Read this before putting down your credit card.

By Stacey Leasca
June 26, 2020
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Editor’s Note: Travel might be complicated right now, but use our inspirational trip ideas to plan ahead for your next bucket list adventure.

Booking a hotel room sounds like it should be a snap. After all, all it really takes is hopping on a computer and clicking “book,” or giving the property a call, right? Wrong. Here are five common mistakes to avoid when booking a hotel and how to get the best accommodations possible, according to two seasoned experts.

Not Getting All the Information You Need About the Room

According to John P. McMahon, the president and CEO of Five Star Alliance, an online travel agency for the world's best hotels, it’s crucial for travelers to talk to an actual human being, so they get every accurate detail they need about each room. “Travelers should use booking sites that have live customer service that can help with the booking process,” says McMahon. “There are many sites that do offer this service, and many in niche markets like luxury travel, adventure, and honeymoons.”

Jim Augerinos, president of Perfect Honeymoons and a luxury travel consultant, agrees. As he notes, “Generally, it’s more advantageous to book through a travel consultant who can secure extra amenities because of their relationship with the hotel.”

Not Questioning Why a Room Happens to Be So Cheap

If there’s a deal that looks too good to be true, it probably is. That’s why, McMahon notes, it’s important to question everything and ask specifics.

“[Ask] things like, 'Is there any construction going on at the hotel?'” says McMahon. “I once checked into a hotel in Tampa that overlooked the river. The only problem was the windows were covered with adhesive because they were cleaning the facade of the building. So much for the view.”

And, of those good deals, Augerinos says, it’s key to ask about all the other fees that may add up, too.

According to Augerinos, you should ask questions like: Is there a resort fee? Is tax included? Is the service charge included? “Typically, hotels don't disclose all that information until you’re at the point of inputting your credit card, and then they put a slew of extra charges that make that $199 room close to $300. Also, have them disclose the cancellation penalties in writing.”

Choosing a Non-refundable Rate

Augerinos warns about the dangers of booking with a prepaid non-refundable rate.

“Yes, I know they are $20 cheaper, but the hotel takes your money right then and there, and if you need to cancel, they will not refund your money under any circumstances,” he says. And, because there are so many scams out there, Augerinos says it’s a good idea to ensure your confirmation comes in writing.

“You should always make sure you receive a confirmation email with an actual confirmation number from the hotel,” he says. “I even print out that confirmation as proof I have a reservation.”

Not Going for an Upgrade

Every hotel has hidden perks and upgrades just waiting to be uncovered. But, as McMahon explains, this is where a travel advisor comes in handy, as they may know about available upgrades before you do.

“Travel advisors have relationships with hotel general managers and sales staff,” he says. “And many travel advisors have contracts with hotels for automatic upgrades on bookings.”

But, if you have to go it alone, Augerinos says this is the time to turn on the charm. “Kill them with kindness. Front desk [staff] generally deals with people in a hurry or upset about their room,” he says. “So be the one person that is actually engaging and nice to them — it works wonders and they will want to hook you up.”

One more tip from Augerinos: “Honeymooners should follow the hotel on Twitter and Instagram and tag [them] a week in advance of their arrival. That puts your reservation on the hotel’s radar and will help your upgrade chances.”

Not Taking Advantage of Professional Help

Although both McMahon and Augerinos work in the industry, it’s true what they say: Getting professional travel help is one easy way to ensure a successful trip. Take, understanding the true landscape of a destination as an example.

“Travel advisors know the destination and can take a wider lens than a traveler talking to a hotel that will tell you what you want to hear,” says McMahon. “All hotels say they are centrally located and 15 minutes from the airport. However, what does that mean? Central to what and 15 minutes at what time exactly?”

Augerinos adds, travel advisors may know about better destinations, restaurants, and entertainment options than you do, making them far more helpful than your homemade Pinterest board.

“The remaining travel agents in the industry...are the cream of the crop,” he says. “Our company is celebrating 30 years in the business, so just imagine the contacts and relationships we have established all around the globe.”

Want to find your own personal travel agent? Check out Travel + Leisure’s complete A-List here.