With these special hotel booking tricks, you can receive complimentary breakfast, a room upgrade and even free dinners, spa access and massages just by booking your stay through the right website.
A look into different booking websites and tricks
In this accommodation booking guide, I want to detail some handy tricks which you can use not only to make your stay as cheap as possible by securing the most advantageous rate, but also can help you to secure some additional benefits such as a free breakfast or room upgrade thrown in.
One lesser known booking website which has perhaps the greatest set of extra benefits is Virtuoso. Virtuoso is actually not so much as a booking website but more of a collection of more than 1,000 different luxury travel advisers and agents around the world who have access to some unique discounts and benefits. In most cases, booking through a Virtuoso agent will get you the same hotel rate as you would find on any other website, but get a few additional perks and benefits.
Virtuoso benefits differ from hotel to hotel, but typically consist out of a few of the following perks:
– Complimentary breakfast
– Free upgrade to a higher category room (sometimes subject to availability)
– Early check-in or late check-out (subject to availability)
– Free airport transfers
– Free welcome gift (bottle of wine or champagne, some chocolates)
– In-house property credit (usually around 100 USD) which you can spend in the hotel’s restaurants, bars, spa etc.
– Free spa access and complimentary massage
– Access to the hotel’s club lounge for free snacks and drinks during your stay
A Virtuoso example
It’s probably easiest to explain why booking through Virtuoso can be so advantageous by looking at an example. Let’s say we travel to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where we want to book a one-night stay in town. You might like the idea of the luxurious Mandarin Oriental Hotel with its beautiful pool area and sumptuous breakfast buffet. If you take a look at an independent booking website such as Booking.com, you will find a Deluxe King Room for 162 EUR per night. If you want breakfast included, the cheapest rate is 185 EUR per night.
If we however look at the same hotel in the Virtuoso system, we can find the same 162 EUR per night rate for a Deluxe King Room.
However, if you book this room through Virtuoso instead of Booking.com – you get a whole set of extra benefits. First of all, Virtuoso will give you an upgrade to a higher category room and an early check-in and late check-out (subject to availability). Even better, you get the breakfast buffet included in your 162 EUR rate for free while at Booking.com this would have cost you 24 EUR extra!
And that is not all! Also included in the Virtuoso rate of the Mandarin Oriental is a free afternoon tea for two in one of the hotel restaurants. You would have to be mad to book this hotel through Booking.com instead of Virtuoso!
How to book through Virtuoso?
First, you can search for your preferred hotel through the Virtuoso search tool. If you have found a hotel and selected your period of stay and rate, you need to register for an account.
After that, you need to select one of the Virtuoso travel advisers (you can really pick any you want, although you may want to select someone who speaks your language or specialises in your destination country). You will then be forwarded to the final reservation page, where the costs, all benefits as well as the cancellation policy will be listed. Make sure that all is correct before you confirm. Your booking will be directly processed by the hotel in question, and not through Virtuoso itself.
Some Virtuoso agents might contact you afterwards by mail or phone to ask if anything went fine and if there is anything more they can arrange for you. If you do not need any booking support or tailor-made arrangements, there is no need to chat with your selected adviser and you can just politely decline such offers. If you just need a hotel stay, you can really arrange everything by yourself online on the Virtuoso website.
Do however not automatically assume that you can get the best deal through Virtuoso. It is always a wise decision to compare hotel rates on multiple websites. First of all, not every booking website lists every hotel in town. Virtuoso for example only lists around 1,000+ luxury hotels worldwide. It is meaningless if you are searching for mid-range hotels or budget accommodation.
To put it a bit into perspective, in Kuala Lumpur Virtuoso only lists two hotels, while there are 2,000 different accommodation options in Kuala Lumpur listed at Booking.com!
Needless to say, also hotel rates can differ greatly between booking websites. Don’t believe a person who says that you should always use website X to book accommodation as it is always cheaper or better as that is a gross oversimplification. Hotels often make special rates available to a certain booking website only, while sometimes a booking website itself might launch a special promotion and unilaterally decide to discount a certain property.
I once booked a penthouse apartment in Greece through Hotels.com for a discounted 60 EUR while the actual price was 160 EUR. Upon check-in the friendly owner told me that she was flabbergasted by the price from the moment when he received the booking through Hotels.com. She told me that they will still receive the full price from Hotels.com – meaning that Hotels.com basically makes a 100 EUR loss on this single booking. This might be an extreme example, but it is not uncommon as different booking website all run their own promotions and discounts in order to lure away traffic and loyalty from their competitors.
Below, I will list a couple of other useful hotel booking websites and tricks!
Booking.com is a well-known website with one of the largest hotel inventories in the world. If you book a couple of stays a year through this platform you will receive ‘Genius Level 1’ or ‘Genius Level 2’ status.
Being a Booking.com Genius will give you a slight discount at some select properties. Sometimes you can also get a free upgrade or breakfast thrown in as well at a number of hotels, although in my experience the amount of properties which give you this is very limited. Check the Genius page for more details about this loyalty programme and its benefits.
Another benefit of Booking.com in general is that the website also lists dozens of hostels and apartments which might not show up on other hotel booking websites.
Even though personally I prefer the interface and the vast inventory of Booking.com, there are however some major benefits to be found at rival website Hotels.com. A lot of times I search for available hotels on Booking.com as I find their website to be much more orderly and easy to use – but end up booking the actual hotel on Hotels.com after I made up my mind where to stay.
The great benefit of booking through Hotels.com is the so-called Hotels.com® Rewards programme. It works brilliantly simple: for every 10 nights you book through Hotels.com, you get one for free. Almost all properties listed on Hotels.com are eligible to collect reward nights.
