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Ultimate guide to making reservations at Booking.com

Hints Jan. 15, 2020 2020 Hints
online booking hotel room in mountains
By Bartosz Dąbrowski

Wondering about finding safe and sound accommodation in Poland, Slovakia, Austria or any country in Europe?

We share exactly how we do it. We wrote this guide to help many people reading our blog in having a successful and safe vacation. For all those that wonder and plan to visit locations that we were and have written about.

In this ultimate guide, we'll share all our expertise and hints in online booking. We gathered it over the years in which we booked and stayed in 24 different locations, all of them via Booking.com.

This guide was written for first-timers in the online reservation but also people looking to for additional explanation and advice with matters related to Booking.com portal.

There are many reasons for writing this article one of them is that we may feel quite overwhelmed with the number of options, features, information and policies that we see causing difficulty to find cheaper and better deals.

This article is mainly for people interested in:

  • Wanting to book vacations easily
  • Looking to maximise safety on their travel
  • Saving money on vacations
  • Learning pitfalls of Booking.com
  • Saving your time by focusing on things that matter

booking com app

Booking.com is an online portal and also mobile application.

The Booking.com has one of the biggest databases of detailed information about tourist properties and rooms across Europe and the complete online reservation system that intermediate between guests and hotel. Also an army of editors that work very hard to keep all the property listing up to date.

Although booking has a high number of hotels in their offerings, the most popular type of property is apartments in small to middle size residences.

We have booked in a total of 24 different properties using Booking.com in 2013 - 2020, and it was never before more comfortable. We didn't experience any problems with it whatsoever but we have some warning about a few things later sections. This is the best way to travel to destinations we often write about on the blog - particularly for foreigners but not only.

We are proud to help multiple people on their journeys already. In exchange, we make a small commission of each booking you make via our link: Booking.com if you choose to use it. These commissions don't affect the price of the room. Thanks to that, it saves our blog from extinction, promotes hiking, nature, active and healthy lifestyle. 

If you like what we are doing and you want to travel similarly, please do consider booking using our link. We are not trying to sell you anything if you don't like it we are totally fine - you decide. The main goal of this article is to help people.

Stay at Residence Florimontane

At Résidence Florimontane, July 2013 Annecy, France - Our first reservation with Booking.com

In this guide, we will learn:

Table of contents

Why Booking.com is safer?

travel safety

© Rido / Adobe Stock

While travelling abroad, we usually fear for our safety. Relife should come from primary safety space which supposed to be our apartment. That's why it is always worth so invest a little bit more time have a better experience in the end.

Properties can't join the Booking.com listing automatically. For property owners, the only possible way to join the listing is to be added by one of Booking.com employees. Before residency ends up in the system, it must be approved, reviewed and has to have a legal contract with the portal itself. Having this 3rd party worker can significantly reduce the possibility of online fraud.

Besides, most safe are the properties with a high number of positive reviews as an indicator of reliability. Some property will be newly added with none or only several reviews when we look for the safest option we should prefer long-existing prooven offers with lots of positive reviews. If there is a problem with some property and many complains, we may be more than sure that it won't stay for very long in the listings.

To summary, Booking.com is only a broker but a good one. It does all of the work in managing the property pages and verifying. As a broker, they can't have 100% guarantee what will happen beyond their website but they do greatly minimise the risks. It is one of the safest ways to book your visits because it is used by many people and properties are being constantly reviewed or flaged if needed.

Booking.com vs "package holidays"

Gran Canaria package holiday

Gran Canaria package holiday, 2018

We put the reasons why we use far less often package holidays in comparison table with Booking.com portal.

Advantage of Booking.com

  • Pay only for what you need: transport, flight, hotel, attractions - all separate but still from one place
  • More independence - you have it under your control
  • Agency provision eliminated (fewer men in the middle) 
  • Hotels rarely go bankrupt compared to travel agencies
  • Price equaliser - guarantees the lowest price
  • More choices
  • We pick a hotel tailored to our standards and wallet

Disadvantage of Booking.com

  • It may take longer to organise transfers separately
  • Some package holidays have on the spot representative that may provide help
  • In some cases of package holidays, you travel in the group which may be an advantage


Requirements for Booking.com

To make a reservation on Booking.com, we have to have:

  • Date of arrival, number nights to spent and how many guests will travel with us (some properties may allow changing it these later).
  • Many hotels require a credit/debit card for upfront or prepayment. In some properties, even if entire payment is paid on check-in, you still need a credit card for balance check.
  • Accept and abide by all house rules of the residency we are going to reserve.
  • Printer or Mobile Booking.com app (For reservation confirmation page required for check-in).
  • Valid email address.

