Staying at a hotel is such a common part of the travel experience that you’d think the process is foolproof. Still, plenty of people make mistakes ― and sometimes end up paying handsomely ― when it comes to booking their travel accommodations.
Whether these missteps end up costing valuable time and money or otherwise just sour the vacation experience, it’s worth taking the time to steer clear of such hassle. That’s why HuffPost asked some experts to share the common mistakes travelers make when it comes to booking a hotel.
From selecting the wrong cancellation policy to grossly underestimating final costs, here are 12 hotel booking errors ― and some advice for avoiding them in your future travels.
Choosing A Hotel Solely Based On Price
“While it may be tempting, do not just book the cheapest hotel,” said Phil Dengler, co-founder of The Vacationer. “Before picking a hotel, you need to read reviews from a variety of different sources.”
Remember there might be a good reason why the option is so cheap, whether it’s poorly reviewed or inconveniently located.
“You need to check its location on Google Maps and decide if it is a good spot for your home base,” Dengler noted.
Konrad Waliszewski, the CEO of the booking deals resource @hotel, believes that travelers often underestimate the importance of optimizing for location.
“Saving a few bucks by staying further away from your preferred neighborhoods and activities may seem tempting at first, but it can result in frustration and increased time and money spent on transportation during your trip,” he said. “Prioritize convenience and proximity to your desired destinations when choosing your hotel.”
Forgetting To Take Resort Fees Into Account
“Unfortunately, hotel websites as well as third-party booking sites often hide resort fees until the very last second,” Dengler said. “By the time they show, many people have already filled out their personal and payment information.”
He recommended searching for resort fee information before you start the actual booking process. That way you get a better sense of how much you’ll actually be paying per night.
“On third-party booking sites, you can often find them listed toward the bottom of the listing,” Dengler explained. “If you do not see them, just click through to the final booking page. Some hotels charge $40 or more per night in resort fees. That can add up for a multinight stay, and many times you do not get much for paying the required fee.”
Assuming Parking Is Included
Even when you’re paying expensive resort fees, parking is not necessarily included in that extra cost.
“If you have a car, always check the hotel’s parking situation,” Dengler advised. “Some hotels do not have a parking lot, and you will be forced to find and potentially pay expensive public parking fees. Other hotels do not have self-parking and instead charge hefty valet parking fees. I’ve seen upwards of $60 per day before tip.”
Selecting The Wrong Cancellation Policy
“One of the biggest mistakes that someone can make when booking a hotel is not checking the cancellation policy,” said Collette Stohler, a travel agent with Elite Travel Arrangements and director of marketing at Roamaroo. “While nonrefundable rates may save you a few dollars, the hotel will not refund your money under any circumstance if you need to cancel.”
As unexpected changes and delays seem to have become more common than ever, it makes sense to opt for flexible rates just in case. Make sure you correctly understand the timing, however.
“Travelers typically don’t realize that the cancellation policy deadline of hotels is always set in the local time zone of the hotel,” Waliszewski said. “If you need to cancel or modify your trip, make sure you do it before the deadline local time. Set a reminder for your cancellation deadline in your calendar to avoid any last-minute surprises.”
Booking With A Debit Card
“Besides earning points, credit cards offer purchase protection that cash and debit cards do not,” Dengler said. “I recommend always booking your hotel stays with a credit card. Even no-annual-fee cards like the Chase Freedom Unlimited earn 1.5% cash back for every dollar spent as well as 5% cash back per dollar spent for hotels purchased through Chase.”
“Additionally, it offers trip cancellation/interruption insurance, which is great peace of mind when booking hotels,” he added. “Other travel credit cards with annual fees offer even more benefits when booking hotels, but there are many no-annual-fee cards available that are more than enough for most people.”
In addition to airline miles, room upgrades and cash-back bonuses, credit card benefits like fraud protection and immediate refunds for incorrect charges offer a lot of comfort when planning a vacation. With a debit card, you may also have to worry about having insufficient funds for any temporary holds the hotel might require upon check-in, which can add up and take time to be refunded.
Using A Third-Party Platform Incorrectly
“One of the biggest mistakes people make when booking hotels is not booking directly with the hotel itself and instead using booking engines,” said Victoria Yore, the travel blogger behind Follow Me Away.
If you book directly through the Marriott or Hilton website for instance, you can directly contact Marriott or Hilton when something goes wrong and get immediate help.
