Beginners' guide to booking a hotel

Take the mystery out of choosing and booking a hotel with our beginners' guide, including information on different accommodation options and the star-rating system.

Did you know...?

  • Under the official star rating system in the UK five is the highest - anything higher is usually self-credited rather than officially awarded
  • When looking for accommodation abroad there's no universally recognised star system

Whether you simply want a cheap place to crash while you see the sights or a luxury suite for that special occasion, finding the right hotel in the right location can make or break your trip.

What can I expect from a hotel?

Hotels provide private serviced rooms for guests. They usually have en-suite facilities, but you may have to share a bathroom in cheaper or smaller establishments.

Most hotels will offer guests a range of facilities, such as a bar and restaurant, concierge service, conference room and spa facilities. Note that the availability and standard of facilities will vary between different establishments, different regions and different countries.

Types of hotel

Budget hotels

Budget hotels offer affordable accommodation with basic comforts. Usually you will be charged per room rather than per person. Budget hotels can be part of a larger chain, such as Premier Inn or Travelodge. In some locations they primarily cater to business travellers from Monday to Friday, so weekend rates may even be cheaper.Sun loungers

Hotel chains

Chains are a collection or grouping of mainstream hotels under one brand, such as Best Western International. They typically offer a consistent level of quality, facilities and service levels, with a range of accommodation to suit most budgets.

Smaller independent hotels

Independently owned and managed hotels may well offer a more personal atmosphere. Services and facilities may be more limited than with chain hotels, but you might expect high levels of service and accommodation at the top end of the scale.

Boutique hotels

Boutique hotels should provide intimate, usually luxury accommodation with exceptional or personalised levels of service and/or facilities.

Did you know...?

  • If you book an all-inclusive package your choice of drinks will almost certainly be from a set selection

Such establishments are typically small and may be independently run, aimed at travellers who place great importance on privacy, luxury and service.

Hotel classifications

The most recognised official classification system in the UK is the star rating which rates hotels from one to five stars, one being the lowest rating and five the highest.

Some hotels have claimed a six- or seven-star rating for their establishment, but under the official star rating system five is the highest - anything higher is usually self-credited rather than officially awarded.

Hotels without a classification will have varying standards. Although some will be poor quality, others may be too small to classify or they may only offer a niche service.

When looking for accommodation abroad remember that there's no universally recognised system, so standards will vary dramatically from country to country. Some websites will show the UK star rating equivalent of hotels located abroad to make it easier to browse.Hotel reception bell

Accommodation options

Single rooms

Single rooms are for solo guests. Many hotels will assess the room in the same way as a double room but may offer a reduced charge for solo occupancy

Double/kingsize rooms

These options are for two guests sharing the same bed. Kingsize beds should be larger and are likely to be more expensive.

Twin rooms

You won't be surprised to hear that our top tip for finding the right accommodation at the right price is to compare options online

This will be a room with two separate beds, which could be singles or doubles.

Triple rooms

A typical set-up in a triple room would be three separate single beds, or one double plus a single or sofa bed - you may need to check with the establishment that the arrangement will suit your needs.

Quad rooms

Designed to accommodate four or more people - again you may need to check with the hotel for the exact set-up.

Suites

If you've booked a suite you should expect apartment-style accommodation with multiple rooms or zones.

Within these standard classifications there will be a lot of variety and there may also be different classes of room to choose from, such as standard, superior, executive and deluxe. Remember that if you choose a room with a sea view or similar benefit you may be charged extra

Board options

Depending on the accommodation you may be able to choose your board type, which will be included in your room price. The main options are typically:Suitcases

Bed and breakfast (B&B)

This will include your morning meal.

Half-board

Includes breakfast and one other meal, usually dinner.

All inclusive

Includes all meals and drinks, but you should be aware that your choice of drinks will almost certainly be from a set selection - you probably won't have a free run at every expensive malt whisky behind the bar! It's possible that such restricted access will also apply to some of the dining choices.

