You've spent all year saving up for your dream vacation. The last thing you want is to end up in a hotel room that ruins the whole trip.
Step 1: Before you begin looking, decide what your dream hotel room would be. Do you want a great view in a high rise, or would you prefer the ground floor of a cozier establishment? Do you need room service? A pool? A location in the middle of a city, or near the airport? What is your price range?
TIP: Join the loyalty program of any hotel you are considering.
Step 2: Check the web sites of hotels in the area for their advertised rates. Then go to travel web sites and check their hotel rates, which are often cheaper if you are booking a room well in advance. Typically, you should find rates that are at least 25 percent lower.
Step 3: If you find a few hotels you like and they all seem similar, check travel web sites to read customer feedback. Still undecided? Choose the newest or most recently renovated hotel – just make sure any renovations have been completed before your trip.
Step 4: Before you book online, call the hotel and speak to a reservations agent, who might be able to offer you an even better deal, especially if your dates are flexible.
TIP: If the hotel's part of a chain, don't bother with the toll-free number, which probably connects to a centralized call center rather than the particular location you're interested in.
Step 5: Ask the representative for a discount or an upgrade, mentioning clubs or organizations you belong to that might entitle you to discounted rates.
Step 6: Consider the hotel's amenities, and whether they might save you money. A rate that’s slightly higher than a competitor's might be worth paying if the hotel includes an airport shuttle, wireless internet or a business center, or breakfast.
Step 7: If you're unsatisfied with the offered rate, use your previous research. If you found a cheaper rate online from a competing hotel, mention it and ask if they'll match it.
Step 8: Before you reserve, be clear on exactly how much the room will cost, including taxes and any other fees. Then, book away!
FACT: The Hotel del Coronado, near San Diego, Calif., has hosted 10 U.S. presidents, beginning in 1891 with Benjamin Harrison.