3 hotel booking mistakes

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Not accounting for taxes and resort fees

Back in March, contributing editor Ed Perkins reported one of the most outrageous resort fees we'd seen yet. At a hotel in Colorado, the decent $170 room rate was artificially inflated with a $35 cleaning fee, a $40 resort fee, a $10 pool-and-spa fee, and a $5.10 processing fee. Ouch.

The fix: You may be able to fight some fees, such as housekeeping or newspaper delivery, if you don't wish to avail yourself of such services. Others, like resort fees, are mandatory, so you need to account for the additional cost when you book that hotel. Hotels are expected to display resort fees clearly, but OTAs may not and instead include vague language like "additional fees may apply." So call the resort and ask point-blank about additional resort fees before you book.

As for taxes? Much like security lines, you aren't getting out of those.

Booking at the wrong time

As most procrastinators will readily admit, waiting until the last minute to make travel plans can have dire consequences for your credit card balance. Hotel rates can soar in the days leading up to a particular date, and you could be left without a room if everything books up (or if nothing left is within your budget). On the other hand, being an advanced planner can have its own disadvantages: Sure, you may want to have all of your travel ducks in a row as soon as possible, but it can actually cost you money to book your hotel room too early.

The fix: There are no easy answers as to when, exactly, is the best time to book a hotel room. Rates depend on many factors: location, seasonality, convention crowds, even weather. As a general rule of thumb, booking more than 21 days ahead of your arrival date is a no-no for the most popular destinations; you'll be putting yourself at risk for jacked-up prices. Your best bet is to start checking prices at least 40 days in advance and monitor the trend. If prices seem to go up, book.

If you want to make sure you get the lowest rate, the hotel booking site Tingo (SmarterTravel's sister company) will automatically monitor your hotel and rebook you at the new lower rate if prices drop. Of course, if you have waited until the 11th hour and hotel pickings seem slim, check out the Hotel Tonight app for truly last-minute deals.

Not checking reviews

If you've ever taken a spin on Oyster's Photo Fakeout feature, you know that hotels go to great lengths to make their properties seem perfect. But upon arrival, that infinity pool could really be the size of a postage stamp, and those sumptuous linens could feel like sandpaper. Take anything a hotel says about itself with a grain of salt (or sand).

The fix: Do your research. Reading user reviews is a tricky balancing act. You want to read as many reviews as you can without suffering from information overload. You also want reviews to be unbiased and recent. The best way to get an accurate picture of the resort is to choose your review sites wisely. TripAdvisor and Oyster (which, like us, is owned by TripAdvisor) offer pretty accurate previews of what your hotel has to offer; Oyster's room photos are a great resource if you wonder how your room stacks up to the hotel's own slick—and possibly Photoshopped—images. Be suspicious of reviewers who have overly effusive praise, and the converse holds true, too: If you see that Bob Grump has given one measly star to every hotel he's ever checked in to, feel free to question Bob Grump's judgment.