Example of a Hotels.com free night stay
Let’s say you book five nights at the Hilton in Budapest for 100 EUR per night at Hotels.com. Later in the year, you book five nights at a Holiday Inn somewhere in the UK through Hotels.com, with each night costing 50 EUR. You have now collected 10 reward nights in total, meaning you get one free night as a gift.
To determine the worth of your free night of accommodation, you need to calculate the average costs of those ten nights, which of course Hotels.com will automatically do for you. In our case, we spent 750 EUR on 10 nights in total, meaning that you receive a free night stay worth 75 EUR! You can redeem this free night through Hotels.com on almost every hotel in their system.
Let’s say you now want to book a one-night stay at the Intercontinental in Warsaw for 100 EUR a night and use your free night certificate worth 75 EUR for this. Your total bill which you have to pay to Hotels.com will then only be 25 EUR. It surely is one of the easiest and most effective hotel loyalty programmes there is.
Booking directly at the hotel website
You should always check room rates as well with the hotel directly. It is common for many chain hotels (Hiltons, Marriotts etc.) as well as independent hotels to have the cheapest prices on their own website. This is because of the simple reason that listing their hotel on a third party website means that they have to pay a small commission or cut to these booking website for each reservation made through their systems.
Many chain hotels which are tailored mostly towards business travellers usually have discounted weekend rates which include breakfast. These rates are especially common in cities which have a high amount of business travel on weekdays such as Madrid and Dubai. Often, these rates are only available on their own hotel website and not on third party booking websites.
Hotel loyalty programmes
Just like airlines have their own frequent flyer programmes, all of the big hotel chains also have their own loyalty or rewards programmes. In these loyalty schemes, you can earn points for each night you stay with a certain hotel chain. These points can eventually be redeemed for a free night stay. The higher your level in the loyalty programme, the more benefits you will receive as well when booking a room.
Common benefits are a free upgrade subject to availability, early check-in and late check-out, free breakfast and access to the hotel’s club lounge for free snacks and drinks throughout the day.
Major hotel chains
Below I have listed the biggest hotel groups in the world. These hotel groups often consist out of multiple hotel chains/brands, of which I have listed the main ones between brackets.
– Accor (Raffles, Sofitel, Mercure, Novotel, ibis, Fairmont, Pullman, Banyan Tree among others)
– Choice (Comfort Inn, Clarion, Ascend, Sleep Inn, Rodeway Inn, Comfort Suites)
– Hilton (Hilton, Conrad, Waldorf Astoria, DoubleTree, Hampton Inn)
– Hyatt (Hyatt, Andaz, Centric, Unbound, Zilara)
– InterContinental Hotels Group/IHG (Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Kimpton)
– Marriott (Marriott, Bulgari, Edition, Autograph Collection, Renaissance, AC, Gaylord, Courtyard, Residence Inn, Moxy, Ritz Carlton, W Hotels, Westin, Sheraton, Le Meridien, St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, Four Points, aLoft, element, Tribute Portfolio)
– Radisson (Radisson, Park Plaza, Park Inn, Country Inn and Suites)
– Wyndham (Wyndham, Tryp, Hawthorn Suites, Microtel, Ramada, Travelodge (US), Days Inn, Baymont Inn, Howard Johnson)
All of these hotel groups have their own loyalty scheme. Accor has ALL (Accor Live Limitless), Choice has Choice Privileges, Hilton has its Hilton Honors, Hyatt has World of Hyatt, the InterContinental Hotels Group has IHG Rewards Club, Marriott has Marriot Bonvoy, for Radisson you can collect points at Radisson Rewards and finally Wyndham has its Wyndham Rewards programme.
Are these programmes worth it?
Of course, these reward programmes might not be advantageous for every participant. They are mostly meant for the more affluent tourists and businessmen and women who are frequently on the road. Needless to say, it is best to focus all your accommodation bookings on a certain hotel group only if you want to get the most out of it. If you stay 30 nights a year in a hotel, it makes more sense to concentrate most bookings on a single hotel group rather than dividing them between different chains.
If this is worth it for you depends on a few factors. Limiting all your bookings to a certain hotel group only would of course mean losing a lot of flexibility. While the IHG Group might have a great hotel in city A, you might not like their hotel in city B and instead prefer the local Marriott hotel there. Only you can make the assessment whether or not concentrating your bookings on a certain hotel group only is worth it as it depends on both your travel pattern, budget and personal preferences.
Do note that in order to receive points and to ensure that your booking count towards your loyalty programme status, you must book directly through the hotel group instead of a third party booking website. One of the few notable exceptions to this rule is booking your stay through Virtuoso.
If you just need to book a few nights in a hotel per year only, you are not likely to receive any benefits by joining a loyalty programme. Collecting points for a free night’s stay is likely to take a long while as well. Of course, you are still free to sign up for one of these programmes as registration and participation is always free. It certainly cannot do harm to start collecting points. Often, being a registered costumer might in some cases always give you some preferential treatment over customers who aren’t registered at all.
That said, a casual tourist is almost always better off as a so-called freelancer. If you need to book a hotel in a certain city, just check which hotel has your personal preference. Budget, quality and location are most likely much more important factors for you than the particular group to which a hotel belongs! In this case, I would recommend booking your hotel through Hotels.com as outlined above – as this is generally the fastest way of collecting a meaningful reward.
In the end, the questions of which booking website is the best to use and at which hotel you should stay can only be answered by one person: you.
As long as you make sure to compare rates between different websites (the hotel itself and some third party booking websites) and you research the opportunities to collect loyalty and reward points, you can rest assured that you have secured the best deal available for your needs!
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