Way back before the internet had progressed to what it is today (and further back, before there even was an internet), you really took your chances when you made a hotel reservation. You may have had some photos from a brochure, but short of recommendations from friends or family who had stayed there, there was little way to know if a hotel was particularly good. Or bad.
I remember back in the mid-1990s, Joe and I (we were just friends then) went to Niagara Falls with a bunch of friends. We stayed at the Ramada Inn and OMG, that place was CRAP. The wallpaper was peeling, the dresser drawers didn’t close, the bathroom smelled like mildew, you name it.
At the time, there weren’t many references ahead of time for us to know how bad the hotel was. Sure, the name Ramada Inn told us that it wouldn’t be the same quality as a Hilton (we were all younger and poorer back then), but there was little way to know what was in store for us, save for the 3-star rating that we undoubtedly saw somewhere.
Nowadays, of course, it’s a whole different ballgame and there are plenty of ways to learn lots about a hotel (or a motel. For this piece, when I say “hotel” I mean both hotels and motels) before you even make your reservations. Here are some of them:
The hotel’s photos don’t tell the whole story
When hotels take promotional photos, they aim to make their facilities look as pleasing as possible. That doesn’t mean what they show (maybe taken 20 years ago? Maybe Photoshopped up the ying-yang?) will be anything like the room you get.
Review sites like TripAdvisor have their place, although whether or not you can trust them depends on what you’re looking for. That being said, photos that other people have taken of your hotel in question can give you an idea of what the hotel is trying to sell is actually what they’re selling.
Has the hotel had problems with bed bugs recently?
All the good reviews are from years ago
If all the reviews of a hotel are good (or bad), it means the hotel really is good (or bad)…or a lot of people have it in for them, either positively or negatively ;-). But if the reviews used to be good and now suddenly aren’t, that could be a sign of new management that doesn’t care as much.
How do they handle bad reviews?
Let’s say that Hotel XYZ has a mixture of good and bad reviews. Does the hotel representative care enough to respond to them? If they do, what’s the quality of the response? If a complaint is potentially valid (the noise from the bathroom sink dripping was loud and annoying and although you told the front desk about it 2 days in a row, no one ever came up to fix it), whether the hotel rep apologized or called them a whiner can be a good indication of their customer service (on top of not fixing their drippy sink).
Check the neighborhood
Google Maps is a great help in determining, not only where a hotel is, but what kind of neighborhood it’s in, how close it is to public transportation and restaurants, etc. How important all of those is a Your Mileage May Vary situation, but if having a fast food place that’s open late and a train station within walking distance is important to you, you can check that out before making your reservation.
Feature Photo: public domain
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