Vote of the week: How do you book hotel rooms?

July 22, 2011, 8:22 AM · After three days driving cross-country, I've arrived in Celebration, Florida, where I'll be visiting family for the next couple weeks… while making a few "reporting" trips over to the theme parks, of course.

On the way across America, I experienced something I hadn't in years. As I was walking back to my car after checking in to the Hampton Inn in Van Horn, Texas (highly recommended, by the way), a woman pulled up behind my car and got out.

Hampton Inn

"Do they have any vacancies?" she asked me.

I had to tell her that I didn't know. I'd reserved my room online weeks ago.

Her question startled me, frankly. It's been 20 years since I drove up to a hotel cold and asked about "vacancies." (Here's an old-fogey moment, kids: Hotels and motels used to have neon signs under their marquees. The word "no" would light up in front of the word "vacancies" if the hotel was sold out for the night, so you wouldn't have to go through the hassle of pulling in to check if nothing was available.)

Of course, if you get lucky and pull up to a hotel with available rooms at 11 pm, you will get the rock-bottom lowest rate by negotiating with the front desk clerk then. He or she has no better chance at that hour to make money from one of those empty rooms than to give it to you for whatever you're willing to pay. The hotel chain's national call center or website won't cut you those deals.

While I might be willing to try that again if I wanted a room along the over-built 192 corridor outside Disney in Kissimmee, Florida, there's no way I'm taking that risk in the tiny town of Van Horn in west Texas. I didn't stick around to see if the woman got her room. But if she didn't, she was looking an another hour's drive to get to the next small town, which might be sold out for the night, too.

Which brings me to our vote of the week.

Please tell us in the comments about the best hotel deal you've gotten recently, and how you got it.

Replies (16)

July 22, 2011 at 10:18 AM · Well, Robert first I would like you to take and post some nice pictures from Celebration.. I want to visit there and take a Segway tour of it next year..

Secondly was she Cute or Sexy?... I’m just saying….hahahaha

PS – glad you made it there safely..

July 22, 2011 at 9:48 AM · Brian said: "Well, Robert first I wasn’t you.."


July 22, 2011 at 10:21 AM · What are you talking about Mike? Are you Drunk? Just kidding… I was typing in a small window while “working” and the autocorrect got me..
July 22, 2011 at 12:14 PM · She was... at least 60. (Perhaps there's a generational thing here, too, where older travelers are more likely to get rooms the old-fashioned way.)
July 22, 2011 at 2:05 PM · There's no option for the hotel being part of the overall holiday package including the flight, transfers, hire car etc.

That's how I usually do it.

July 22, 2011 at 4:25 PM · Good point, Stuart. Wasn't thinking about package deals.
July 22, 2011 at 6:22 PM · Van Horn!! Nice town. I live in West Texas in El Paso so I know how lonely that stretch of I-10 is.

We usually call the hotel directly for our reservations. A few years back we did do what this lady did and stopped at a town(El Centro,CA), and spent the night there without previous reservations.

July 22, 2011 at 10:50 PM · I usually book online (occasionally by phone) but on big travel days, I'll sometimes drive until I feel like stopping. a month ago, I got a late start driving the ten hours driving from Cincinnati to northern NJ and stopped to find a place in Carlisle, PA (not far from Hershey). I got s great rate for an awful room.

For the short period of time that I lived in the Florida Keys, I'd do the same thing on my drives back and forth between NJ, and always got good rates using the hotel guide booklets available in all the rest stops.

July 23, 2011 at 7:21 AM · I usually get great deals through priceline. If my bid for the area I want is not excepted I can always look other places after that...... but about 90% of the hotels I have booked in the past 5 to 8 years has been through them.... and I usually feel like it is a great deal considering what hotels want to charge you if you just wait and try to book in person the day you need it. I'd consider doing that (last minute in person at the service desk booking) a definate last option only if you could not determine where you were planning on spending the night exactly that night.
July 23, 2011 at 8:13 AM · I use the website, but then again, for most hotel rooms at parks, I go on the parks website and they help me pick one out.
July 23, 2011 at 2:11 PM · It greatly depends. If I'm traveling to a destination, of course I book online or through the hotel directly for a better rate. Walking in cold though usually always works and I've never encountered not being able to find a hotel and I highly doubt this lady would have to drive over an hour for the next hotel. Maybe an hour for the next nice hotel such as Hampton, but there is bound to be something else.

Hotels everywhere are over built and the markets are saturated. If I'm driving, we won't make the determination of where we are stopping with a reservation somewhere, as we could want to drive further or traffic could slow us down.

July 23, 2011 at 6:24 PM · By the way, if you're someone who likes to see a hotel and the neighborhood before making the decision whether to stay there, just use street view on Google Maps to check out the exterior of the hotel and surrounding area. I've used this tip to make decisions between hotels that seemed a toss-up to me using other online criteria.
July 24, 2011 at 4:55 AM · I always book online. The last thing I want is to get there and have trouble finding a room. Because I'm on the road a lot anyway, I've moved up in the ranks of a few rewards clubs. Maybe not as high as Clooney in "Up In The Air". but the rewards clubs certainly have their perks if you are a frequent guest.
July 24, 2011 at 3:38 PM · Depends. If I am booking for myself and wife I try and use priceline; if we have the grandchildren along, I book with the hotel directly after checking online so we can cancel reservations if we change our minds on the return trip. Some chains now offer different rates if you want to cancel or they offer lowest price with no cancel option.
July 24, 2011 at 11:59 PM · I usually compare different sites at once: hotel's site, Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline, and Hotwire. If the hotel's site is the same price as the travel sites I'll go directly with the hotel. I also use Hotwire a lot as I can get a 3.5-4 star hotel pretty cheaply by not knowing what it is until I book it. But I did go up to a hotel lobby directly 3 times last year on a road trip up the CA/OR/WA coast to see if rooms were available. I would drive at my own pace and around 9-10:30 at night I would look for a budget motel with a vancancy.
July 25, 2011 at 4:39 PM · You left out an option, your travel agent

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