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Family Travel: Booking Hotels Online

There’s so much fun to be had with family travel. But if you are booking hotels online, you’ll want to read these tips first.

Disney World Road Sign Sarah by the Sea

Sitting in the communal computer room at my college in 1998, I navigated to a travel site, entered a little information and booked my first solo trip — a weekend journey to visit my best friend in Pittsburgh. It was so easy.

Since then, I’ve booked dozens of trips in a similar manner — or I did, until booking travel online became a more challenging endeavor. With more and more hidden terms, conditions and fees hiding in the fine print, and so many more choices, online booking requires a certain savviness and attention to detail these days — especially when booking hotels.

Planning a trip? Here’s what you need to know about online booking for hotels.

Check the Terms, Conditions and Fees

Does the price sound too good to be true? Then it might just be. When booking for Disney one spring, I planned to book what sounded like an amazing condo unit near Walt Disney World in Orlando. The price was affordable. It was close to the parks, and afforded ample space for my family.

Thankfully, I looked closer before clicking “book.” As it turned out, that property charges what they call a “cleaning fee” — and that fee was as much as the room charge for our one-night stay. Similar fees are charged on AirBNB, but are clearly shown in the cost box on each property.

Fees for cleaning aren’t the only ones to watch out for. Some hotels charge $25 or more per night for parking — especially in cities like Boston, New York and Philadelphia where parking is limited. Need to use the internet while you’re traveling? Though some hotels do offer free wifi — or, at least, free wifi in public spaces — many charge fees for usage often in the $10-$15 range per day.

Be sure to read everything you can about the property and its fees before booking online — even if it means spending more time digging through listings. That way you won’t be surprised with added fees at checkout.

Read the Reviews

Not familiar with a hotel? Check out the reviews on a variety of sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and for a taste of what others have experienced. Why a variety? It’s part of reading reviews with a grain of salt — while some reviewers will tell it like it is (look for verified reviews, for instance, on sites that sell travel — these come from people who paid for the stay through the site), sometimes fake reviews and reviewers will post as well, which can make a place seem either really, really great or really, really bad (depending on why the fake reviewers are targeting a certain place).

How can you tell what’s real from what’s spin? Real reviews typically contain specific information about a stay, for starters. They also tend to balance good and bad of the stay, instead of being skewed in one direction or another.

Double Check the Location

Heading to a new city that you aren’t that familiar with? There’s nothing worse than accidentally booking a hotel far from where you want or need to be. Be sure to check out maps of the city when booking so that you can decipher how close the hotel will be to attractions, public transportation or whatever you want to see while you are there. And then double check it again before hitting “book.” After all, you wouldn’t want to accidentally book your fabulous New York getaway at a hotel in New Jersey, right?

Check the Hotel Website

You can never know too much about the hotel you’re booking. So once you’ve narrowed your choices down, pop over to the hotel websites for more information. This is a good way to double check on fees, amenities and other details before booking too. Plus, you never know what pro or con might appear when you find out a little more.

Don’t Be Afraid to Call and Ask

Still not sure? If you have concerns or questions, pick up the phone and call. This can alleviate any worries — or help you make the important decision to book elsewhere. Once, while booking a hotel, I read somewhere that it was under construction. When I phoned to inquire about whether the pools would be open, I also inquired about noise levels. While the answers were satisfactory, the rude employee who took my call was enough for me to cancel our reservations and book elsewhere.

One More Thing

One more thing to watch out for: Sometimes the best rates come with clauses that prevent you from getting your money back if you cancel your reservation. If that’s a concern, be sure that you can get a refund if you change your mind.

What’s your best booking advice? Share in the comments!

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Monday 3rd of August 2015

Great tips. The cleaning fee almost caught me recently too!


Saturday 31st of August 2013

What great suggestions! You are so right, booking hotels online has gotten a bit tricky. I especially love your point to just call the hotel - so simple, but I never thought of that!