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12 Things to Consider Before Booking Hotels Again

It's not only about dates, availability, and amenities anymore.

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Coronavirus considerations

In spite of the ongoing pandemic, people are still traveling this summer, whether it’s for work, vacation, or visiting family. But as the world has changed over the last few months, so has the formerly simple process of booking a hotel. There are now many other things to consider beyond simply choosing your dates and room type. Hotels must demonstrate that they can create safe, secure environments where guests will be comfortable. From health and safety measures to cancellation policies, social-distancing protocols, and layouts, details matter more than ever.

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Look for flexible cancellation policies

These are extremely important. The number of new cases can vary widely in different areas from day to day, so you want to have the ability to cancel without losing your money in the event you don’t feel comfortable going as planned. Booking directly with the hotel or brand is the best way to ensure you are able to get a refund should you need to cancel, says Miguel Diaz, area director of sales and marketing for Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach in Florida.

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Laptop computer on bed in empty hotel room.
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Use hotel websites

Similarly, it’s also imperative to research hotels directly on their websites, rather than through online travel agencies or booking sites. “The local property team knows their hotel better than anyone, as well as any local ordinances that exist in the city or town,” says Thom Geshay, president of Davidson Hotels & Resorts. Third-party booking sites also don’t contain information on the individual cleanliness standards of every hotel—they simply differentiate by location and price—so you may not know what you’re getting. And if you’re concerned about price, many hotels are getting creative with special value-add packages to drive interest from travelers in a low-demand time; these are also offered only through their own websites, Geshay adds.

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Coronavirus - Fri Jul 3, 2020
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Review cleaning policies

Research ahead of time to ensure the hotel has protocols in place that will help you to stay healthy throughout your stay. Whether the hotel is part of a large brand or a boutique property, it should have information on its website about the measures it’s taking. If it doesn’t, that’s a red flag. For example, through its CleanStay program, Hilton has implemented a rigorous cleaning schedule for the sanitization of everything from railings to elevator buttons. That’s one of the reasons the Hilton in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, made our list of the 12 cleanest hotels, according to travel agents. “If your health is important to you, make sure the hotel you choose is taking it just as seriously,” says Frank Cavella, director of sales and marketing at Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach in Florida.

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Modern lounge chairs next to swimming pool
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Double-check your budget

A higher price tag doesn’t always mean cleaner, but it can. Geshay suggests staying at more sophisticated properties that are professionally managed, rather than independent, since the new cleanliness standards are not only more rigorous but also costly. “Less sophisticated managers and properties tend to cut corners to save expenses,” he adds. “To be comfortable traveling now, don’t just look for the cheapest price.” If you’re looking to save money, avoid these 15 travel fees.

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Consider the length of your stay

If you’re going to go—and especially if you’re flying to get there—make it worth your while by staying longer than you might otherwise if your time and budget permits. At Chatham Bars Inn in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, guests have been extending their stay from three or four nights to five to seven nights after they arrive and begin to feel comfortable with the safety measures that have been put in place, says Simon Rodrigues, director of sales and marketing.

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Hotel Reception Bell
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Ask about staff requirements

It’s perfectly acceptable to call a hotel and ask about its cleaning protocols before booking. Some essential questions to ask include whether the hotel’s employees are required to wear masks and/or gloves and if they’re undergoing required temperature checks before arriving at work, advises Ron Pohl, COO with Best Western Hotels & Resorts. You can also inquire about how typically high-touch procedures, such as guest check-in and luggage handling, are now being managed. FYI, here are 10 things you won’t see in most hotels anymore.

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Building Lobby
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Look at the hotel’s design

The gallery pages on a hotel’s website and Instagram are useful for getting a sense of how the hotel is laid out and what its common spaces look like. When considering hotels, you should prioritize properties that offer a number and variety of wide, open spaces on-site—and perhaps large outdoor areas—that will allow for socialization at a proper social distance, says Mika White, cofounder of the Japan Tourism Exchange. You may want to choose a boutique hotel with fewer rooms, or a resort with separate accommodations, to limit your exposure to others while traveling.

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USA, Oregon, Diamond Lake Highway, Mount Thielsen
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Reboot your road map

Consider replacing air travel and exposure to others at airports with a car trip by booking a hotel within driving distance that’s also off the beaten path. “By skipping the crowded hot spots and visiting destinations that offer activities that can be done while social distancing, travelers [can get] the opportunity to reconnect with nature by way of hiking, swimming, fishing, and more,” says Gregory Henderson, co-owner of The Roxbury at Stratton Falls, a quirky, boutique hotel nestled in the quiet Catskills in New York. If you’re driving to your destination, don’t hit the road without reading this essential road trip survival guide.

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Download hotel apps

When you think you’ve found the hotel you want to book, take the time to download its app on your phone. Then browse the options there: Will you be able to order meals through the app for in-room dining? Change the TV channels in your room through your phone? Request more towels without having to touch the in-room landline? The more touch-free options available through the app, the better, as it will ensure less contact with people and things once you’re on-site. Additional contactless amenities to look for include mobile key cards, payments, and checkout, says White.

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Research the area

Amid shifting county mandates, it’s hard to keep up with the status of restaurants, museums, and other businesses and activities, says Cavella. Be sure to do your homework in advance of booking—and then again before arrival—if you’re considering a particular hotel for its proximity to an attraction you really want to visit. The openings (and closures) in the area will be out of a hotel’s control. So, for example, if you’re staying somewhere because it’s right next to the beach and then the beach is closed, you’ll likely be disappointed if you don’t find out that information ahead of time. A hotel’s concierge can be a good resource for planning an enjoyable trip amid the pandemic.

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Review outdoor activities

After months of staying at home, you’re probably not looking to visit a hotel to stay indoors your entire trip (and you really won’t want to sit in your hotel room’s chair after reading this). So make sure to look at properties in destinations that offer an array of outdoor activities that can appeal to the whole family, if they’re in tow, says Sean Copley, general manager at The Bristol Hotel in Virginia. For example, think about hotels near national parks, mountains for hiking, or bodies of water for fishing and boating.

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White beach umbrellas and lounge chairs at sunny ocean poolside, Punta de Mita, Nayarit, Mexico
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Keep an open mind

You should be mentally prepared in advance of your stay that things are going to look much different than before. “While the travel industry is doing our best to maintain the luxury experience we’re known for, things have changed,” says Cavella. With social distancing and people wearing masks, it’s a challenge to provide warm, personalized service, but hotels are trying their best to overcome that and ensure guests feel welcome and safe. Aim to return the favor. Next, here are the best hotels in every state, according to customers.

For more on this developing situation, including how people are staying healthy and sane this summer, see our comprehensive Coronavirus Guide.

Kelsey Ogletree
Kelsey Ogletree is a freelance journalist covering travel and wellness for national publications including Reader's Digest, The Wall Street Journal, AARP, Shape and Conde Nast Traveler. She's also the founder of KO Copy, providing resources and workshops to empower publicists and freelance writers to work smarter and better together.