I thought this would be a good time to document the (long, long) process of how I book a hotel. Before you accuse me of having no life, I should say that I’m not usually this thorough and I went through some of these steps just for the sake of completeness. Also, I actually enjoy this, which may or may not make me a masochist. :D
This is a long one, so let’s just dive into it.
The five ways I use to find hotel deals are:
- Price-drop guarantee
- Secret hotel deals
- Flash sales
- Priceline bidding
- Lowest-price guarantees on hotel booking sites
- The hotel’s own lowest-price guarantee
I didn’t do things in this order, but I will refer to these items by their numbers throughout this post.
Before doing anything else, I did a quick search at HotelsCombined to scope the going rates.
The prices looked pretty good. HotelsCombined’s rates may seem high at first, but that’s only because most websites show bare-bones nightly rates, whereas the prices shown on HotelsCombined are for the entire stay, including taxes and fees.
Tip: If you hate researching hotel rates, you can stop here. After doing this the long way, I ended up with two hotel options, both of which had already appeared in my original HotelsCombined search results. To see how the prices on HotelsCombined compared to my other options, click here to skip to the last section of this post.
Then I went over to Priceline (#4 on the list)…
…but their “Victoria” area was huge.
Basically, for hotel auctions and secret hotel listings, Priceline divides the city into several areas. You can choose which area you want, but you won’t find out the actual address or name of the hotel until after you’ve made the payment, so you can end up in any hotel within the specified area. Several other websites that offer secret hotel deals also use this system.
Priceline’s “Victoria” area looked like this:
I wanted to stay in downtown Victoria because we would be taking public transit. Booking an unnamed hotel that could be located anywhere in this huge area simply called “Victoria” was out of the question, so I ruled out Priceline bidding.
I also took a quick look at the regular listings on Priceline. However, the prices on HotelsCombined were better.
I checked out the secret hotel deals on Hotwire, Travelocity and lastminute.com (#2)
(Priceline also offers secret hotel deals, but it uses the same map and area division for both the auction and the secret hotels, so I skipped it.)
DEAL ALERT: $10 Off $100 Hotwire Hot Rate® Hotels With Code: FALLSAVINGS10 Sept 21-22 only.
I was relieved to see Hotwire had a much more specific target area called “Downtown Victoria”.
See how much smaller it was? Even if I was to randomly chose one hotel out of these, I would still get to stay in downtown Victoria.
The lowest rate, at $58 per night for a two-star hotel, made me a little nervous because it seemed too cheap. But when I looked at the listing page, the TripAdvisor rating of 4/5 immediately made me feel better.
Generally, I trust TripAdvisor ratings more than star ratings, provided there are enough reviews. Star ratings seem arbitrary to me because the same hotel can be listed with different star ratings on different websites.
Including fees and taxes, the whole stay would’ve cost me C$142.99 if I was to choose this option.
Tip: Different sites charge different amounts of taxes and fees, so always check the total, all-inclusive prices. On most websites, this means you have to click on the listing, choose a room and go to the page where you’re supposed to enter your credit card details.
Next, I needed to find out the name of this secret hotel…
Note the details on the secret hotel listing page:
- 2 stars
- 4/5 TripAdvisor rating
- Amenities: free parking, free Internet, restaurant(s) and business center.
- Located in “Downtown Victoria” area as defined by Hotwire
Here, I used the same steps I have written about in my post on how to figure out the name of a secret hotel. (Click here to read the how-to post.)
1. Google search
Unfortunately, Hotwire didn’t provide much in the way of hotel descriptions, so I had to skip this step.
2. Other listings on Hotwire
I looked at Hotwire’s regular hotel listings (ie. not secret hotels), then I filtered my results by choosing only two-star hotels.
Out of all the two-star hotels in Victoria, only two had a TripAdvisor rating of 4/5: James Bay Inn and Blue Ridge Inn.
Both hotels were located in the Downtown Victoria area.
I looked more closely at both listings. Both hotels offered free parking and free Internet, but only James Bay Inn had a restaurant. Hotwire didn’t mention a business center in either listing.
At this point, I had a strong suspicion that James Bay Inn was the secret hotel, but I did a bit more sleuthing just to make sure.
3. TripAdvisor Listings
I had TripAdvisor display all the hotels in Victoria. I couldn’t limit the search results to just the Downtown Victoria area as it was defined by Hotwire, so I just filtered the results by star rating.
I then went through all the listings to look for those with a Tripadvisor rating of 4/5. Again, I got two results: James Bay Inn and Arbutus Inn. (Blue Ridge Inn was classified as a 2.5-star hotel on TripAdvisor.)
From the map, I could see that James Bay Inn was located within Hotwire’s Downtown Victoria area, but Arbutus Inn wasn’t.
Looking more closely at each listing, I saw that James Bay Inn had all the amenities of the secret hotel, whereas Arbutus Inn didn’t have a restaurant or a business center.
