Imagine you need a hotel with a kid’s program, a business center, a 24/7 fitness center and easy access to public transportation. Is it possible find a hotel with all your desired amenities with scrolling through pages of internet searches? Michelle Higgins, “Practical Traveler” columnist for the New York Times, sits down with Peter to share the best new hotel search engines.
Peter Greenberg: Everybody is always asking how do you get deals. And yet, isn’t the real challenge navigating that maze and going beyond just the first offered rate or the first offered fare?
Michelle Higgins: There are a lot of on-line sites that let you find the best rate, but look at more than price when choosing a hotel. Is the hotel in a convenient location? Or is it child friendly? Or will the room have a good view or will I be looking at a brick wall next to me?
PG: Exactly. Sometimes you need to actually call and ask a human being those questions because sometimes you don’t get the answers you need.
MH: It’s really important to shop around and there are a bunch of new tools that help users find the particular hotel, rooms and amenities that you really want for your hotel stay. One new tool is Google’s experimental hotel search site. They focus specifically on where to stay and finding a good deal. This is great for people who really know where they want to stay in a city because it shows you the area where the hotels are and then you can manipulate that by the click of a mouse and redraw those perimeters on a map to narrow your search. So, if you want to look at hotels in only the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington or the waterfront of a particular city, you can manipulate that blue line on the map to hone in on that region of the city.
PG: Got it. That’s a pretty good idea. What are other innovations?
MH: So people know Hipmunk.com for it’s clever agony flight index which sorts fares by it’s price, length, and number of connections. Hipmunk now has a hotel search that ranks hotels by ecstasy, which is a combination price, amenities, and TripAdvisor reviews. It also has a neat feature called heatmap which allows you to see if your hotel is in a happening part of the city whether it’s for food, or shopping, or nightlife, or even vice which shows bars and casinos.
PG: Wow. I suppose the obvious question here is how often do they update this?
MH: It’s updated pretty regularly, but the heatmaps are based on your individual interest. For example, by zooming in on a hotel like The Mandarin Oriental in Washington, you can see that it’s not near many bars, restaurants, or attractions, so that might not be the place you want to stay if you want to be in the heart of the action.
PG: One site that I know you’ve talked about that I’ve actually used and found quite helpful is Room 77.
MH: Room77 is great if you are interested in the view out of your room. The site allows you to view a layout of every floor in a hotel and allows you to see a simulation of the actual view from your window. And it’s been compiling hotel maps, and blue prints, and other records into this searchable database. Right now it has more than 500,000 rooms in about 2500 upscale hotels in cities mostly in North America, but also London. And all you have to type the name of the hotel in the search box and filter your preferences—like if you want a high or a low floor, or if you want a connecting room— and it will spit back some options and once you click on the room you can see the simulations of what the view out of your window will look like.
PG: Although, as a fireman, I always tell everyone there is not a fire department in the world that can truly fight an effective fire above the eighth floor. Everybody who wants a room with a view on the 40th floor is also going to get a great view of the fire department being unable to reach them.
MH: I want to mention one more site and that’s Oyster.com and this is a photo-based hotel search engine, which went live just this summer. And it lets you compare candid hotel shots of different hotels to determine which has the best amenity. You can compare a children’s pool, or balcony. Instead of sifting through promotional shots on a hotel website or pulling up random shots on Google Images or TripAdvisor, you can type in what you’re looking for in the search box and Oyster Shots will deliver these un0doctored photos taken by hotel reviewers and employed by the site. And, to ensure consistency, Oyster.com makes sure all the hotels are photographed in a systematic way. Room shots feature all four corners of the room and the entire bed so shortcomings will be pretty easily revealed.
PG: Now for somebody who is truly room obsessed, there’s CheckYourRoom.com. What do you think of the site?
MH: This site went live in March, and you can sift through roughly two-hundred hotels. It’s a boutique tool right now, mostly for Europe. The program really focused in on the room and it has this keyword search so it let’s you find a room simply by typing in a description of the features you want. You can type fireplace, wi-fi or even red if you’re really into the décor. Properties range from quirky results, like there’s this round-bed suite at this hotel in Bordeaux, or sleek bungalows perched over a lake in Switzerland.
PG: So if you’re looking for something truly unusual like sleeping in an abandoned missile silo or a building crane this is the site for you. And next time you’re booking a hotel, check out CheckYourRoom.com, Room77.com, Oyster.com, Hipmunk.com and Google’s hotel finder.
By Peter Greenberg for Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio