How To Book A Better Hotel Room In 2013

hotel in france = hotel roomHere at Gadling, we’re all about traveling more – for less. Whether we dive the fiscal cliff or not, travel is a luxury in this tight economy, and we’re all searching for ways that we can travel better, smarter and cheaper. Here’s what we’ve collected on how you can book a better hotel room in 2013.

Scour Social Media
You’re already aware that hotels offer specials on their Facebook and Twitter pages. Make sure to follow your favorite brands and “subscribe” to these updates. It may seem like a no-brainer, but you don’t want to miss a special or promotion because the update was buried in your news feed. Don’t forget about email either – hotel’s aren’t likely to spam your inboxes, but often send out valuable promotions and alerts via traditional e-blasts.

Pick Up The Phone
Don’t be afraid to call the hotel directly. Ask if they can match the rate you saw on a flash sale website or on Expedia. Hotels want your business. They are often willing to negotiate rates, particularly for last-minute travel when occupancy permits. On that note, join the hotel’s loyalty program wherever possible. In addition to a dedicated phone attendant, you’ll also gain points and a record of previous stays.Personalize
Hotels, particularly in the luxury market, are paying closer attention to guest preferences than ever before. Request feather-free pillows once and they should be in your room automatically on your next stay. Savvy hotels are tracking guest requests, so don’t be shy in asking for what you want … within reason, of course.

Travel “Smart”
Last-minute bookings are more popular than ever, and hotels have admitted that they’ll often discount rates if rooms are available. Not many new apps have launched, but some of our favorites, like Hotel Tonight have improved and added cities, and even our favorite flash-sale darling Jetsetter has added a “rooms for tonight” option. If you’re willing to pay full price, try a site like WantMeGetMe, which allows you to be guaranteed certain VIP perks like upgrades and late checkouts with a rate comparable to booking through the hotel’s website.

Go Boutique … or Leverage Loyalty
Smaller hotel chains are still fighting the big brands for your business. While business travelers often seek out bigger brands for their loyalty perks, consider booking independent or smaller hotels, which can offer a more personalized experience and higher-touch staff. If you’re always traveling to big brands, make sure to use your loyalty membership status when traveling for personal reasons. Even if you can’t book with points, you’ll be flagged in the system as a frequent guest.

Get An Agent
Travel agencies are making a comeback. Agencies can often negotiate preferred rates, assist with itineraries beyond the hotel, and help arrange air travel.

Have another tip we haven’t listed? Share it in the comments, below.

[Image Credit: McLean Robbins]

Travel Transparency: BackBid and Tingo help travelers stay informed of the best deals

tingo Earlier this year, we offered tips for saving money on hotel rooms by traveling smarter. We only wish we’d known about these three services then.

Tingo
It sounds like a board game, doesn’t it? Well, it kind of is. Tingo takes the guesswork out of hotel booking by automatically re-booking travelers who book through its site at a lower price if the rate drops. The difference is placed back on the traveler’s credit card with no work needed from the traveler. The site estimates that travelers could have saved $314 million in 2011 by using the website.

This is a welcome relief for travelers who constantly check prices to get the best deal, often having to go through the laborious process of booking and re-booking reservations, or waiting too long and missing out on a great price. The site shows that a real traveler booking a reservation at Wynn in Las Vegas saw a price drop of $1243 from January 27th to $724 on the day of check-in, a savings of $519. Interestingly, Tingo is also part of the TripAdvisor network of travel media brands, which includes Airfarewatchdog, SniqueAway and more.

BackBid
Book through BackBid and you’ll allow other hotels in the area to “bid” on your reservation – essentially trying to woo you away with promises of lower rates, increased perks, added convenience and better star ratings.

Unlike sites like Priceline, there’s no hiding – you’ll know the hotel name and total rate (including taxes) up front. Unless you’re a points or property loyalist, the chance of switching hotels for a lower rate or better amenities is often an enticement – and, as we’ve heard, you may even be offered a better deal by your own hotel. We can’t see any downsides there.

And just when you thought, “when is this coming for airfare,” we have something else.

TripAlertz
Tripalertz this month announced an “Airfare Guarantee” that says, should travelers find a lower fare for the same itinerary with a public online travel company, the site will not only refund, but double the difference in the fare up to $100 per ticket with a maximum of $400 per household or group of associated parties. Unlike the other sites above, this puts the onus on you, the traveler, but it’s better than nothing at all!


We’ll certainly be using these sites on our next trip – what about you?