How to make a reservation on Booking.com?

how to use booking com

This section demonstrates the booking process. The better property we can find, the happier our vacations are going to be. We want to make sure you will have this process under our control.

Overview of the booking process:

We enter the initial criteria of the stay and get back the result of properties that match our requirements. Once we review properties, we can choose the room type and submit a reservation. Once the booking is finalised, we will receive a confirmation email with a confirmation document. We will have to hand over this document during check-in at the hotel.

That was the basic idea, but in reality, it is a bit more complicated. In the following steps, we will get into the details on each reservation step.

In the process we 1) Pick several hotels that we like and match our criteria 2) Review each one of them later to learn about house rules, room equipment and available services - make notes, 3) Decide based on our notes.


Get the listing with apartments

After entering Booking.com, we select the destination, arrival date, the number of nights and how many guests will be staying. If those criteria are missing the prices won't be shown. After submitting this information, we will get a search result listing with prices.

Picking candidate apartments

booking property listing on macbook

Our objective in this section is to find the most exciting properties for our further review described in the next section.

The process of finding and filtering hotels/apartments is the most time-consuming part of the reservation process. Each of us has different standards, and the number of available options is usually overwhelming. We have to get familiar with the many properties before the decision. We want to use filtering and sorting to limit the number of apartments and save some time.

The default listing of Booking.com is sorted by a dynamic algorithm customised for each user, the time of the season, your search history and many more factors.

There are two things we should pay attention while searching: 

1) Multiple locations: we could search for Zakopane and then Kościelisko (a nearby town). Unfortunately, it is not possible to have them both at the same listing. That's why we very strongly recommend using a property map viewing for property picking. Map search is something we need to apply for the best effects. Often when we look for the best price to value properties, they may be located right next to the town, where particular town search would skip it. With map view, we can hover over pins on the map regardless of what city we initially selected.

map search on booking com

Map search on Booking.com

2) Price or reviews ratings are not the most important factors in property searching. Many places could be overpriced and also the price is changing all the time. It's hard to rely on it. The phrase: "Picks the best based on the price" is not always working. The guest reviews and score are good for assessing that the property is real and how good the service is. We say that the most important factor is the occupation intensity. Unfortunately, we can't sort for most occupied properties that happen to have free room left but we should keep this in the back of our head. And of course, this counts if we book a long time in advance because for a short period we may likely miss highly demanded and reasonably priced options.

What else affects the searching results:

Preferred Partners

Higher provision property

Yellow thumb up icon showing that property pays a higher commission to be higher in the listing.

The main listing is using sophisticated algorithms but it is double edge sword. It turns out properties that pay bigger provision to Booking.com are listed higher in their indexes. It is called Preferred Partners it works both ways as the portal will require high standards for them to keep membership. But we may logically expect for a hidden fee included in the price just because of the hotels/apatments pays more to be on the portal. But on the contrary, Booking.com makes no secret of that. Such properties have clearly visible tag like the one on the picture.

Advertisement

advertisement on booking com.png

Also, some results may be paid advertisement. Described as "Promoted".

It doesn't mean the property is less nice than others it is just one more thing we have to take into consideration before making our decision.

Property page 

property details on booking com

We usually, open multiple hotels that got my interest in new tabs of the browser. Then we have to study them carefully one by one to understand all guest rules and all the features that accommodation offers. Make sure to read the cancellation policy, get the information about parking and how far will you be from tourist attractions or how to commute and whether the place is considered quite or nosy. Useful is also reading the reviews submitted by other guests.

What is worth to check during the offer page review? Price is not everything as we will see many depends on the specific rules on a given property.

Reviews

reviews on booking com

Guest reviews are also a good indicator for ranking, but it shouldn't a final one. Reviews can tell us many things but not everything. The high number of reviews may guarantee that given property is not a scam when reviews are positive obviously. From the review, we may find many details about things that may be painful and skipped in the official description page. Also, when most of the guests are local people having on average fewer expectations of the service than western guests, we may take the reviews with a pinch of salt. It is a good idea to filter reviews only by people of your nationality to best match expectations.

