Travel Blog Consumer Traveler offers some interesting advice for picking the right hotel for you.   These tips can be summarized as (1) knowing your preferences, interests and travel style; (2) considering not just the quoted price for the hotel room, but also the hidden costs of items such as resort fees, internet access, and parking; and (3) analyzing reviews and recommendations by considering the source and determining overall themes.

Consider my most recent experience shopping for a hotel on Hawaii’s Big Island.    My first step in researching lodging options was to learn enough about my destination to choose a location.  The Island can be divided into eight regions, all of them offering some amazing lodging options.   For this vacation, I knew I wanted to see Volcanoes National Park and the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden which are both most easily located from the Hilo side of the Island, but I also wanted to see the coffee plantations and see Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park and Ahu’ena Heiau.  Perhaps most importantly, I wanted to experience the Ocean.   With that in mind, I focused our lodging search on the Kona coast.

Next, I did a search on Expedia to find package deals for my dates.   I read a few of the hotel descriptions in my price range, and drew up a list of wish list items.  I decided that I only wanted to look at oceanfront properties.   Internet access, a lanai, comfortable beds and reliable air conditioning filled out the rest of my wish list.

Next, I read the Trip Advisor reviews for all the oceanfront hotels in my price range.  Our price range does not permit us to stay at five star hotels, but I wanted a solid value.   When I read Trip Advisor, I generally read the most negative reviews and I skim the reviews that appear to have some substance.  I ignore complaints about staff manners, since I consider it a challenge to make crabby people smile, and it is my hope that I won’t need a lot of customer service during my stay.   Because I have allergies, I pay attention to complaints about moldy smells and smoke.   I crossed off one hotel because several comments mentioned that the onsite restaurants were very expensive and the hotel was not located within reasonable driving distance of restaurants.  Finally, I looked at how the management responded to comments.  While a hotel’s response on Trip Advisor might not fix a valid complaint, it might clarify the situation.  At the very least, it shows the hotel cares about its reputation.

The Trip Advisor research usually crosses off a few properties, but there is always a point in my trip research when I am more confused than ever.  I start wondering if I should look at Bed and Breakfasts (who wouldn’t want to stay here or here?) and vacation rentals.  I do a few web searches and verify pricing.  Sometimes, I find an amazing deal on a vacation rental at this stage that makes me look at the vacation in a whole new light.   This time, however, I couldn’t make the numbers work since the major problem in booking a trip from Minneapolis to Hawaii is the price of airfare.  I needed the economics of package pricing to make this trip work.

So, I went back to the big travel search engines and started to crunch the numbers.    I narrowed the choice down to three:

1)  The Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa;

2)  The Sheraton Keauhua Bay Resort & Spa; and

3)  King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel.

This is not a typical list for me.  It is unusual for me to pick a branded resort property, but it is also unusual for me to visit Hawaii.  All three hotels offered comparable rooms and comparable resort properties.  So, the decision was going to be about the details.  I researched resort fees and costs for internet access and parking.   A $100 per night rate is a good deal, but if you have to pay for breakfast, parking, internet access and pay a $25 a night resort fee, you might be better off with a $140 a night hotel.  Both the Marriott and the Sheraton had resort fees.  Both had fees for internet access.  All three charged for parking.   The Kona Beach Hotel offered a free breakfast, although there were definitely mixed reviews about its quality.  Nevertheless, there was no resort fee and internet was complimentary.

Thus, there was an obvious winner and we picked the Kona Beach Hotel.  I will let you know how it turns out, but I have never picked a property I didn’t appreciate when I used this method.