What to Consider When Reserving a Room

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A few things to consider when getting a hotel room...

Make hotel reservations way ahead of arrival. In popular cities, like Paris, rooms are sometimes booked a year in advance.

Compare prices and book on-line. Many properties are listed on multiple Web sites. Depending on who is selling the room, prices can vary dramatically -- by as much as 200% or more for the same room for the same date. You'll often find good prices at large on-line reservations services like Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, and Trip.com.

Bid for your rate on-line. Depending on the destination, you can save 40% or more on hotels' regular rates on bidding sites like Priceline or Hotwire. You choose an area and quality level of a hotel and then bid on a price -- you'll hear back within minutes if your bid was accepted (and your credit card will be automatically charged).

Call the lodge, not a toll-free number. If you've got specific needs or preferences, try this old-fashioned strategy: Use the telephone. But call your chosen hotel directly. Reservations agents at the toll-free numbers of major chains usually don't know much about individual lodgings. If you call the property itself, you're more likely to end up speaking with someone familiar with the rooms and the general lay of the land. The reservationists manning the toll-free line may not know that a group has just canceled, leaving a bunch of rooms empty.

Learn a few basic phrases in the local language. For hotels in foreign countries, sometimes you need basic communications skills to determine whether the choice is appropriate for you -- or whether rooms are even available for your travel dates.

Make reservations via e-mail. E-mail reservations are better than long-distance calls because you don't have to worry about time zones. When trying to communicate with hotel staff whose languages you don't speak, you can send an e-mail in English with the hope that they'll have a bit more time to track down a translator.

Take the time to play investigative reporter. You can ask the reservations agent straight out what's the best room in your price range or what rooms are most popular. But you can also play the reporter. Interview the agent about the various types of rooms available and ask what the advantages and disadvantages of each are. Ask to speak with the person's supervisor or someone at the front desk if the agent is unable to help you. It's your money -- make sure you get what you want.

Look for a floor plan. Some Web sites contain floor plans of the hotel or of individual rooms. These will tell you whether the photos have distorted the reality or conveyed it accurately. They will also show the relative locations of different features, and help you avoid a room by the elevator or at the remote end of a long corridor.

Make your desires clear. If you have preferences about the room you'll be staying in, make them clear to the reservations agent. Some things to consider are: room size, smoking or non-smoking, king or two queens (or double or two twins), high floor or low floor, patio or balcony. Need quiet? Insist on a room away from the elevator, or other high-traffic areas like bars, pools, restaurants, and service areas with ice and vending machines. Make sure you have all your questions answered before you give out your credit card number.

Check out the view. If you hear the words city view or ocean view, ask whether the view is obstructed or unobstructed. Also, with beach locations, be sure your room is beachfront and not simply waterfront. In Florida and many Caribbean destinations, for example, many visitors arrive at the waterfront hotels only to find themselves on the Intercoastal Waterway, a canal, or a bay, 10 or more minutes' drive from the actual beach.

Ask about planned renovations on-site or nearby. It's hard for a reservations agent to predict construction too far in advance, but by all means, ask. (If you arrive at your hotel and find construction going on, request another room immediately. If the hotel cannot move you, request a rate reduction. Most hotel managers will accommodate you without argument.)

Hold your room with a credit card. Most chain properties will hold your reservation until 6 p.m.; call ahead if you plan to arrive late. To hold a late reservation you may need to give your credit card number. Some smaller properties, usually independently owned hotels and BBs, will charge your credit card even if you don't show up (or if you cancel from one day to two weeks before your scheduled arrival), so be sure you ask about the hotel's guaranteed reservations policy when booking.

Ask for written confirmation. After you've made your reservation, ask for written confirmation by snail mail or e-mail and when you get it, read it. Make sure everything you asked for is in the confirmation, and take the confirmation with you when you travel and present it upon arrival. You'll have the evidence in hand if there are discrepancies upon arrival.

Call if you're going to be late. If your reservation is for a certain hour, alert the hotel if you will be arriving later -- even if it's only 15 minutes later. Hotel managers are under pressure to keep occupancy rates high, so unless they know for sure you're arriving, they may give your room to someone else.

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