My name is Craig Moore and my hobby for the past 35 years is travelling. Here are a few tips to help you plan your next adventure. For the independent traveller who likes to book their own flight, hotel room and car hire to get the best deal a piece of good advice is to check out the package deals.
Yes you read that correctly check out the package deals. I know this goes against the grain but remember these companies have the power of large number bookings to get discounted rates which you and I cannot obtain. This is normally true of the more popular locations. The bonus is that these holidays come with ATOL protection if a company goes bust.
The Hotel star system
A three star hotel might be better quality than a five star hotel. The star system is based on facilities not quality. There is no standardisation across the world. The system is a mess and cannot be relied upon. The best way to find out what is a good hotel is to check out the reviews on websites like www.tripadvisor.com and my favourite www.virtualtourist.com . These reviews are written by real people who have actually stayed there.
Accommodation in North America
l love going to North America. I normally only book accommodation if I want to stay in a National Park or major city. If you are touring you can normally find a motel or hotel with vacancies. I keep my choice to one of the major motel or hotel brands as I know the rooms will be clean and well looked after. Most towns have a selection of places to stay. This method means that you can stop and stay at a place that has character or one that is in the right location.
Use an online travel broker first
Start by doing a search on www.expedia.com www.ebookers.com www.hotel.com or www.tavelocity.com to get a bench mark for the average price. Find a hotel you like. Then check the hotels own site and see if they have special offers.
The same room is not sold at the same price. Now try the hotel comparison sites www.travelsupermarket.com www.hotelscomparison.com . Remember that many countries have room taxes. Some websites include this, others do not. You also have to watch out for sites that list results with rooms as 'On Request'. This is not a firm booking price.
Try a hotel blind bidding site
Hotels use these type of sites to get rid of unused posh hotel rooms at large discounts. It is very useful for US hotels. What is strange about these sites are you are not told which hotel you are booking until you pay.
You must agree to get the hotel room before you bid. You can be lucky and pay only 1/3rd of the normal price. Try www.priceline.com. The hotels offer the large discount on unsold rooms as they know they are guaranteed a sale. Priceline's best if you are flexible, and want to stay in a large city or resort. How does it works? You pick a city area and star level, name your price and see if any hotels accept it.
The system is not perfect. At the moment you cannot specify what size the bed is or if it is non-smoking or a smoking allowed room in those countries that still allow smoking in Hotels. I have in the past e-mailed the hotel after making the booking and requested a non-smoking room. I have not had any problems yet.
Of course the aim's to find the smallest cheapest, acceptable price, so start low, e.g. £20, then keep raising your bid till it's accepted, but you can only bid once-a-day. If your bid is not accepted it does not matter as you do not have to pay anything if you loose. The site does give you suggested price guides for the criteria you select.
The Loophole: There are techniques to get more bids per day, either by bidding with a partner so long as you have separate e-mail addresses, or adding more areas of a city. On a trip to San Francisco I managed to get a £230 room for £57.
As an alternative try www.lastminute.com and check out their discounted 'top secret' rooms. They do not tell you where the hotel is until you've booked it. For North America www.hotwire.com also sells secret hotel rooms. Travel agents Thomson and Thomas Cook often sells unsold hotel rooms and apartments at huge discounts normally for off peak times. www.thompson.co.uk www.thomascook.co.uk
Special Spanish hotels
Whilst not the cheapest hotels in Spain the Paradors can offer something special. They offer luxury accommodation in Castles, Palaces, Fortresses, Convents, Monasteries and other historic buildings www.paradores-spain.com