Yasmin Fahr is our in-house hotel expert and curator behind our new column, Hot Hotels, which features five handpicked luxury hotels to keep on your radar.
A seasoned food & travel writer for over 11 years, she spent four of those as an undercover inspector for Forbes Travel Guide reviewing hotels, restaurants and spas internationally. She recently launched LokaPack, a curated travel guide of recommendations for where to eat, drink and stay around the world. We asked Yasmin to give us her top tips on the all important choice of picking your hotel.
How to Pick a Hotel You’re Going to Like
Vacation planning is part of the fun of travel, and, if you love hotels as much as I do, it’s one of the best parts about the trip. So why does picking the right hotel feel like a daunting task? There are an endless number from which to choose, and it can be as simple and difficult as starting with the location within the city.
Take London or New York, for example, both fantastic cities, yet where you decide to stay will dictate a large part of your experience. From the neighbourhood to the size and vibe of the hotel, you could either have a fantastic trip where you step out into the action of the city, moments away from craft cocktail bars and lively restaurants, or you could leave feeling like you spent the entire time stuck in traffic or suffering from sleep deprivation because your room was over the bar and not well soundproofed. You don’t want to make a wrong move and feel like you’ve wasted your money and had a bad trip. I get it.
The trick is to figure out what you want and then know how to find it. When I’m deciding where to go, this is the list that I work from to narrow down my options.
Decide on the Location
If this is your first time visiting a city and you know you’re going to want to visit the major tourist sites, then pick somewhere central to save yourself time. Similarly, if it’s your 10th time to Paris or New York, then stay in a neighborhood that you don’t know a lot about, like Canal Saint-Martin, or Williamsburg.
Size does matter
A big hotel that lets you use your Starwood points is great not only because you get to use your points but also because they tend to have more streamlined amenities like a built-out fitness center, spa, turndown service and extra perks, depending on your status. Traditional luxury hotel brands like a Four Seasons or Mandarin Oriental will almost always have these amenities and a more standardized luxury experience versus a boutique hotel (not better or worse, just different).
Boutique hotels on the whole tend to be a little more relaxed and low key, but they have a great personal experience. It’s great if you’re looking for something more creative and design-focused. There is a large spectrum of hotels, so it’s a good idea to think about the size and type of property you want.
Are You Looking for Scene?
Be honest. Do you want a busy hotel bar to come down to on your way out and have a pre-dinner drink while people watching and then perhaps end the night there as it’s still going strong? Or, would you rather a quiet, more conservative hotel to retreat to after a night out? The guests will also differ at both of those properties, probably in line with your choice (sometimes the service and upkeep of the property does as well).
If you’re not going to use the hotel gym, then don’t bother paying extra for it. Think about what you are actually going to do, not what you think you should do. Hotel gyms are rarely that exciting, unless they are attached to an incredible spa, have a pool and let you use the wet areas as part of your guest stay (make sure to ask before booking). A lot of smaller properties are opting out of gyms and/or giving you passes to nearby ones instead. If you’re going to hit a Soul Cycle or yoga class, then maybe a boutique hotel like the Marlton in NYC that has limited services and a lower price is a good bet. They also have a great bar and design style, so that might hit your other requirements.
Beware of Third or Fourth Night Free Deals
A free night? Yes, please. A perfect excuse to extend the trip. Sadly, it’s often too good to be true. While some hotels do offer a true free night, many distribute the cost of that “free night” into the price of the other rooms so that you are paying for four nights, but it looks like three. Do the math before you pick a hotel just on that draw alone.
While this might be a quick decider as, depending on what it is, it can limit your choices or leave you wide open, do some research first. Check out deal sites but its even better to book directly on hotel websites. Their prices are the best and they sometimes offer non-refundable, pay-ahead rates that can be significantly less than refundable ones. Of course, you’re in trouble if you can’t go. I was always surprised when a room that was significantly less priced with a lower rating ended up costing the same as a higher rated hotel that had a great deal.
This is usually more relevant for resorts or leisure stays, but if you’re going to be eating breakfast downstairs and don’t want to feel like you’ve just dropped $100 on coffee, eggs and a juice, then it’s probably worth opting for the breakfast included room rate. Booking through sites like American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts or Tablet (you need to have the card or be a member) gives you complimentary breakfast plus other perks and tend to have lower rates than the hotel itself (this can vary though, especially for Amex).
Talk to People You Trust
While I think you should trust my recommendations as I’ve stayed at over 600 different types of hotels around the world, it’s probably a good idea to ask friends who have similar tastes to yours as a backup. Don’t trust the friend who complains about everything, or the one who just wants to be where famous people are, as that’s not always an indicator of a great hotel experience.
For somewhere that makes you feel truly welcomed and as if you want to hug and thank everyone you meet, make sure that they put an emphasis on hospitality, not just service. For example, The Upper House in Hong Kong is a hotel that strives to meet and anticipate the needs of their guests, keeping the conversation on going.