“If you use a booking engine such as Expedia and there is a problem, often the hotel chain cannot help you and you need to use Expedia as a middleman in order to work out the problem with the hotel, instead of going direct,” Yore said. “As long as you know this upfront when making this choice, you are far more prepared than many others who may be blindsided in the event of an emergency or cancellation.”
Dengler also prefers booking directly with the hotel to cut out the middleman when he has to change or cancel a reservation. He recommended booking directly to guarantee you’ll receive credit toward the hotel’s rewards program and the opportunity to access benefits if you already have status as well.
“Many hotels guarantee the cheapest price when booking directly through them,” Dengler added. “Unless you have a special promo code at a third-party booking site, I recommend just booking directly with the hotel for special rates and better service.”
Booking The Wrong Location...
“I worked in reception of hotels for eight years, and something which happened surprisingly often was a traveler showing up with a reservation for the night, in a hotel of the same name, but in a different country!” said Meg Jerrard, co-founder of Solo Female Travelers. “So I recommend you always double-check that you’re booking the right location, as many countries, and even cities, have hotels by similar or the same names.”
Because 24-hour cancellation policies are the norm for hotels, discovering that you’ve booked the wrong place upon arrival means you’ll be out the money you spent on that incorrect hotel and also have little choice over the room type that’s left at the one where you actually want to stay. Make sure you always confirm the address before embarking on your trip.
“It’s quite an easy mistake if you’re searching for hotels on booking platforms, but then going directly to the hotel site to make a booking,” Jerrard said. “You can overlook the location when you simply Google a hotel name and click on the first option.”
...Or The Wrong Dates
“The surprisingly most common mistake by far is booking the wrong dates,” Waliszewski said. “Always double-check your dates before finalizing your reservation. It may sound obvious, but it happens more often than you think.”
As with your hotel’s address, just take that extra moment to review your selected dates and make sure they align with your travel plans. Things can get confusing with long-haul overnight flights and major time zone changes.
Overvaluing Loyalty Programs
Waliszewski believes that many travelers overvalue hotel loyalty programs.
“It’s essential to know the actual value of your points and status, and be cautious not to spend more money solely to book a room with a specific brand unless it genuinely adds value to your stay,” he said. “Take a step back and evaluate the benefits you’ll receive against the additional cost you might incur.”
Failing To Plan Ahead
“A major issue is not devoting enough time to proper planning and not starting the process early enough before the trip,” said Gordon Gurnik, the chief operating officer at Hilton Grand Vacations. “Planning ahead is critical, because trying to make last-minute accommodations will likely mean sacrificing the perfect trip or more expensive choices”
There are a number of theories around the perfect time to book a hotel for the best rate, which can depend on the location and time of year. But Gurnik’s bottom line: Do your research and give yourself as much time as possible to make a decision that ensures your vacation meets your expectations. You can even adopt a “reserve now, cancel later” attitude and give yourself flexible options, which is especially helpful if you notice the rates going down as your travel dates approach.
“To make sure you get the most of your stay, I recommend researching where you want to stay and what kind of amenities are important to you,” Gurnik said “For example, do you want your hotel to have a pool, a gym or airport pickup? Are your dates flexible? How many beds and rooms do you need to be comfortable?”
Taking stock of your needs and having answers to these questions makes for a smooth and stress-free vacation. If certain hotel amenities require reservations, try to snag those in advance as well.
“With travel at an all-time high, make sure to book any added experiences such as spas, tours and restaurants ahead of time, especially in properties that offer these services to guests outside the property,” said Jessica van Dop DeJesus, founder and editor at The Dining Traveler.
Not Asking For A Room Upgrade
“Most travelers overlook the simple step of calling the hotel a day before check-in to confirm their room and inquire about any complimentary upgrades, Waliszewski said. “While upgrades aren’t always available, it’s worth the effort as it can really enhance your stay. A quick call allows you to establish a personal connection with the hotel staff and might lead to a pleasant surprise.”
Even if an upgrade feels like a long shot, it never hurts to just ask.
“I call the hotel the night before and ask for an upgrade,” Dengler echoed. “If I am denied, I ask again when checking in. In most cases, you will only be upgraded to the next level room. So do not expect to get the penthouse when you booked the cheapest room.”
Still, the mere idea of getting some sort of special perk can offer a nice mental boost that makes your vacation even more enjoyable.