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Picking the Perfect Hotel

If I ask you to imagine the perfect hotel your mind probably conjures up images of grand chandeliers, baby grand pianos and beauties feeding you grapes on the plush mattress of a hand carved canopy bed.  Out the window a beautiful sunset begins to crest over the horizon of an unobstructed ocean view.  The salty air touching your skin only briefly before being dabbed away from the damp, cool, mango scented towel.  This sort of fantasy, multiple room palace probably exists for a price.

If I were to ask you to imagine the cheapest hotel what do you see?  Flicking on the light switch, causes the roach herds to scurry toward cover in the putrid motel room.  You pull back the sheets, which audibly crunch from whatever has hardened to their surface.  Through the fitted sheet you can see the stains on the mattress, although their origin is unknown, the evidence manifested clearly lead you to believe these are bodily fluids of some kind.  This kind of hotel certainly exists and the psycho running it would gladly accept your money.

When searching for a hotel I try to find some definite middle ground in these establishments.  I do not need to check into a pretentious establishment where I am expected to tip every person substantially for doing unnecessary tasks.  I am certain that if I lugged the bags of my entire family through the airport I’ll be fine taking them the next 50 yards or so.  I do not need people looking down at me for staying in their hotel.  At the same time I do have certain expectations in a hotel.  I want a nice, clean place where I can lay my head every night.  I will likely not spend much time in the hotel anyway.  Basically for my family a hotel is a place to store our things, take our showers and sleep until the next day.  So as long as the place is clean, quiet and comfortable I am fine.  All other things beyond that are luxuries.  Although having been updated in this millennium is a nice plus.  If your hotel is still rocking a big tube TV I am going to be a bit put off.

Keeping this criteria in mind I try to find the most affordable option, but I try to keep away from the lowest price option.  The last time I went with the lowest price option in an area was a few months ago.  I booked a room in a Howard Johnson, that was supposed to be a 3 star (out of 5).  It was a Hotwire hidden deal and cost about $40, which was very affordable for a 3 star hotel.  I arrived at the hotel and there was a very sketchy looking couple at the counter.  There was an old white Gateway Desktop in the lobby with a line 6 people deep waiting to use the computer.  The “couple” at the counter turned out to be two guys and a girl (sans teeth) who were fine with just one King bed.  I felt like I needed to shield my daughter’s eyes.  Walking through the hall I really felt like I was surrounded by shady characters.  This is not to say that money equals class by any stretch.  However, when you book the cheapest hotel in the area, it’s also the cheapest hotel for everyone else in the area.  So the guys scoring a three way with a tweaker are also booking that cheap room next door to your family.

I try to pick a moderate priced hotel with great reviews.  If possible I try to get a 4 star hotel at a lower price using a site like Priceline or Hotwire.  The problem with this method is that I have personally found that Priceline inflates the rating on some of their hotels.  So you may book a 4 star hotel for $50 and be pumped, but then when the hotel is revealed it is an old Howard Johnson that might generously be awarded 2 stars.  So you think you’re getting a room in a Hyatt or W and you are getting an overrated Ho Jo.  There are websites that exist to help make better decisions on hotels and reveal which hotels are available in an area at the particular star rating that you seek.

Over the next week I will be sharing more information about the hotels I decide to book for our upcoming trip and I will likely give a review of whatever hotel is lucky enough to be chosen by me.

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Does Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” option offer great value?

Priceline’s “name your own price” cuts to the heart of my philosophy of buying value.  You pick a hotel in the area with the star rating you want and pay whatever it’s worth to you.  You never overpay because, at least in theory, you bid exactly what the room is worth to you.  If a 5 star room is worth $100 for you on a particular night, then even if I get the same room for $90 you did not overpay.  You also did not have to haggle or risk looking cheap in bartering your hotel room down in price.  You get a great room at a price you are comfortable paying, the worst that can happen is Priceline does not find any hotel at your star level and price point.  In the commercial Bill Shatner keeps goading the customer to go lower, but in reality this just leads to the loss of bidding priveleges.

How could such a system be problematic?  The problem with the Priceline system is their proprietary rating system.  The only information we can use to make an informed pricing decision is their star rating.  If this system is good it should give a fair apples to apples comparison between hotels.  Unfortunately, my experience is that this is not the case.

When looking over the example list of hotels at your level should give you a good indicator of the star level you are comfortable choosing.  For our overnight stay we had decided that a 2.5 star hotel would be adequate for our family.  We made our bid and got a hotel for about $40, this was a fantastic value.  We had gotten a Fairfield Inn which was superb.  It was a newer hotel, with updated rooms, indoor pool, free breakfast and flat screen tv.  We were blown away and loved the hotel and Priceline.  The next time we were in the area we chose the exact same 2.5 star room and even bid a bit higher and got the room.  If this blog had been written at that point this would be about how everyone should use Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” option to score a great deal on a hotel.  I agreed with their rating of 2.5 stars, not a super luxury place, but very clean, updated, etc.  It may have even been a 3 star, but either way it represented a great value.

The next time in the area we picked the same options and were “upgraded” to a 3 star room!  We were so excited because we had seen what a 2.5 star Priceline room was like so we knew this would be great.  We arrived at the Holiday Inn and were instantly underwhelmed.  The 1970s decor was not exactly inviting, but certainly the rooms would be fantastic.  We were told at check-in that breakfast was offered in the morning for $10 per person, which was unfortunate since this would add $20 to the price over the free hot breakfast Fairfield’s 2.5 star offering.  When we got into the room it was dated and obviously due for an update.  The textured wall paper really brought out the luxury look of the old-fashioned tube tv.  The room was not “dirty” necessarily, but it was just well used.

It’s not that we have exceptionally high standards, but 3 star was the highest rating in the area.  This hotel was a 2 star at best, but Priceline was telling us it was the best the city had to offer.  We were “upgraded” to this hotel, but if we had come to the area expecting to stay in the best hotel we would have picked this 3 star rating as well.  I knew from my own experience that there were better offerings in the area.  The 3 star had an old television, old carpet, old wallpaper, and did not include free breakfast.

When I called Priceline on the issue they just assured me that their rating scale is accurate (it’s not).  They listened to my greivances, but just kept telling me that they were certain I would be satisfied, but did not stand by their certainty.  Just be aware that Priceline has a motive to overrank certain hotels.  If a 2 star hotel is called a 3 star hotel, then people will bid more for the hotel.  The hotel wins because they book their 2 star rooms that would ultimately go unfilled.  If you still want to use Priceline, which is a great money saving option, go to Better Bidding to see the rooms other people have gotten with similar bids.

 

 

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