Choosing and reserving a room

We wanted to know the questions you ask when deciding at which hotel to stay and even which room within a hotel. What are your minimum requirements? What’s on your “I hope they have it” list? How do you go about locating, researching and booking a hotel room? Responses from a couple of readers appear below. (You also may wish to refer to Contributing Editor Philip Wagenaar’s article, “How to Find the Right Accommodation at the Right Price” [Dec. ’00, pg. 146].)

Send in your own hotel tips. Write to Reserving a Room, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or e-mail (please include your surface-mail address).

First of all, I check the different websites on the Internet. I have many, many on “My Favorites.” Several of the sites have pictures of the hotels, showing, hopefully, different rooms as well as views of the restaurant, pool area, etc.

I love a comfortable “easy chair” where I can relax in the evening. I also like good lighting by the chair and the bed, as I always read in bed before I go to sleep.

Next, I like a nice-sized bathroom with plenty of counterspace. Hopefully, a magnifying mirror and some nice toiletries are included.

I also check the prices on the different websites; they can vary quite a bit. In summer ’04 I stayed at the Innsbruck Hilton; I had checked many websites and Hilton’s had the best prices. This hotel also allowed me to cancel at the last minute, if necessary, and all taxes and service charges were included. I had also checked to see that they had 24-hour desk service, because I had a 6 a.m. flight and needed to rely on their wake-up service. (Incidentally, it was a beautiful room with a mountain view and located within easy walking distance of the Old Town.)

I recently read that many of the well-known websites for flights, hotels, etc., do not include the extra taxes and service charges in their quotes, and you don’t know how much they are until you have booked the room.

On some occasions I have e-mailed or written the hotel for a brochure and included any questions I had, including questions on prices. Some of the hotels in the Alps have a lower summer season rate, usually from the first of May until the end of June or early July (this may vary with hotel).

I always book the room ahead of time so I don’t end up standing in a long line at the information office hotel service desk. I usually book through the Internet. Before I had a computer, I did it by mail.

Bea Emanuel
Minneapolis, MN

What I look for in a hotel is, first and foremost, location. Is it convenient to whatever I am there for? I can put up with few amenities for an unusual view and/or good access to attractions.

The second requirement is food and drink. Before I leave the hotel, I want a real breakfast, not sticky buns and apples.

Being a widow lady of a certain age, I find having cocktails in my own hotel a much safer way to meet people in new cities. When I travel to a place with an unfamiliar language, I go into my hotel bar about 2 p.m. and practice on the bartender. Some are reluctant, but I’ve never seen a boss who didn’t encourage the staff to help me learn how to say “Another glass of white wine, please” and “Thank you.”

The third essential is no stairs. (I have two bad knees.)

The last (except in the USA and Canada) is easy access to inexpensive taxis or public transportation.

Nice things to have are a window that opens; a view of something other than an air well or alley; a refrigerator or mini-bar; a good reading light; a clean bathtub; a writing desk, and CNN on the TV.

The questions I ask are mostly dependent on the wording of the hotel’s descriptive information. If it says “lounge” or “bar,” I ask, “What kind? Is it just a place to sit, is it a coffee and juice bar or is it a cocktail lounge? And what are the hours?” (If it’s open from 5 to 7p.m., it’s probably only a wide spot in the lobby.)

Not only do I ask if meals and taxes are included in the quoted price, I require that the answer be spelled out in the written confirmation. If there are various prices for deluxe or standard rooms based on view, type of bed(s), etc., I require the specifics of my reservation also be included in the confirmation.

Regardless of what questions are asked, one cannot rely on the answers. Restaurants can be “unexpectedly” closed for what has obviously been several months. The “beachside cocktail bar” may be a 2-stool rec-room mini-bar with a thatch roof and open only when the maid has nothing better to do, as I discovered at a resort on Ambergris Caye off Belize. And if a hotel rep answers, “Oh, yes, there’s a nice local restaurant open for Christmas dinner,” he may have omitted to say that it costs the equivalent of US$100 for a round-trip taxi to reach it on a mountaintop, as I learned on the Aeolian island of Lipari off Sicily.

Since starting to use the Internet for booking hotels and local tours, I have found that the people whose e-mails are just too friendly and reassuring are the ones least likely to be accurate. Those who are cool and strictly business are much more likely to be trustworthy and produce exactly what they say they will.

I am getting too old to enjoy slogging my luggage around looking for a hotel, so I usually book ahead — or at least have a list of a half dozen possible hotels in probable destinations if I am using a rail flexipass.

If I am planning a several-week tour of a few countries, I will book ahead the first and last nights’ stays and a “spa and laundry” recuperation week in the middle, playing the rest by ear.

The sources I use to decide which towns to visit and to find good locations for hotels are the websites, and If I have time, I’ll make a trip to Rick Steves’ store in Edmonds, Washington, or to a large Barnes & Noble store for their variety of travel and language books.

I will look at several hotel websites to gather information (never trust only one site), but I prefer to deal directly with the hotel. The sites I use most often are,, www.airporthotels,, and www. I refuse to use any third-party site that requires online registration of my e-mail address or credit card. I will give out the credit card data by telephone, fax or snail mail.

While hotel chains are useful in big cities, I appreciate the local flavor of independent businesses. They can most easily be found as a lodging link on the website of a city, district or tourism bureau. I usually search Google for the city, then search within for “tourism” or “visitors” to get rid of the junk sites.

I always look up the most promising hotels on one or more of the mapping programs and look for placement near major ring roads, railroad switching yards, industrial areas and other unsavory locations. Hotels in pedestrian-only areas may be nice, but verify the hours that taxis can get there. Being near a respected shopping district usually means a safer location but higher price. Hotels within a block of a major city’s rail terminus are often not safe for foot traffic at night. When in doubt, call and ask a female clerk during the day.

When I decide on a hotel, I print a map showing both it and my arrival train or airport. Showing it to the cabbie alerts him/her that I know where I am going and sometimes discourages him from taking the long way around. Also, if I can read the street signs along the way, I can see if the driver is honest enough to hire for other chores.

At check-in I review the hotel’s website listing of my room’s amenities, including balcony, mini-bar, bed size, etc. One glance at the list and at the standard interior room they are trying to foist off on me and I am back down at the desk insisting on the room I reserved. Women traveling alone in “macho” countries are often seen as easily bullied into taking the least desirable room available — for the same price.

For quick and dirty package deals to London, Waikiki, Rome, etc., or to places too tiny to have online hotels, I visit my friendly travel agent.

Kit Stewart
Sequim, WA