The science of choosing a hotel
Updated: Nov 3, 2018
Many think that it does not matter where you stay while traveling because you just use the bed and shower and spend the rest of the time elsewhere, while others see the accommodation as part of the travel experience. I’m somewhere in the middle, not necessarily seeking for luxury, but it is definitely not indifferent where I stay.
As an introverted person I need my own space to recharge batteries, also when traveling. This is mainly the reason why I choose hotels over hostels or other more social types of accommodation. Still the methods I write about here could of course be used with any types of accommodation.
Three or four stars is my usual choice, but as the stars itself don’t necessarily tell anything about the quality, I value customer reviews the most. Along with the customer rating, the written reviews are even more useful, as people value things differently.
Breakfast and free Wi-Fi, please
I usually want to have breakfast in the hotel, so when comparing prices I calculate the total price of room plus breakfast. It sounds like a good deal to have “free” breakfast, but on the other hand paying it separately gives you more choices.
I also like to have a safe in the room to store my passport, extra cash and such. On shorter trips it is not that important but I consider it an advantage when comparing hotels. Free Wi-Fi is such a basic commodity nowadays that I skip all the hotels that does not provide it.
The longer the trip, the more time you spend in the hotel room, so the room and bed sizes comes to picture. During summer you might want to check from the customer reviews that the air-conditioning is not only available, but actually works.
Despite all the booking sites, Excel is still king
Ok, this is how I proceed in the choosing process. The first stage is collecting the information. I make a search in one of the internet booking sites with the following settings: the price range that I’m willing to pay this time, stars 3 - 5, free Wi-Fi and customer rating at least 3.5 out of 5.0. If there are too many options, I change the customer rating to 4 or higher.
From the booking site list I collect the possible hotels to an Excel sheet. The information I collect are stars, customer rating, price per night, breakfast price per day, total price per day, is there a safe or not and possible extra features like free bottled water, fridge etc. If it is relevant for this trip, I also mark the check-in and -out times.
At this point the list usually has around 30 hotels or less and I might do some elimination already. Let’s say that all other hotels have a safe in room except one or two, and if they are not the cheapest ones either, they can go. I don’t always do everything in the exact same order, but in this point or a bit later I also check the rankings of the hotels from TripAdvisor.
When the hotel choices and details are ready in the Excel sheet, it is time for the first elimination round. I organize the hotels by the total price (room + breakfast), make pairs (1. vs. 2. etc.) and start the comparison. In collection stage I already skipped the hotels that are located too far from the centre, but in this stage I look the map more closely. At this point I can also save both choices in a pair if I like them, or delete them if neither of them is interesting. I don’t necessarily read the customer reviews yet, unless it is hard to decide with only the information collected in the Excel sheet.
After the first elimination round I form the pairs again, still either by price, or sometimes by the location, so that the ones close each other form a pair. At this stage the focus is on the customer reviews. There are always mixed reviews, someone likes the breakfast and someone else doesn’t and so on, but reading the reviews usually gives you a feeling that you will either like the hotel or not. Sometimes at this stage some of the hotels already feels the one I want to choose. If it’s not clear, then I continue the elimination.
When having less than 10 hotels left, I usually start to compare the cheapest and most expensive options against each other, trying to figure out if the more expensive price is worth paying. Usually the choice is not that hard and when I have the idea which hotel to choose, I check the hotel website to makes sure that it looks as good as in the booking site.
Usually I get the cheapest room, but checking different room types can pay off. Sometimes the price for a larger room or larger bed might be so close to the cheapest room that it is worth paying a little extra.
Of course comparing prices at different sites is reasonable, also taking into account all the bonus plans that different booking sites have. On the other hand, the bookings sites take a quite large commission, so especially if you are staying in a small family owned hotel you might want to support the entrepreneurs by booking directly from them, if the price is not significantly higher.
Instead of the cheapest price, I look for the best price-quality ratio. The customer reviews and the location of the hotel are the most important factors in my choice. Staying outside the very centre of the city is of course usually cheaper, but in that case check that the transportation options are good. Also consider how much time you want to spend on metro or bus, especially in large cities like New York or Tokyo.
So, this is how I choose a hotel. This is not one of those “Have you always done this wrong, this is how to do it right” articles, but maybe you got some new ideas.
Here are the top 5 hotels I have stayed in this far, not in particular order. None of them were expensive at the time, actually quite the opposite.
Hotel Monastery, Prague
Inside the Strahov Monastery courtyard on a hill near Prague Castle. Two story room, breakfast outside on a small garden, quiet area at night but still very close to everything. Amazing view.
Grand Hotel and Suites, Toronto
Free swimming pool and sauna, rooftop terrace, largest room I’ve had. The looks of a five star hotel.
One of the two five star hotels I have tried. Glass of free sparkling wine on my hand two minutes after arriving. Also a free minibar.
Hotel Arena, Amsterdam
Former orphanage and mental institution. High rooms with high windows. Not in the very centre, still a canal view.
Richmond Premier Tokyo Hotel Oshiage, Tokyo
Quiet hotel and neighbourhood in busy Tokyo. Excellent transportation options right across the street, next to the Tokyo Skytree.