Most of us don’t have unlimited budgets when going on a trip. One of the biggest expenses when going away is accommodation, which makes it so important to optimise your budget and other needs when booking accommodation. This post details the steps I follow when booking accommodation. I follow more or less the same process for local and international trips, with a few differences between them – more about this later.
Step 1: Identify your essential requirements from the accommodation
First, it is important to know what you want from booking accommodation. Each of us will have different requirements from the accommodation we book when we go away. Some people may prefer a more isolated setting, others may not want to use WiFi while away – there is no right or wrong – you decide what your essential requirements from accommodation are.
For me, I need to stay within my budgeted amount and maximise what I get for that price range. WiFi is a given, I cannot be without WiFi as a lot of my activities depend on it. If my daughter goes away with me, WiFI is even more essential – teenagers cannot live without WiFI!
Here is my list of essential requirements I want from any accommodation I book:
- Free and unlimited WiFi
- Free cancellation
- My price range
- Central location
Step 2: Go to your preferred accommodation booking site and do research
My go-to choice for booking accommodation is Booking.com. I have used them for many years and they remain my favourite accommodation booking site. I like using them for several reasons. I have been a loyal user for long and have gained what they call Genius status, meaning I get discounts when booking accommodation. Even without the discount, I find that Booking.com’s prices are reasonable. I also like their search facility as it caters for all my whims.
It is important to note that although you will start searching for accommodation using your favourite booking site, you may end up booking accommodation through an alternative booking site.
I first do a search for accommodation in the town or city I plan on visiting for the specific dates I have in mind. I don’t limit my searches to hotels, resorts, etc. I search for all types of accommodation.
Once I have a list of all available properties offering accommodation, I select my criteria as listed in step 1.
As I select these criteria, the search results become less and less. It may get to the point where there are only a few properties left and if none of them appeals to me, I may remove one of my criteria if it was not such an important one. For example, although I always have the same budget per night, some cities are more expensive and require a higher budget. If that is the case, I would adjust my budget per night to see whether more options are made available to me.
Very rarely, I need to check other booking sites first. One negative about using Booking.com is that I find many people love using them and their available properties go quickly, especially when there is a special event or if it is a busy time of year.
Step 3: Select a few properties that meet all of your criteria
My next step is to go through the list and find several properties that meet all of my criteria. I list them in an Evernote document or on a Notion page. When I list them, I take note of the type of accommodation it is, such as an apartment or hotel.
Although I don’t limit my Booking.com search to any specific type of accommodation, I find that the search results usually give me a combination of self-catering apartments and hotels. This is useful for step 4.
Step 4: Check AirBnB to compare prices for self-catering properties
This step can be done first if you prefer. As a sanity check, I now check AirBnB’s prices for the same location, same dates and with the same minimum criteria that I want. This gives me a good idea of how much a self-catering unit can cost, which helps me decide if I want to book a hotel or an apartment.
In some cities, AirBnB’s properties are cheaper for the same selection criteria. Then there are other cities where Booking.com’s properties are more affordable. What can make AirBnB more expensive is that you pay a service fee and a cleaning fee, which can be the main difference between the prices on AirBnB and Booking.com for similar properties.
Step 5: Decide on your preferred type of accommodation to book
At this point, I will have enough information on the types of properties available to decide whether I would like to continue searching for a hotel or an apartment. Other factors I consider is whether I am travelling alone and how long I am travelling for.
Once I make this decision, I move on to step 6.
Step 6: Compare to other booking sites
As someone who dislikes spending a lot of money on something I can possibly get for cheaper elsewhere, I always check other booking sites. I don’t mind taking the extra time to see if I can get a bargain somewhere – I have struck it lucky a few times with exceptionally low prices for the same property but on a different booking site. This definitely makes the process worth following.
If I have chosen self-catering accommodation for a trip, this step may not be as relevant as when I choose self-catering accommodation as not all of these sites offer self-catering units. I then search using the same criteria on a variety of other sites, including:
After doing searches on these sites, I check the listings to see if the same properties appeared than on Booking.com. When the same properties appear, they may have an added benefit, such as free breakfast or an even lower price. I add them to my research list. I also check if there are other properties that meet my criteria that were not listed on Booking.com.
Step 7: Compare the properties on your list
Now I close all browser apps and focus on my research list. I check the prices and all benefits I listed. I make sure that I highlight properties that appeal the most to me when I complete the comparison. The highlighted properties would be those that meet my criteria and have the lowest prices with the most benefits.
Step 8: Decide before booking your accommodation
I compare the highlighted properties and make my decision. My decision may not always be the cheapest highlighted hotel but may be the one offering the most benefits and features for more-or-less the same price as the other highlighted properties. Sometimes I just like the look of a hotel and may go with this feeling for my final decision. Other times, if two booking sites offer the same property with the same criteria at the same price, I will book with the site offering the best loyalty rewards. Hotels.com gives you a free night of accommodation for every 10 nights booked with properties through their website.
Based on the example in the images, I would probably do more research on the First Group Riviera Suites and if I find everything meets my needs, I will make a booking with them. If not, I may consider booking accommodation with the Premier Hotel Cape Town through Hotels.com – not only was the price better, but I will also earn rewards towards a free night’s accommodation.
Some exceptions to my normal process for booking accommodation
I have had some instances where I knew my process won’t work perfectly or I knew beforehand that I had to book a specific type of property. Some examples include:
- For a European work trip to Switzerland, my work budget for accommodation was much higher than my own, but the trip was long and I had to spend about 10 days in Basel, Switzerland for a conference, before going to France, the Netherlands and the UK for 2 more weeks of meetings. A large number of people attended the conference and the hotel options were limited. Because I had to spend such a long time in one city, I decided to book a self-catering unit with a washing machine. Where I spent only 2-3 days in a city, I followed my normal booking process, as outlined above. For longer stays, I wanted access to a washing machine. Since I did all my bookings before the trip, I knew when I would be able to wash my clothes and it helped me pack less than I would have had to without a washing machine. You can have your laundry done in hotels, but it is quite pricey and I did not want to pay such a high price and possibly risk losing one or more items along the way.
- When my daughter and I go on a road trip, we don’t spend more than 2 days in a town. For these trips, we book self-catering units through Booking.com or AirBnB to make sure we add a washing machine to our criteria. We also need places with parking since we either rent a car or take my car. These criteria only apply for these types of trips and therefore require a slightly different booking process. When we book these units, we always make sure to book only units with no restrictions on checking out since we sometimes like to start a long drive early in the morning to avoid being in a car during the hottest time of the day, especially in summer.
- Another exception would be when we visit small towns with limited accommodation options. For these sites, I may have to use local booking sites as there are no properties on the major booking sites.
This method is long, but it has saved me a significant amount of money over the years. Repeating my search on the different booking sites can be quite addictive as you never know when you will find a hidden treasure at a wonderful price
What process do you follow when booking accommodation? What is your favourite booking site?