So it may pay to spend a little more time shopping around than you'd normally like to invest.
I spent nearly an hour on this very task (though I crammed it in between meetings and phone calls.) I'm traveling at a slightly less-desireable time (in mid-week close to a holiday, when convention hotels aren't likely to be full), so I was able to find a half-dozen decent options for less than $200 per night. Just two days later, prices were typically $100 per night higher.
Here's my strategy:
- Check one of the Big Three online agencies: Expedia, Travelocity or Orbitz.
- Next, check Hotels.com.
Note that in either case, you'll need to add about 20 percent to the "room price'' to estimate the full cost of a New York hotel room. (The actual cost won't be revealed to you until you get all the way through booking to the final purchase stage; the 20 percent is a shortcut to help you estimate.)
- Review the reviews. Look at your top two or three choices, and check out traveler reviews of them. You'll find those reviews right on Hotels.com; you may also want to look at Trip Advisor. (Whichever you choose, take the reviews with a grain of salt. I'm suspect of both the most glowing and the most virulent; who knows who's actually posting these?)
- Check direct. Once you've narrowed to your top choice, go to that hotel's website directly. The prices may be cheaper ... though in several cases I checked this morning, Hotels.com and Expedia generally had better pricing.
PRICING ISN'T EVERYTHING
Yes, of course, money matters. But you also want to consider:
- Location. Convenience and safety matter. Happily, most of New York is now relatively safe. But any hotel that is a long subway ride from the area you most want to visit or that is a long walk to a subway station will cost you time. And if you end up in taxis because the weather is bad or the neighborhood feels unsafe, you'll spend more money as well.
- Cancellation policies. Some sites allow you to cancel up to the day of arrival, some allow cancellation until the day before arrival, and some impose a penalty for any change at all. Typically, the hotel's own web site will have the most liberal policies.
- Room quality. One of the unspoken realities is that when you book directly with a hotel, you may get a better room than when you book with a big agency. The companies involved usually say this isn't true, but travel experts agree that this often is the case.
- Reliability. When you book directly with a hotel company, you KNOW they've got your reservation...as long as you get a confirmation in your e-mail. But even the biggest and best agencies often have to confirm reservations with the hotel via fax ... and faxes sometimes get lost, says Christopher Elliott, whose syndicated Travel Troubleshooter column appears around the country. That's why he gets so many letters from unhappy travelers who have arrived at a hotel with a confirmation from an online agency, only to find there's no room at the inn.
The lesson: 24 hours after you book through an agency, call or e-mail the hotel directly to be sure they've got your reservation.
Because I wasn't ecstatic about any of the hotels available in my price category, I kept hunting. Sidestep -- a metasearch service programmed to launch automatically when I start a hotel or airline search -- didn't offer up anything better. So I looked at several other sources: Quikbook, Lastminute, Hotwire and Travelzoo.
At Travelzoo I saw a $199 rate at a Kimpton hotel on Park Avenue, just south of Grand Central Station. I've had good experiences with Kimpton before; these are boutique-style hotels but not overly trendy, and I know the company is reliable. What's more, Travelzoo doesn't do any booking itself...it just refered me to Kimpton's own site.
I checked the cancellation policy: No penalty up to a day before I arrive. That gives me time to make a change if I find something I like better. (Hotwire sends out e-mails as you get closer to the date of travel that alert you to dropping hotel rates, and last-minute sites sometimes yield deals close to the travel date.)
But I doubt I'll make a change. The price is fair, the location good, and the brand one I'm comfortable with. Sure, it took me an hour...but for me, in this case, it was worth it.
SUPER TIME-SAVER TIP
If you've got a great travel agent, it may be worth a small booking fee to get him or her to book your hotel in a major city or in Europe. Miami agent Gabrielle Coneo of Corporate Leisure Specialists says travel agents can often get rooms in Europe more cheaply than the "Internet Only'' rates. You may save a $25-$50 travel agent booking fee on your first night of hotel.