The Lodging Protocol

Background: After traveling for two straight years, I've learned a thing or two about booking lodgings online. 

1. I used Airbnb (60%), Booking.com (25%), Hotels.com (5%), and stayed with friends (10%).

- Airbnb appears to have the highest inventory and lowest prices, though this does vary by city/region.

- Booking.com has both hotels and private airbnb-like apartments (which tend to be a little more corporate). 

- Hotels.com has almost entirely hotel rooms.

- Staying with friends is the most economical option, but may have long term costs. 

2. They all use bait and switch pricing. You enter the dates of your stay and click search. You notice an apartment you like for $100/day, since your stay is for seven days you would expect to be charged . . .. $700 and . . .  and you would be wrong. When you click "Book", the price is now magically $810 due to taxes, cleaning fees, service fees, etc.

- On booking.com and hotels.com there may be additional taxes and fees directly owed to the hotel upon check-in/checkout, read the fine print.   

3. Use booking.com as a safety. Use it to book a Fully Cancelable accommodation that meets your minimum requirements (for price, location, etc.). Then between now and the Fully Cancelable date scour the internet for better/cheaper accommodations. Book, then cancel your Fully Cancelable booking.com accommodation.

- Payment may be charged prior to the Fully Cancelable date, so when you cancel, a refund will be issued to your credit card. If this is a foreign transaction, changes in the exchange rate will cause the refund to be more or less (in USD) than the initial charge. If it is less, then call your credit card company to ask for the difference. Do I need to explain what to do if it is more? 

- After booking a Fully Cancelable accommodation, during your scouring, you may notice that this same accommodation is now being listed at a lower price. Book it at the lower price (wait a few minutes for the confirmation email), check that everything is copacetic, then cancel the original booking.     

4. Do not book an accommodation that does not include photos of the bathroom. 

5. "Trust, but verify"all important amenities:

- Non-Smoking: In Japan you still have the option. I didn't verify. Fabreze can only do so much. 

- A/C: I rented a place in Ann Arbor, in the Summer, and didn't notice that it did not have A/C. Fans (x5) can only do so much.  

6. If there is an issue, then complain. Your review has power. If the issue can not be resolved to your satisfaction, then ask for some money back.

- In Reykjavik, Iceland, I had one night (@$135) refunded due to an incredibly loud party next door.

- In Ann Arbor, MI, I had $130 refunded after complaining about the cleanliness and smelliness.  

7. After booking and prior to your first night's stay, contact your host with any requests. For example, if there are two of you, then ask that a second key(s) be provided.

8. AirBnb offers the ability to negotiate. If you don't like the price you see, then feel free to click the "Contact host" button and ask for a lower price (don't just ask for lower price, start out with some pleasantries, etc., use some common sense). This has worked 75% of the time:

- Kansas City, MO: Contacted the owner with "Hello, love your place. If you can lower your rate to $73/night, I'm in. Anything you can do would be appreciated. Thank you". The owner agreed and I saved $10/night. 

- Orange, NJ: Owner started at $110/night, I booked at $80/night (click here for all the sordid details)

- Booking.com does not offer a way to contact the host, therefore making negotiation difficult. This is most likely not an oversight.  

9. Some listings will charge significantly more for two occupants than for one. If it is a private apartment then input only one occupant and then upon arrival, negotiate if required ("better to ask for forgiveness, then to ask for permission").   

- Did this in Detroit, there was no problem, saved over $300. 

- I generally don't feel "bad" about this technique, as most places only come with one fob/key.  

10. If your stay is open ended and you need to extend, then contact your host directly and offer to extend at a lower price. Prior to making your offer, try to determine if the place is available (via the online calendar, or by attempting to book it). By dealing directly with the owner you may be able to back out service fees, cleaning fees, etc. from your offer. If you make your offer in cash (dinero en efectivo) you may be able to back out other "fees". This worked quite well for me in Puerto Rico and Lewes, DL.   

11. You need to be using a credit card that maximizes the points or the cash-back you receive. I use the Capital One Venture (2% back on all purchases) for everything.

12. AirBnb and Booking.com have ratings and reviews for each property:

- Booking.com has a Review Score for each property with a scale of 0-10. The Review Scores and Reviews tend to be tougher than AirBnb. I have a theory why: since most of the properties on the site are either hotels or corporate apartments (as opposed to people's homes), the Review Scores and Reviews are much more critical. People don't mind telling Marriott the shortcoming of their properties, but have trouble giving a homeowner the same feedback. Also because most of the properties are hotels, the quantity of feedback is significantly larger. 

- AirBnb scores its properties on a Star system (0-5 Stars). The number of Stars and the Reviews are overly generous. I think people are reluctant to give accurate feedback to people just like themselves (as opposed to faceless corporations). This is especially true if the owners have made a personal connection with the guest before/during their stay (why some owners do not do this still confounds me). To me, 5 Star, means the Ritz-Carlton: scrupulously clean, seamless check-in, 500 thread count sheets, etc. I have booked numerous properties that have 5 Stars, expecting a 5 Star experience on arrival, instead being subject to a 3 to 4 Star experience. 

*My recent experience in Detroit in a good example. Five Stars with Sixteen reviews such as "Absolutely awesome spot", "The stay was awesome", "Cool apartment that is super clean". We arrived to an "unseamless" check-in experience, only one key & fob (for two guests), two forks, cracked calk in the shower with mold, filthy windows, a balcony with great views but no chairs, an exposed electrical cable in the bathroom, a pool whose bottom you cannot see, a refuse chute that no longer shoots, bare walls . . . you get the idea. In the end, it was a solid 3.5 star place. Nobody wins by giving an inflated review (which happens on AirBnb all the time).      

   

13. Generally you get a discount for longer stays:

- These discounts generally work in 7, 14, 30 day increments. So if you can stay 7 days instead of 6, you can probably get a better daily rate.  You get the idea.

- If you are planning to negotiate a better rate on AirBnB, then determining the discount you get for extending your stay could be some good intel. For example:  

- Some cities will charge less tax (or no tax at all) for stays greater than 30 days. So if you are planning on staying only 30 days, extending your booking by one day could save you money. 

- If you are planning to stay for 13 days, but 14 days gets you a 20% discount, then this could be a good place to start you negotiations (see 8. above)

14. Have a friend or family who works in a hotel? Well, I do and he had been able to provide me with a "friends and family discount" that is quite significant. I used it in:

- Asheville: Saved $25/night

-Des Moines: Saved $30/night  

Note: Maybe your friend or family can do the same?

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