1. Know what is most important to you.

If you don’t know what you want from a hotel, how can you ever hope to pick the right one for you? Before searching for accommodations, make a quick list of the things that you require to have a good night’s stay. Is it a free breakfast? Do you feel more comfortable in a smaller, intimate property with staff that will learn your name? Are you willing to splurge on something luxe? Do you like old-fashioned décor, business-like rooms, or over-the-top interior design? To break it down simply, first think about what you want in terms of price, basic amenities of the hotel, and location. From there, you can then branch out to things like history of a property, environmental practices, and the personality of a place, such as “party vibe” or “romantic atmosphere.” Once you have a good grasp on what you’re looking for reviews can help determine whether or not a property fits your exact wish list.

2. Know the Holy Grail of amenities.

In the same vein, there are four amenities you should be sure a hotel offers before you arrive (the Holy Grail), as these are the most often cited complaints on review sites like our parent company TripAdvisor. They are air-conditioning, parking, Wi-Fi, and breakfast. And, you should always check see if there are any costs associated with these amenities. You don’t want to arrive at the hotel assuming Wi-Fi would be free, only to find that it costs a fee (yes, there are still many places that charge for this basic amenity). Check our reviews for this information, and call or e-mail the hotel to double check, if you’re still concerned.

Here are some other tips about the Holy Grail of amenities:

Hotel websites might list an amenity like breakfast or parking without a price next to it. That does not always mean it is free. Make sure you check!
Though air-conditioning is usually a given in the U.S. (but there are exceptions), this is not often the case in other countries. If it is not listed in the room descriptions, it is generally not provided, or is only provided in certain rooms.
Sometimes hotels will advertise that they have parking, but it is actually a third-party garage that isn’t located on-site.
When you’re booking a room, sometimes one rate will include breakfast, while another will not. Look closely before booking to ensure you select the right option you’re looking for.

3. Check the hotel’s website.

While our own reviews are exhaustingly comprehensive, sometimes it takes us a little time to update them when hotels change policies, add amenities like a new restaurant or a spa, or undergo a renovation. It’s a good idea to double check a hotel’s own website. Calling a hotel directly doesn’t hurt, either.

4. Look at a map to determine a hotel’s exact location.

Traveling is all about location, location, location, and if you don’t know where your hotel is in relation to where you want to be in the city, you aren’t going to be happy when you arrive. You probably shouldn’t trust the hotel’s own description of their location. They often say things like “The Louvre and the Eiffel Tower are easy to reach from our hotel.” Many people assume this means they can walk to the attraction, but what the hotel might be saying is that you can “easily” walk to a metro stop 15 minutes away, then “easily” take a 20-minute metro ride to a station near these attractions. Before booking a hotel, check a map to determine the location of the hotel. Be sure to see how long it would take you to reach attractions, dining options, shopping, and other points of interest on foot. If nothing is walkable, where is the closet metro or bus stop? Are there only two restaurants on the surrounding streets? To make it easier on yourself, look up the hotel. We not only show you a map of the hotel’s location, but we also give you honest time estimates from the hotel to major attractions, restaurants, and shopping on foot or by car. We also provide assessments on the area’s location in terms of safety, type of neighborhood (commercial, residential, historic city center, etc.), and overall atmosphere.

5. Find out when both the rooms and public spaces were last updated.

Travelers often put their trust in hotels to provide them with a clean, modern stay, and too often, that’s not the case. Before booking a hotel, find out when the whole property was last updated. Remember, a hotel’s photography can lie. This is something we take very seriously, and it’s why we send photographers to honestly capture a hotel’s offerings. We even show side by side comparisons between our images and marketing photos here.

If the hotel has updated or renovated their spaces within the last four years, you can usually expect clean, well-maintained décor. No one wants to see grime in the showers or peeling wallpaper! Between four and six years is when things start to look dated and any more than six years—well, you might not be satisfied. Don’t just focus on the décor when it comes to asking when the hotel was updated. You also want to know things like when the mattresses were replaced, so you don’t end up sleeping on a saggy, spring-riddled bed.

6. Focus on guest reviews published within the last year.

If you decide to read guest reviews on TripAdvisor, Google, and other sites, interpreting the rating can be tricky. Some hotels were fantastic five years ago in terms of management, décor, and amenities, and therefore may have received an overwhelming number of positive reviews. However, a lot can happen in five years, like a change in owners, dating décor, or the hiring of new staff. Therefore those positive reviews from five years ago might interfere with the negative reviews from the present. So when researching, be sure to focus on reading the reviews from within the last year. This will generally provide you with a good sense of you can expect during your stay.

7. Read the “Terrible” and “Poor” reviews on.

This might be the best tip for anyone looking to book a hotel room, as you will find the underbelly of a hotel’s problems. Read through the ones within the last year and you’ll start noticing a pattern of issues. It may be Wi-Fi connectivity issues, cleanliness problems, or booking complaints—whatever the case may be, notice the trend and consider if those major issues would be a problem for you. For instance, no air-conditioning in a hotel isn’t a problem for all guests, especially if they are traveling to London in December when it isn’t needed.

8. Find out the hotel’s main clientele.

One of my jobs as a hotel reviewer is to explain what type of clientele visits each particular hotel. Couples, business travelers, families, solo travelers, backpackers, adults in their 20s, groups of friends, and budget travelers are all drawn to different types of hotels. Before booking a hotel, find out what kind of traveler tends to visit that hotel. You can do this by reading the  review of the hotel, or by going to the TripAdvisor page for that hotel and scrolling down to “Traveler Type” (right above the reviews section). If you want a quiet getaway, but you discover a hotel is popular with families with small children or groups of friends, you might want to look elsewhere.

9. Read the Pros and Cons 

Last but not least, I want to share with you the easiest thing you can do to pick a good hotel. Go and find the hotel, and just read the Pros and Cons section. The Pros and Cons section are bulleted points that give a quick overall summary of what you will find—or not find—at a hotel. It’s very easy to eliminate hotels that wouldn’t suit you and figure out which ones would be perfect.

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