Fortunately, pictures on a hotel Web site do tell a story. In fact, if you know how to read them, they can reveal whether or not a place is right for you.
Before you book, take a critical look at the hotel Web site. What you see as you click through will tell you a great deal about what you would encounter if you visited the hotel in person.
- First consider how easy the hotel Web site is to negotiate and whether its design is pre- or post-millenium. If the site is a morass of mystery-meat navigation, you encounter faulty links, or the rates haven't been updated since last year, that is evidence of carelessness, tastelessness, ineptitude, or lack of funds... none of which bode well for a hotel guest.
- Pay attention to the description of the location. If the hotel Web site claims it's "a short walk to the beach," that means it's not actually on the beach and you might have to cross a highway to get to the sandy strip. If the site says it is in a city's "financial district," assume that you will have to travel a distance from the hotel to find signs of life on the weekend. "Convenient airport location?" That's a place advisable for stopovers only.
- See pictures of happy kids laughing and splashing on the hotel Web site? Then beware: The place will be crawling with them, especially when school is out.
- Does the homepage of the hotel Web site promote "meetings?" Then refer to Step 3. Your fellow guests won't be children, but they may act like them after hours.
- Click on anything that says "rooms" or "accommodations." Then check the size of the bed. If you're used to sleeping on a king-size mattress, you won't be as comfortable on a queen- or full-size one. Is there a picture of a bed with a canopy on the hotel Web site? While the hotelier may be trying to project "romance," what I think is, "dust."
- If you come across a picture with a floral bedspread anywhere on the Web site, it's safe to assume that nothing else at the hotel will be up to date, either.
- Does it say "some" rooms are air-conditioned on the hotel Web site? That means others are not. And no matter where you go in summer these days, that is a comfort factor. If staying cool matters to you, confirm that your hotel room will have a/c.
- Determine what the bathroom looks like. The very best places for honeymoons and romantic getaways feature a bathtub big enough for two adults.
- Does the room boast a balcony? If so, scrutinize the hotel Web site for what its outdoor chairs look like. If they're white plastic, that tells me the hotel is either cheap or has no sense of design. Either way, not an indicator of a luxury getaway.
- Many hotels tempt guests with a "breakfast included" offer on their Web site. Here you ought to do a bit of digging and contact the hotel directly to find out if that means a glass of Tang and a hard roll or an array of choices at a mouth-watering buffet that includes an omelette station. And is that free breakfast available via room service or will you need to dress and travel to consume it?
- Find the word "charming" anywhere on the hotel Web site? Alert: It could be code for "old" and/or "grimy." And if you see the word "cozy," it is safe to assume that means rooms are small.
- Did you like what you viewed on the hotel Web site? Then it may be the right hotel for your vacation. Ask around if anyone else you know has stayed there, check other travelers' opinions on Trip Advisor, and do a web search for "(name of hotel) sucks." If everything checks out, you've found a winner.
- To get the best treatment and usually the best rate, book your reservation directly with the hotel over the phone.
- During your Web research, keep track of all the hotels and prices you like. An Excel spreadsheet can help you stay organized.
- If you find a property you're interested in, it's entirely reasonable to email the hotel and ask if the photos on its Web site are current.
- Remember: Even pictures can lie.