As the dollar sinks to new lows against European currencies, it's more important than ever to get a good rate on your European lodging. The good news is that hotel costs are tied to international monetary rates, so hotel rates haven't tracked with the Euro as much as they could. And fewer travelers means the bargains are out there. Here are some tips on finding European hotels at the right price.
Using a Discount Booking Engine When Booking your European Hotel
If you like to stay in large, full-service hotels, it's pretty easy to find deals on the major booking engines, like Travelocity or Orbitz. Smaller companies, like Venere or Eurhotels feature a great many budget hotels, and are easier to browse. One of my favorite sites for budget lodging, Euro Cheapo, has reviewed each of its offerings and offers personal recommendations as well as online booking. Whichever you choose to use, remember to look for special deals. Some hotels offer special prices for weekends, especially the larger hotels that carry some business travelers.
But what if you're looking for that little hotel where you'll get personalized service? These might indeed show up in listings above, but if you root around enough you'll notice a strange fact: all the prices for these hotels are the same, no matter what site you find them on. Why is that? Well, smaller hotels like the Daphne Inn in Rome can't afford to adjust their prices on a daily basis, so the prices you see on the booking engines are likely to be exactly the same price you'd get if you walked in and asked for a room. But remember, the booking engines take what is rumored to be a huge cut for each reservation they process. More and more frequently, you'll get a better deal on the hotel's own web site, especially if you're a senior and are looking for a senior discount, or you wish to stay for an extended period and want a break in price. Don't book these types of hotels through a booking engine. Instead, find the hotel's web page and inquire directly. If you do, and the hotel hasn't had to incur the cost that the booking engine extracts, they just might cut you a deal. Several small hotel owners have mentioned to me that this was indeed the case, and it doesn't hurt to try.
Use The Official Tourist Bureau in Each City
One of the vastly underused resources for seekers of good or special lodging are the Tourist Offices found in larger European cities. Choose your language and take a look at the Hotel list at the Bruges, Belgium Office of Tourism. It's pretty complete. And tourist offices keep close watch on non-hotel lodging as well. Looking for a guesthouse? A villa for 15 of your friends? Why not contact the tourist office? On the Bruges site's contact page, you'll notice that there's a special email address (and telephone number) for Queries concerning accommodation. Many tourist offices are glad to help you arrange for special lodging needs.
How do you find Tourist offices? You can look on this site. Just search for a city or drill down from the country list you'll find in the left column of this page. For example, our Bruges category lists the tourist office. Otherwise, use Google and search for "(city) office tourism." That usually works.
Bid for a European Hotel
Lots of folks use Priceline's auction process. I haven't used them, but About's Hotel guide offers Priceline Bidding Secrets, and our Budget Travel Guide gives us some tips on the process while confessing to an addiction in Addicted to Priceline.
Do You Really Need to Reserve Every Hotel on Your Vacation?
I'm not much for reserving hotels. I reserve for the first night and the last of my vacation. I reserve special places I've heard about. But sometimes I just drive around knowing I have a good chance of discovering something new, even in July. In Europe, most train stations have abundant hotels nearby. Get to your destination before two in the afternoon, and chances are you'll have your choice of hotels in which to stay. On the other hand, if you've only a short time and don't want to schlep bags farther than you have to, reserving is probably best.
And Finally, What About Those Hotel Touts at the Train Stations?
Get off the train in Venice or Rome, and you'll likely be surrounded by folks offering rooms. Sometimes they'll show you a fancy brochure, or a simple price list. Most experienced travelers recommend you not use this service. But you know what? When I'm tired and somebody offers to carry my bags to a place that seems the right price in the right neighborhood, I sometimes go. Remember, you can always refuse a room after you've seen it. Just be careful and observant out there.