Budget hotels frequently make travelers unhappy. Consider this scenario: you've just narrowed your choices to a pair of low-priced rooms for your three-day stay in a distant city. Which cheap room do you choose? Knowing quality varies greatly, you need advice, and there are plenty of Internet sites where consumers post words of praise and caution.
The comments are not always reliable. The sources are not always credible. But you can find patterns in the comments that focus on quality, cleanliness, and safety worldwide. Here, in no particular order, are some good Internet information sources.
The site bills itself as a place where more than five million traveler reviews are available and many apply to hotels. On sites of this type, remember that anyone can write just about anything. It won't necessarily be unbiased or accurate. Many of the most common hotels on Hotwire and Priceline receive multiple reviews here. A nice feature: Trip Advisor ranks hotels in each destination according to their accumulated reviews. Don't put much stock in rankings for hotels with just a few reviews.
When you select a hotel on Orbitz, look to the right of the entry and you will find both a "user score" and a link to the number of accumulated reviews for that property. Users are asked to rate a given hotel on amenities, maintenance, staff, room comfort, location and value. You can see the scores for each area alongside the written review.
Hostel reviews are especially helpful because these properties tend to vary in style and quality more widely than a chain hotel. Here, you'll find a review (expressed in a percentage) to the right of every hostel listing. Character, location, cleanliness, security, staff, and fun are the categories for these ratings. Click again, and you'll see the percentages and comments for each category. This is a very helpful site that you should check as you consider booking hostel visits.
Each property reviewed is awarded from one to five smiley faces, and obviously more smiles come with better comments. Travelocity includes a very helpful "most reviewed" link to show you places that are getting the most attention. In New York, for example, one hotel had 53 reviews on the evening of my visit. You can scroll down until you find a place with a combination of many ratings, favorable scores, and good prices. It's a very useful system for finding good value.
Here the accent is not on user-posted reviews, but the professional opinions of Frommers' extensive staff. The ratings go from zero to three stars. If your target hotel is not listed, it either has not been visited or was not deemed worthy of mention. Don't automatically eliminate the zero-stars. They may just lack amenities that budget travelers avoid anyway. Speaking of pay, Frommers does a good job of telling you the latest rack rates and parking costs at your property of choice.
Like Frommers, Fodors blends a wide base of experienced travelers who post reviews with the expertise of their own staff. For example, you can call up a hotel and see Fodors review, then consult the guest rating, expressed from 1-5 check marks. The scores Fodors posts are based on room, atmosphere, service and value. It can be very interesting to compare the staff write-up with the words of praise or caution that users post.
What a great resource! At last count, there are about 1400 hotel reviews here from About's guide to hotels/inns/resorts. Not all are budget-oriented, but you can eliminate the expensive places or search for a great "splurge stay." It's an objective source which you search by destination to find top spots in the same way you'd use a guidebook, but without the expense of going to the bookstore.
Each of the major search engines has tried to structure review entries in a unique way. Expedia starts with the most basic information: What percentage of users actually recommends this place? The four areas surveyed are service, condition of room, cleanliness and comfort, all rated from 1-5. User-written reviews follow immediately. Sometimes there is an added "travelers tip on local attractions" section that frequently includes money-saving suggestions.
Stop here before you bid at Hotwire or Priceline. Go to the state or country of interest, click "list of hotels" and look for a review link. Reviews here tend to be candid, with problem properties getting most of the attention. Check posting dates and give greater weight to recent reviews. Some bidders avoid zones where problem hotels (as identified in these reviews) exist. Remember that a hotel earning poor reviews might please you, and a hotel you hate might get raves from other travelers.