about travel planning.
6 Jan 2012 § 2 Comments
I’ve always felt that part of the fun of going on a holiday is the planning and research (though I think the boyfriend would beg to differ). While I often moan and groan that he doesn’t bother to do anything when it comes to planning our holidays, I think he knows that despite my complaints, I do enjoy the process of hunting for hotels, reading reviews, researching for places to eat and things to see…and in my typical OCD-ish nature, penning down the itinerary for the trip.
I find that I tend to spend quite a fair bit on hotels – I’m afraid I’m not really a roughing-it-out type of person. I enjoy the luxury of a king-sized bed with cool, smooth sheets, a room with a view if possible, high-pressured jet shower (be honest…no one likes showering under a trickle of water that turns hot and cold at random intervals!) and any other little amenities that the hotel offers whenever I travel. Unfortunately, as much as I try to wish it into happening, the travel budget never allows for a decadent night or two at, say, W Resort @ Koh Samui or Four Seasons @ anywhere! However, there are lots of independent hotels coming up that offer similarly comfortable facilities as the bigger chains, but at a more affordable price. I find that I generally veer towards these boutique hotels as I enjoy the intimate atmosphere that these places offer compared to the big Hiltons that are usually teeming with people.
Anyhoo, I thought it would be nice to share some of the booking websites that I frequent when it comes to planning for a trip!
I usually kick off my holiday planning by preparing a shortlist of hotels. For that, I go Hotels Combined and Wotif. The former website aggregates a few hotel booking sites such as Agoda and Otel, and I find this extremely convenient as I can see at one glance which site has the cheapest deal. The prices shown includes the tax and service charges as well (if any)…hands up if you’ve been fooled by the cheap price of a hotel room only to find out when you’re already halfway through the booking process that it doesn’t include taxes!
Tip #1: Do check out the map located on the left sidebar, somewhere down the middle of the page. It shows the location of all the hotels – this is extremely useful if you’ve already zoned in on a particular area where you would like to stay in the town that you’re visiting.
Clicking on each individual hotel will take you to a new page listing down the price per night and total cost for each booking site. Click ‘Go’ to exit from the Hotels Combined website and proceed to the individual website where you can continue with your booking. As Wotif is not aggregated on this site, I’ll usually check the rates there too as they sometimes have pretty good deals. Hotels make it onto my shortlist based on my budget (boo!) as well as their star rating on Hotels Combined. I’m also a very visual person when it comes to selecting hotels – if the photos doesn’t look nice, it’s a definite no-no. I usually end up striking a hotel off my list too if the hotel’s website isn’t good (you’d be surprised how bizarrely terrible and off-putting some hotel websites are!).
Tip #2: Check out Wotif’s mystery hotel deals! The rates are usually pretty good, and if you have an observant eye, it’s sometimes possible to figure out the mystery hotel by reading the description. There seems to be a running mystery deal for Royal Plaza on Scotts in Singapore and I’ve guessed correctly the past three times I booked! (Tip #3: It’s the mystery hotel that has complimentary in-room mini bar, free unlimited Internet access and valet services that costs SGD$7 per entry – but please don’t blame me if they change the descriptions!)
Once I have my shortlist, I’ll proceed on to Trip Advisor to find and read the detailed reviews of those hotels. I usually just zoom in on the best and worst reviews, but do make sure you take into account the date the review was posted…some of the bad reviews may have been posted a couple of years ago and the hotel may have improved since then (and vice versa), so it’s very much down to your personal judgement.
Tip #4: Located under the ‘Reviews from our community’ portion near the top of the site is a link that reads ‘See which rooms travelers prefer – ?? traveler tips’. This is particularly useful when you can’t decide between say, a deluxe vs. superior room, etc. I’ve found useful tips there which have led me to book a ‘lower’ end room because I found out that there’s very little difference in terms of view, layout, etc.
Once I’ve decided on the hotel, I’ll head back to Agoda, or whichever individual hotel booking site I’ve chosen to proceed with the booking. OCD-ness strikes again here as I’ll usually cross-check the prices once again to be doubly-sure I’m getting the best deal, though I’ve noticed that Agoda usually has the best rates among all the sites.
Tip #5: Check out the promotions at the hotel’s website too. Some of the hotels may include airport transfer, spa sessions, etc. in a package that may add up to be cheaper than booking the hotel, transportation and activities separately.
Tip #6: Sign up for Agoda’s rewards program. One incentive about choosing them over the other sites is the points that you earn with each booking which can be used to offset the cost of your next booking. Agoda will also prompt you to write a review of the hotel that you’ve stayed in after you return from your trip in exchange for 500 free points!
As for flights, the website that I frequent is Skyscanner. This website is similar to Hotels Combined, whereby it aggregates all the airline flight times and prices. But what I love about it is the filter it has (see the left panel) to select the outbound and return departure times – this is very useful as I heartily dislike flights that depart at ungodly hours of the morning, and love to arrive close to the check-in time to minimize waiting if I have a choice. Once I’ve selected the flight, it’s just a hop and skip away to go to that airline’s webpage and proceed with the booking.
Lastly, for places to eat and things to do, Lonely Planet and blogs are a good source of information, but nothing beats plain ol’ Googling!
Tip #7: A few days before the trip, I’ll usually email the hotel directly to double-confirm the booking, and if it’s a special occasion, request for a room with a nice view. Never hurts to ask!
Tip #8: Big mistake I made was not pre-booking my in-flight meals when I traveled on Air Asia, thinking that I could buy it off the cart. Imagine trying to subdue a growling tummy when the smell of nasi lemak is wafting all around you and you’ve just been told that it’s sold out. Lesson learned, pre-book your meals people!