sleep. I always ask about the elevator as well because people are usually talking, sometimes very loudly, when they get into or out of an elevator. This goes double for drunk people. Asking these types of questions will let the front desk know that you are a person who is going to want a quiet room and is probably going to keep asking until you get one, and usually this is enough for them to just go ahead and give you the room the know to be the quietest.
Moving on to amenities. If possible, I try to always stay at hotels that have rooms with a kitchen included. The Affinia chain in New York has these, the Homewood Suites properties by Hilton have them, and Courtyard by Marriott has them. The reason behind this is mostly economical (meaning, you can bring in your own breakfast foods/ wine/ beer/ whatever, which can save you a lot of money), but also because these units are set up more like apartments or townhomes, so that is a better quality experience all the way around. Top floor unit of a Homewood Suite or a Courtyard property would be my preference if I had a choice about where to stay in any city, even if I had to rent a car to get there. I would recommend this for European hotels as well. It is my opinion that you can always find a spa or whatever you want to do if you have yourself established in a decent hotel where you are getting a good night’s sleep, so I tend to not book hotels based on whether they have a fancy restaurant, a spa, or a popular bar. In fact, that last one might actually keep me from staying there.
This is one of the reasons I never do “AirBNB” when I am traveling. I like the hotel to be accountable for their property and to be able to move me to another room if I am not satisfied. With an AirBNB situation, the owner usually has only that one property, they have no control over what any of the neighbors are doing (for example, if someone is throwing a really loud party next door), and they are not going to give your money back if you end up leaving because it is not acceptable. With a hotel you don’t have this issue.
That’s it for now—more information as I think of it! Thanks for reading!