Questions to ask when booking an off-site hotel
1. Is that your least expensive room?
To obtain the lowest possible rate, scour online travel sites and also call the hotel directly. Most hotels are franchised, meaning that local reservation agents can offer lower rates than those quoted online or by the corporate chain. If you found a great price on, say, Travelocity.com, tell the hotel reservation agent and ask if they have anything cheaper. If booking you directly, the hotel saves a commission. However, many hotels now give a large block of rooms to online discounters at a severely discounted rate. If the hotel has few rooms left over your dates, the online deal could still be cheaper.
If you get a good rate, ask about discounts. Hotels routinely discount rooms to a wide range of groups. Sometimes AARP works; many times, membership in AAA is enough. Some hotels save their best discounts for corporations but have extremely lax rules on who gets this “corporate discount.” In the end, don’t be afraid to ask the reservation agent, “What is your lowest discounted rate and who is eligible for it?” The only time you should pay full rack rate (hotelier’s term for full price) for any room, anywhere, is in a time of high demand, such as Christmas or if the Super bowl ever kicks off in Orlando.
Note: Always write down a confirmation number, the name of the person who booked you, the date, and that person’s department. Upon arrival, a front desk clerk could say: “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing in the computer. What was your name again?”
2. How close are you to Disney?
A hotel advertising “two miles to Walt Disney World” means exactly that – two miles until you set foot on Disney-owned land. But since the Disney resort covers 43-square miles, it may be a long haul from your hotel to the Magic Kingdom. If the hotel reservation agent gives you a driving time to Disney, such as “it’s only ten minutes by car,” press for specifics.
3. Can I park my car right outside the room?
On the positive side, a convenient parking space saves steps. On the negative side, hotels with convenient parking are more accessible to thieves. If it’s a long trek from car or bus to your room, then it’s a long way for a thief to run.
4. What kind of locks are used — credit card or key?
Every hotel should now have credit card-style locks (or something even more advanced) that don’t list a room number in case you lose it.
5. When was the hotel refurbished last?
It’s best if A) it’s not refurbished during your stay, or b) it’s not scheduled for refurbishment after you leave. Some hotels are now almost 40-years old. Some are in great shape. Some are not. If they have recently refurbished rooms, request one of the new ones, receive a guarantee, and note the name of the person who confirmed it.
6. Do you have a (fill in the blank)?
Assume nothing. If you like a big breakfast, ask about a buffet or special. Almost all hotels have a pool, but ask anyway if you plan to swim. If traveling during the winter months, ask if the pool is heated or even open. Is there a shuttle to Disney World? Is it complimentary?
Side note: Many hotels don’t serve lunch in their restaurants since guests eat breakfast and head for a park. If you expect to spend relaxing days at the hotel, ask about restaurants.
7. What are the cancellation penalties?
Most hotels have no penalties if you cancel the reservation close to arrival, generally one to three days. However, ask. Bargain rooms many times carry substantial cancellation penalties since the hotel works on a slim profit margin.