How to Safely Book a Hotel or Home Rental

by Nancy Bestor

Remember the days before the internet…when you had to book a hotel or vacation home based solely on a guidebook recommendation that offered little or (gasp!) no photos? Thank goodness those days are over. For the most part we can now see exactly what we’re getting into before booking.  However, some hotels do stretch the truth a bit with descriptions and photos in their on line information. And sometimes things don’t really end up looking the way they do on the website. (I always wonder how they can take a hotel room photo in such a way that makes it look 75% bigger than it really is?)

But never fear, there are now many travel websites that offer reviews for travelers like you and me, by travelers like you and me. In fact there are so many these days, it’s hard to wade through them all. Here are some that we’ve found particularly useful. TripAdvisor continues to be one of the most thorough review sites around. I never trust just one or two reviews however, as I’m a pessimist, and always wonder if a hotel has enlisted friends and family members to write glowing reviews. So the more reviews the better, and I especially like those reviews that include candid travelers’ photos of the hotel. (I must digress and ask why, however, travelers include photos of themselves on the beach.) When I’m booking a hotel on Priceline or Hotwire, I also like to look at the bidding forums, here and here, where travelers share information on their results of recent bids. These wonderfully useful details almost always include prices of successful bids and which hotel they were booked with. Sometimes posts will also include a review as well. Another handy review site, but with less hotels in out of the way places, is Oyster, who boasts “undoctored hotel photos” and the tagline “we have sleepless nights so you won’t.”

If you’re booking a home or apartment rental on my favorite site, Vacation Rentals By Owner, and you don’t trust the photos or reviews, you can buy low cost insurance to make certain what you have been promised really exists. On a recent family vacation rental in California’s Napa Valley, it was worth it to me to spend $29 for insurance on a rental that cost $2000. Of course the house was fine, but the insurance gave me piece of mind.

There’s no reason to book a hotel or vacation rental without first reading reviews and looking at photos. A little research time on the front end will make you a happier traveler on the flip side.