Use these key insights to find the best accommodations and rates for your next family trip
As the current wave of vacation planning continues to surge, family groups are booking hotels and resorts for upcoming trips. Selecting the right accommodations plays a big part in the success of family getaways. Hotel stays can be the most significant component of many family vacation budgets, so getting a good deal is also top of mind.
Here are some suggestions for booking hotels and resorts this year:
Book Early For Summer And Holiday Vacations
Recent research shows that close to 90% of Americans are planning to travel over the next six months. Hotels and resorts in popular vacation destinations are reporting strong bookings for the summer. In addition, some properties are already quite full for the December holidays. While it may seem early to lock up your travel plans, don’t delay – particularly for big group trips. Rising prices and pent-up demand could lead to sellouts during popular times of the year.
It’s often wise to avoid the crowds and higher prices associated with peak family travel periods, but sometimes that’s not possible. Make sure to check on flight and car rental availability before booking your hotel room and reserve those as well. Bundling your vacation bookings can sometimes provide lower rates and special amenities, too.
Shop For Deals
Numerous Internet booking sites promise great hotel deals. Some of the best include Booking.com, Expedia, Hotels.com, Orbitz, Travelocity, Priceline and Hotwire. Rather than visit each one, check out price comparison sites like TripAdvisor, Kayak and Trivago to see which websites offer the best nightly rates. Make sure to compare the total price at each hotel, including all taxes and fees, add-on resort fees and any other extra charges.
If you’re making a last-minute reservation, check out sites and apps like HotelTonight and Booking.com for low rates. Some hotels offer special deals via Facebook and Twitter, so it pays to follow your favorites on social media. You may also find great local deals via social media by using the name of your destination and “hotel deals” as search terms.
Once you’ve narrowed your choices, call your top hotels or resorts to ask for their lowest room rate. Most hotels would rather have you book directly with them rather than through a third party since it nets more money for their bottom line. You may get a better room rate or a free upgrade by speaking with a hotel staff member. It can also be easier to deal with the hotel directly if you have a problem with your booking or need to change your reservation.
Know What’s Included
Make a list of specific hotel or resort features that are important for your family’s stay. This can be a key factor, particularly when comparing all-inclusive resorts. Read each online description carefully and note any inclusions such as meals, activities and amenities, free parking, pool and beach access, children’s programs and other options. If lunches and dinners are included at your resort, find out if advance reservations are required and book dining times well in advance.
Some hotel websites may not be fully updated with current policies. If specific amenities and activities are important to you, call the hotel directly and ask for more information on availability and operating times.
Understand Cancellation And Deposit Policies
Flexibility is essential in today’s travel environment. Many hotels and resorts have liberalized their cancellation policies, but sometimes they can be confusing. It’s important to understand each hotel’s booking conditions before making your reservations. Some properties offer several price points for accommodations based on varying cancellation terms.
Before selecting the cheapest option, make sure you’re comfortable with the cancellation terms and conditions before finalizing your reservation. In addition, find out whether you will be receiving a cash refund or a future stay credit if cancellation becomes necessary. If a credit is provided, determine if there are any black-out dates for rescheduling your trip.
Read The Reviews
Vacationers often turn to hotel reviews to determine whether properties are a good fit with their needs and expectations. A recent travel booking behavior survey showed travel reviews are the third most important factor in choosing accommodations, behind location and price. Travelers look to hotel reviews for reassurance about their choices and help in determining value and website accuracy.
When searching for hotel reviews, check sites such as TripAdvisor and Google as well as booking platforms like Booking.com and Expedia. Recent reviews provide a more accurate assessment of the property’s current state. Map each hotel’s location on Google Maps to determine its proximity to major highways and sought-after attractions like the beach or a national park.
Work With A Travel Advisor
Travel is complex these days. Working with a travel advisor can reduce the stresses of planning complicated family trips. A trusted travel agent can help sift through all the options and design a memorable vacation that works well for you and your family. Top travel advisors have good connections and access to special deals that aren’t available to the general public. Through their contacts and affiliations, they may be able to provide some additional perks, too.
Travel advisors can also be excellent risk navigators, checking on crucial details and getting the inside scoop on properties. They’re excellent sources of information and are up-to-date on the latest conditions, travel requirements and protocols. Travel agents are also good to have on your side when unexpected events and problems arise on your trip, too.
Confirm Room Configurations And Special Requests
Many travelers making hotel reservations online specify requests including room configurations, proximity to elevators and connecting rooms. It’s important to remember that these requests are not guaranteed. If any of these requests are critical for your family, contact the hotel directly or have your travel advisor confirm these details in advance before making non-refundable bookings.
In addition, ongoing construction may not be mentioned on hotel websites or in reviews. Construction noise can be problematic, particularly for families with young children who need to take naps during the day. If this is an important issue for your family, call the hotel or resort directly to double-check.
Sign Up For Hotel Reward Programs
Join hotel guest rewards programs and sign up for their newsletters. These loyalty programs are free, and the benefits can be substantial. Hotels and resorts often e-mail newsletters with special savings offers and discount codes. Membership in hotel guest loyalty programs can also provide additional special perks such as room upgrades, free breakfast, complimentary Internet access, late checkouts and other amenities. You will also receive points to use for a future free hotel stay.
Play Your Cards Wisely
Some credit card companies offer free hotel night certificates, hotel credits and special programs that provide travel rewards for hotel bookings made using their cards. For instance, the American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts program offers perks including a room upgrade upon arrival, daily breakfast for two, early check-in and late checkout when available, complimentary Wi-Fi, and credit for dining or special services.
Points earned through credit card purchases can also be a great way to save on hotel and resort stays. Credit cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Capital One Venture Rewards Card, American Express Platinum and Gold Cards, and hotel-affiliated credit cards have programs allowing members to use points for accommodations or buy down the rates for their stay. Check out the various offers and options available for using your points and compare them with the best hotel prices available for your desired travel dates.
Membership in clubs like AAA, AARP, Costco and Sam’s Club can generate substantial savings on hotel room rates. Certain credit unions also have programs that offer hotel discounts. Make sure to inquire about reduced rates, and remember to bring your card with you to the hotel.
Consider Purchasing Travel Insurance
Travel insurance can provide financial protection and peace of mind in today’s constantly changing travel environment. This can be important when booking vacation accommodations, as there’s often a period of time when free cancellation is no longer possible. Buying travel insurance within 10-15 days of your first vacation payment can provide additional coverage for pre-existing conditions, so the timing of purchase can be important.
The most complete trip insurance coverage is available under “Cancel for Any Reason” policies. This type of insurance is more expensive, but it can provide coverage if you decide not to travel due to uncertainties and other reasons typically not covered by other insurance plans. If you choose to purchase travel insurance, check with companies carefully to understand what’s covered and ensure that all vacation costs are included.
By Nancy Schretter, Contributing Editor