Upgrades

Free upgrades could give a real lift to any travel experience. There are no real rules governing this area, but if you'd like an upgrade a good starting point would be to ask politely and to have a heart-warming story to back up your request.

Tips for saving money on hotel bookings

A major festival, sporting event or music concert is likely to drive up accommodation price and demand in a locality

Compare hotels online

You won't be surprised to hear that is our top tip for finding the right accommodation at the right price. Searching and comparing online can also be a very convenient way of finding the hotel you want.

Set a budget

Before you search for a hotel, set a budget based on how much you're willing to pay each night for accommodation. If you go over this, it could compromise being able to finance and enjoy the rest of your trip, for example eating out or visiting tourist attractions.

Consider your reason for visiting

If you're taking a city break you may only want to use your room as a base, so basic comforts and amenities could be all you need. However, if you're planning a honeymoon in a remote location, a premium room at a higher price may be more the thing for you.

Travel dates

Whenever possible, try to book away from peak travel times such as the school holidays, Easter and Christmas. The more flexible you can be with your travel dates the more likely you are to find an attractive deal.Package holiday gear

When you book can make a difference

All circumstances will vary, but hotels will typically charge different prices for the same room depending on factors such as demand and how long away the booking is.

It's possible that this could see the price rising the closer it gets to the date you require, but then falling in the final weeks, days or hours as the hotel seeks to fill a vacant room.

It's possible that booking at the very last moment could save you money, especially if your haggling skills are good. But, equally, if demand is high you may have to pay more and you have to factor in the uncertainty and the possibility of not getting your hotel of choice - or even being left out on the street!

Consider the time of week and special events

Some hotels will raise their room rates between Monday and Friday if there's high demand from business travellers and will lower their rates on the weekend.

Other establishments will have the exact opposite business model, aimed at weekend holidaymakers and so, perhaps, having cheaper rates in midweek.

Did you know...?

  • Some hotels will not charge if you give more than 24 hours notice, but others may demand a proportion of your fee on a sliding scale as you get closer to the booking date

You should also be aware of significant events in the calendar. A major festival, sporting event or music concert, for example, is likely to drive up accommodation price and demand in a locality.

Solo travellers

If you're travelling by yourself watch out for any single occupancy supplements.

It's possible that a 'per room per night' rate would benefit you more than a 'per person per night' rate - check the terms and conditions.

Use reviews to help you choose

Review sites such as TripAdvisor can be a great way of finding out the honest opinion of guests who have actually stayed in the accommodation recently, the good and the bad.

Using such information should help you build up a picture of what the hotel is doing right, and what isn't up to scratch.

Former guests will often post photographs of the hotel and its surroundings, helping to give you a more rounded picture of the establishment and the environment it's set in.Credit cards

Paying for hotels

If you book your accommodation using a credit card then you'll be protected by the Consumer Credit Act 1974 in the event of a problem providing the purchase was for an amount between £100 and £30,000.

If you use your debit card then you may not be covered, unless you can prove that the purchase was made using your overdraft facility.

Watch out for any surcharges when paying by card, but remember that if you pay by cash or by cheque then you won’t be protected by the Consumer Credit Act.

Changes and cancellations

Many hotels are flexible with their cancellation or change arrangements and it's possible that you won't be charged providing you give the establishment as much notice as possible.

It's always worth considering arranging a good travel insurance policy when you make bookings

Always read your terms and conditions to check, though.

Some hotels will not charge if you give more than 24 hours notice, but others may demand a proportion of your fee on a sliding scale as you get closer to the booking date.

It's also possible that different terms will apply depending on the choice you made when you made your booking - there may have been an option to pay a surcharge at the time that would allow more flexibility around cancellations.

If something does go awry with your plans it's possible that your payment card will offer you some compensation.

But it's always worth considering arranging a good travel insurance policy when you make bookings, offering you cover for curtailment, cancellation and more.

By Abbie Laughton-Coles