Travel Smarter 2012: Use your mobile apps better

It should come as no surprise that owning a smartphone in 2012 is a traveler’s perfect tool to better explore, organize and record their travels. And by now, there are literally thousands of app roundups out there to help lead you to the good ones. But this isn’t another one of those roundups. Instead, today Gadling is taking a closer look at how to use your existing apps – the ones you already have in 2012 – to travel smarter.

Consider the issues you typically face on the road. You’re hungry, or lost. Perhaps you’re simply trying to communicate with someone in a foreign language. The truth is you don’t always need to spend $1.99 on the newest “travel app” to do these things. Sometimes the best app is the one you already have on your smartphone.

Based on hundreds of hours on the road, both here in the U.S. and abroad, testing various mobile apps, we’ve compiled the following travel tips to help you get the most out of the apps on your smartphone. Are you a travel app pro? Click through for our tips.Use Your Camera to Save Important Information
Unless you’ve been living under a rock recently, you’re probably already aware of the huge boom in mobile travel photography apps and tips in recent months. And certainly smartphones (iPhones in particular) have proven themselves as clear winners for traveling photographers.

But are you using your phone’s camera to its full potential? Truth is, your smartphone’s camera makes a great storage and communication tool. Don’t want to carry around your map with directions to dinner? Take a photo. How about a snapshot of the street where your hotel is at so you can show the taxi driver? Voila. Have a food allergy? Take a photo of the food to show at the restaurant.

Get a Recommendation from a Local
Many travel apps claim to help you find cool things to do in new places you’re visiting. Problem is, they don’t deliver. The secret is that locals in your destination don’t use them. The trick to getting good recommendations is to use what the locals use, and right now those two apps are Foursquare and Yelp.

If you’re not already using Foursquare, it’s quietly become the new killer travel app. Most people think of Foursquare as “that service that lets you check in to bars to try and look cool.” But with a series of great recent updates, including an ability to share and make lists and the new explore feature, Foursquare is now a powerful tool to help you find good stuff to eat, see and do in unknown places. Check out their Foursquare Cities account for some great user-created tips in cities like Berlin, Milan, Sydney, London and more.

Yelp is another app many of us know from our daily wanderings in our hometown. Ever tried it on the road? Open the app and click on “Nearby” on the bottom menu, then “Hot New Businesses” to find out what local users are talking about right now.

Store Your Travel Research on Your Phone
Now that the vast majority of travel research happens on the web, there’s no reason for all that research to get stuck on your computer when you leave for the airport. Take it with you – use your smartphone to collect it all in one place.

Many people already use mobile reading apps like Instapaper (for iOS) or Read it Later (for Android) to collect long articles for offline storage – why not create a folder of great articles for your trip? Don’t forget to install the app’s “bookmarklets” on your web browser for easy adding. Another great free source of info is Wikitravel – try uploading the whole destination guide for the city you’re visiting to your Instapaper or Read It Later app for easy offline reading. Evernote is another great document storage app you may already have that lets you store everything from web links to photos to audio recordings.

Make Cheaper Phone Calls and Pay Less for Wi-Fi
If you’ve ever placed a phone call from abroad using your cell phone, you probably remember the sticker shock that came with it when you got the bill back. That’s where Skype’s suite of mobile apps can be a real lifesaver. Use your mobile phone over a Wi-Fi connection to make phone calls (and send texts) while abroad to any phone number. Did you know Skype also has an app that lets you pay-by-the-minute for Wi-Fi at over 1 Million locations worldwide? Skip the $8 daily Wi-Fi rate at the airport and login using your existing Skype credit.

[flickr image via Cristiano Betta]

Travel Smarter 2012: Tips for finding a better hotel room

It’s a simple goal – travel more for less in 2012. In this tight economy we’re all searching for ways that we can travel better, smarter and cheaper in 2012, and here at Gadling Labs we’re bringing you information about how to get the best hotel deals possible. Here’s how you can get started.

Scour Social Media
You’re already aware that hotels offer specials on their Facebook and Twitter pages.

2012 Twist: If you make yourself known before arrival and have some social media clout (or Klout, as the case may be), you may even snag yourself an extra upgrade or discount – like HARO founder Peter Shankman’s surprise dinner at Morton’s.

Stephanie Gravalese-Wood, marketing coordinator and social media “voice” behind The Red Lion Inn, says that they monitor their social channels and regularly check in with guests to see how their stay or experience was. “For anyone mentioning that they are looking to stay, we direct them to our Last Minute Specials page as well as to our social media travel specials.” It’s helped draw a minimum of 50 clicks on the first day and more than 100 each week.

