Locating your best option is straightforward—provided you know in general the type of hotel you want. This column was suggested by a recent posting of a budget hotel guide in a travel publication that offered a few “usual suspects” suggestions along with a few “well, doh” suggestions. Instead of expanding on that list, I’d like to develop my own list that I hope is more useful.
Start with the proposition that you’re looking for a true budget hotel, not an Airbnb, vacation rental, or anything upscale. There are some good suggestions for locating those accommodations, but they’re different. For now, let’s stick to budget hotels. Let’s also figure that you already know which cities or attractions you want to visit.
1. What Type of Hotel
In the budget range, you have two basic options:
• A unit of a budget chain. These days, in the U.S., that means you’re likely looking at brands offered by Best Western, Choice, or Wyndham, or at Motel 6. At a chain unit, you can expect few surprises, good or bad. You’ll have the basics of a private bathroom, an OK bed, air conditioning, and TV. In Europe, you’ll be looking first at one of the budget brands of Accor—Formule at the bottom end, more likely one of the Ibis sub-brands—or at Travelodge and Premiere Inn in the UK.
• Independent. In the U.S., many of the lowest-priced independents are scruffy or older units on highways bypassed by the Interstates. Really “charming” budget options are easier to come by in Europe, but you have to check reviews to avoid making a mistake.
If you travel by plane (or train, in Europe), you’ll probably want to be someplace that minimizes the hassles of schlepping to your hotel. That means either near whatever sort of city center facility with transport serving your arrival or departure airport—or rail station—or near a key address for family, friends, or attractions. Of course, you can avoid public transportation hassles by taking cabs, but if you’re doing budget, cabs might not be in your playbook. If you’re driving, you’ll want a location with good road access but not in a central city.
3. Doing the Search
The most inclusive way to start a search is on a metasearch system—one that compiles rates and availability from a bunch of different online agencies. For travel in the U.S. and nearby beach destinations, by go-to search system is Kayak: It allows you to compare hotels by total cost, including mandatory fees such as resort fees and taxes. Fees and taxes aren’t a big problem elsewhere, so if you prefer, use Booking.com, Expedia, or some other favorite for Europe or Asia.
Beyond just posting rates, the big metasearch systems all include filters so you can pinpoint hotels with any feature that is especially important to have or deal-breaker if a hotel doesn’t have it. Typical filters include Wi-Fi, swimming pool, free breakfast, free parking, free cancellation, kitchen facilities, elevator, popularity or rating, beachfront, and bed arrangements. I often find it useful to search postings on a map, an option most metasearch systems provide.
Discounts and deals. You can expect most U.S. chains to offer senior or AAA discounts of 5 percent to 10 percent—discounts that you might not see on metasearch results. But you find those mainly in the U.S. and Canada; seniors don’t get much of a discount anywhere else. If you belong to a hotel loyalty program, you’ll want to check on any deals offered to members. And you might want to check other possibilities such as finding a Groupon deal. Some metasearch systems offer their own “discounts.”
You’re generally OK booking through the metasearch system you used. But some big chains offer a few extras if you book directly, especially if you enjoy elite status, so booking directly is a clear choice. Wherever you book, look at the fine print to make sure that the conditions on any deal are what you want.
©2022 Ed Perkins. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.