These days the internet makes it really easy to book a hotel anywhere in the world. Except when it doesn’t.
For travelers used to booking reservations in the United States, there are a few things they should know before booking a hotel room in Europe; or, for that matter, most places overseas.
1. Don’t expect the standard U.S. room with a king or two double beds. In Europe the standards are a double room with one double bed, or a twin room, with two TWIN beds. The normal double room in Europe is not suitable for a family of four or even three. Some hotels have family rooms, which are specified as such, but don’t assume.
Even American chains generally follow the European mold, although I have found that Marriott (perhaps because the company was founded by Mormons) has more rooms with two double beds than most chains, and sometimes Holiday Inn also has “double doubles.” But, don’t expect them everywhere.
While plenty of people book rooms as a single to save money, in Europe a single is often a small room specifically designed for one person that may only have a twin bed.
2. Don’t assume nonsmoking. These days in the U.S. most hotels are nonsmoking. This isn’t true worldwide. If it makes a difference, ask up front.
3. If travelers care about having either a tub or a shower, request your preference. Some hotels may not even have the option, but better to find out in advance. (Years ago we ended up with a baby in a small Florence hotel that only had showers — not exactly practical.)
4. When booking direct, make sure to use the hotel’s website. Double-check it. Sometimes a third-party site might have specials, but a third-party site also may have different rules and regulations. In addition, in my experience many booking sites don’t give as much money to the hotel as a hotel gets with a direct booking, so the hotel may be less likely to honor special requests.
5. Check dates carefully. Be extra careful. One, because it may be harder to fix a problem in a foreign country; two, because the website may list dates with the day first then the month. Which means travelers could end up booking February 12 instead of December 2.
6. Verify the currency and taxes for prices. Usually, but not always, prices are in local currency. However, some hotel sites geared to U.S. market may show prices in dollars. Plus, when booking in local currency, be aware the price could fluctuate significantly with the dollar. Also, in some countries, taxes are significant — 20 percent in England, for example. Know what the total price is before arrival.
In general, be careful and double check. Even when booking through a travel agent, specify exactly what kind of space is needed. (I had a recent booking almost become a disaster because the client neglected to tell me he was bringing his family to London; fortunately, I found out just before he left, and the general manager at Dukes was able to give my client a discount on a room that would hold all three of them.)
Unwelcome surprises at a hotel are no fun. But they are worse a long way from home where travelers may or may not speak the language and a phone call to try to fix the situation isn’t easy.
Painting: Van Gogh’s Bedroom in Arles from Wikipedia