You can also try checking in on location-based apps like FourSquare, where you may score extra points or specials. SPG members, for example, get extra points for checking in with linked accounts.

Travel “Smart”
You know apps on your iPhone or Android can make travel easier.

2012 Twist: Mobile booking, particularly at the last minute. Use apps like Priceline’s “Tonight Only Deals” tool, or the aptly named program Hotel Tonight to score up to 60% off reservations for that evening. Sometimes being a procrastinator pays off – we’ve seen hotels for up to $50 less than the best available price on their website through the app. You may not know which hotel you’re booking until you’ve paid, but we’ve yet to see a hotel that’s not of the quality advertised.Pick the Best Room
You know how to ask for a corner room or higher floor.

2012 Twist: Seeing your actual room, via a site like Room 77. Just how good is that upgrade? Sites like Room 77 tour individual hotel rooms to show you exact views, distance from the elevator and more. If you’re a light sleeper, need to get work done or just want to know if the upgrade is worth the cash, we’d suggest you check this out.

Read Reviews Carefully
The days of picking the top-rated hotels on TripAdvisor hotel are over.

2012 Twists: We’re not saying to discount TripAdvisor entirely – the site is still our best way to see real-time trip reviews coming in from travelers. But, in recent months news has shown that the site may not be the most accurate reflection of a trip. Instead, we’d suggest turning to social reviews or checking out the property’s social media profiles – honest feedback is often posted by travelers in the comments section.

Try Something New
Don’t go for the big chains just ’cause.

2012 Twist: We’ve long been fans of boutique hotels for their smaller size, more personalized service and often better costs. Still, we see the advantage of knowing what you’re getting, particularly when it’s a place you haven’t visited before. Not sure where to find a property? You can always turn to reputable member organizations like Five Star Alliance, Relais & Chateaux, Leading Hotels of the World, Preferred Hotels and more for databases.

If booking boutique is out of your price range or isn’t an option, we’d suggest searching for a newly-opened property. Sure, all of the kinks might not be worked out yet (the spa or all restaurants might not be open) but you can almost always find rates of 20 to 30% off the normal price, a bonus for being one of the first to book. Plus, everything is shiny and new! Keep up with us – we’ll tell you about all of the best hotel openings and where to book.

Research, Research, Research
Skip the travel agent.

2012 Twist: Okay, we’re not saying to hate on travel agents entirely– there are many companies that do a great job. But we’re pretty sure that most travelers out there now are old pros at that thing called “The Internet” (after all, you’re reading a blog) so take matters into your own hands. Try combining flight and hotel costs on Expedia.com or Orbitz.com. Search Kayak and take advantage of their flexible flight search and newly integrated TripAdvisor reviews. Check a new favorite, FlightFox, for great airfare deals. Scan the hotel website for deals. See if social media will score you an extra discount.

Flash Sale Savvy
Find the best deal site for you.

2012 Twist: You know sites like Jetsetter, SniqueAway and RueLaLa travel exist. So USE THEM. We can’t always say you’ll get the best deal – we’ve seen rates that compare on the hotel’s website or via other OTAs, but if you plan ahead and watch your email alerts, you can often score great deals on hotels that you otherwise couldn’t afford. Cities like Las Vegas, New York and Washington, DC, have regular and wonderful deals as well as Caribbean and European destinations. If you’re looking for something cheaper, consider Groupon or LivingSocial’s travel verticals, great for getting away for a night or two close to home. Of course, if you refer friends (on the off chance that they’re not already using these sites), you can even earn credit towards your next trip.

Be Polite
You know check-in is at 3 PM.

2012 Twist: Know not to throw a fit when your room isn’t ready if you arrive at 11. If you know you’re arriving early, call ahead of time and ask if your room is available or can be made ready for your arrival. Yes, hotels are in the service industry, but front desk employees still like to be treated nicely.

Stay Loyal
Leverage your benefits.

2012 Twist: Loyalty programs once only benefited the business traveler and the jetsetter who stayed frequently enough to accrue huge amounts of points. Not anymore – programs like SPG’s now only require 50 or 75 nights a year to accrue major status (easy for the moderate to heavy traveler) and your credit card can even earn you rewards. Some programs, like Kimpton and Delta, even give you extras like free internet just for signing up to be a loyalty program member – before even your first night’s stay.

Have another tip we haven’t listed? Share it in the comments, below.

[flickr image via Wolfgang Staudt]