Based on my findings, I was pretty sure that James Bay Inn was the secret hotel. The reviews said it was a well-preserved old building with an interesting history — not fancy, but clean and well-located. If this was indeed the secret hotel, then I liked it.
I performed another search, this time on Travelocity. They didn’t have any secret hotel deals in Victoria, but they had some pretty decent regular listings.
Based on my preferences, I quickly narrowed down my options to just one hotel: the Capital CityCenter Hotel. The location was super central and the room had a small kitchenette.
I chose a room and navigated to the payment page, where I saw that after fees and taxes, this option would’ve cost me US$160.67.
Lastly, I checked out lastminute.com, but they didn’t have any secret hotels in Victoria and their regular prices were higher than the other websites. (This website generally has better deals on European hotels.)
DEAL ALERT: Big January Sale — Up to 50% off Top Secret Hotels at lastminute.com. Book by Jan 31, 2016!
Flash sales: Groupon Getaways and LivingSocial (#3)
I skipped the higher-end flash sale websites and went straight to Groupon Getaways and LivingSocial, where they often have budget options.
I didn’t find any good offers on LivingSocial, but Groupon Getaways had a deal for the Capital CityCenter Hotel that I had previously found on Travelocity. The prices on the two websites were identical after including all the fees and taxes, but Groupon also offered US$6.99 worth of Groupon Bucks.
I checked the hotels’ websites to see if they had lower prices (#6)
To my surprise, the hotel rate on the official Capital CityCenter Hotel website was slightly higher than it was on Groupon and Travelocity. However, they had a smaller room (which didn’t appear on the other websites) that was a few bucks cheaper.
The price for the entire stay on James Bay Inn’s website was about C$15 higher than Hotwire’s secret hotel deal.
Tip: At this point, I could’ve chosen to call the hotels directly to negotiate lower rates, asking them to match or beat the lower prices I had found on other websites. If you’re a smooth talker, this strategy would probably get you the best rates possible. I was happy with the rates I had already found, so I chose to stick with online booking.
Price-drop protection on Tingo (#1) and lowest-price guarantee on Hotels.com (#5)
Both Tingo and Hotels.com guarantee that they have the lowest rates and offer price matching if you can find lower rates elsewhere.
I like Tingo because it has price-drop protection, but I didn’t need the protection this time. It was such a last-minute booking I thought it was unlikely that the rates would change, so I skipped Tingo.
I went straight to Hotels.com, which I like because it has a rewards program that gives you 1 free night for every 10 nights of hotel stay. I found the Capital CityCenter Hotel at about the same price as I had found on Groupon and Travelocity (except the price on Hotels.com was in Canadian dollars and not U.S. dollars like on the other two sites). It was going to cost me C$179.42 to make a reservation through this site.
Options and final decision
After all this work, I came up with three options:
- Book the secret hotel, which was probably James Bay Inn, on Hotwire (C$142.99)
- Book the Capital CityCenter Hotel through Groupon to get $6.99 Groupon Bucks (US$160.76)
- Book the Capital CityCenter Hotel through Hotels.com to get points toward a free night (C$179.42)
I waited for my partner to get home so we could choose the hotel together. But when I was finally ready to book James Bay Inn on Hotwire, the deal was already gone…
By this time, I had already gotten myself excited about staying at this quaint hotel, which was so old it was said to be haunted. I mean, is there a better way to welcome Halloween than to sleep in a haunted hotel?
I couldn’t find the room type I wanted on other hotel booking sites either. Luckily, the hotel website still had a room available, so I booked our room there for C$160.28.
Moral of the story? Book right away if you see something you really like.
Does this all seem like a chore to you?
My partner laughed at me for “wasting” so much time deal-hunting, only to end up booking directly through the hotel’s website. To that, I say, “Pffttt!” This was as fun as any game for me.
But if this is not your idea of a fun time, as I mentioned earlier, HotelsCombined can do the comparison shopping for you.
I ended up booking a room at James Bay Inn for C$160.28 — only C$15 cheaper than HotelsCombined’s C$175, a difference of C$7.50 per night. (Hotwire’s secret hotel rate was C$32 cheaper than HotelsCombined’s price, but there was always a chance I wouldn’t be getting this hotel if I had booked a secret hotel.)
And as you can see from the screenshot, the Hotels.com rate for Capital CityCenter Hotel — which was the lowest I could find — had already appeared on HotelsCombined. So I could’ve simply done the initial search on HotelsCombined, clicked through to Hotels.com to make the booking and received the loyalty points.
Yes, you may save a little bit more money if you do things the long way like I just did, but it may not be a huge difference. So if you don’t want to check multiple hotel booking sites, you can always just do a quick search on HotelsCombined instead.
Image credit: Modified from a photo by Alejandro Escamilla (CC0 Licence).