Price

A higher price doesn't always mean higher standards. Don't always rely on the fact that picking a highly-priced room will save us potential inconveniences. We think that some properties may try to manipulate the price to trick people into feeling this way. Turn your attention more into an overall score.

Pictures

gallery of property on booking com

Expect always lower standard from what you see on the pictures, mainly room pics. Editors put excellent photos of the hotel interiors and hide imperfections. We found out that these are usually the hotel's showoff most expensive room when we often got less beautiful room after check-in. When you are interested in a particular room for the picture, we advise contacting the hotel for confirmation.

It may be less of a problem in residential apartments.


Stars

Residence/hotel owner can select a number of stars by themselves. Booking.com employees don't verify if the legit organisation has granted the stars. It is a helpful indicator, but we have no guarantee it is, in fact, legit, so we advise to pay less attention to them.


House Rules - Policies Section

booking house rules

Example hotel's house rules section in booking.com

Also at this stage, we can find the tab describing the local rules and law difference we should be aware of. Cultural differences can be shocking even for seemingly not so different countries it is worth to visit and get familiar with this section.

The house rules are probably the most important section of the property that we should get familiar with and often that is overseen by most guests and can become a big surprise later.

Cancellation policy

Is one of must know and check information before considering your trip. Depends on how great chance of your cancellation is you will look for offers that have a friendly policy in this area. All this we can find on the offer page of the residency. If this information is missing and it's important for us we should contact the property via Booking.com messages or other means.

Payment policy

Every hotel will have own payment policy. In most normal down to earth hotels, we will pay during checkout but that's not a standard. Many properties require upfront payments or prepayments. Some of them require to pay during check-in. Some pay accepts only cards or traditional bank transfer or only cash. This is important and detailed information will be included in the offer description and reservation confirmation email.

Date changes

Some hotels may disallow arrival and leave date changes. Make sure you are familiar with rules as each owner may establish different policy. If this information is missing and it's important for us we should contact the property via Booking.com messages or other means.

Other supprises of the policy section

Minimal age - Families make sure there are no minimum age restrictions.

Damage deposit - Some hotel may require additional money as damage deposit insurrance.

Not accepting credit cards - This may happen and info supposes to be in the description.

Not accepting pets - This may happen too - be aware.

Not allowed to hold parties and events.

Reservation payment

booking com payment

© Antonioguillem / Adobe Stock

Before we go further read the payment information to make sure when and how payment will be submitted. Usually, we have to enter our card information this is not always for a transaction. Sometimes the hotel will charge us after arrival but needs your card to make our balance checks for credibility. Also sometimes hotels charge a lesser upfront cost for reservation and rest of payment in check-in or check-out - every hotel has different rules so make sure you find them in the policies section of offer description.

Also, some properties allow for reservation without credit cards.

Money always goes directly to the hotel. The Booking.com role is only to host and handle and redirect amount to proper account. 

How to book cheaper with Booking.com

Code discounts

We can monitor the home page for discount codes that may appear there. Widget like an example below

Booking.com discount

Genius loyalty program

After two reservations within two years, we can join the Genius program in Booking.com for a lifetime. Genius is a loyalty program that promises price discounts. The higher number of properties we book the more discount we will collect. It has multiple levels each level gives more bonuses. In the first level site offers a 10% discount on selected properties. It shouldn't be challenging to reach five bookings within two years and get an additional 15% discount. The "gotchas" part is the "only selected properties" phrase.

booking with genious property

On the screenshot, we see a property that has a "Genious" tag on it.

So not all of the offers can be part of the Genius program. Some properties may offer only individual apartments available for Genious discounts. On average we found that quarter of properties on default listing has Genious discount tag. It is hard to predict how many of them will be for different cities. We can also order property using Genious sorting and see only Genious hotels on the top.

Note: It is said by Booking.com that discounts of Genius program can't cumulate with other discounts unless there is an exception - means we would probably see if they add up in reservation confirmation page

Monitoring time deals

Another way to save money is to visit them regularly on the home page and look for time deals

To stay up to date with deal sign up or subscribe to the newsletter or download the mobile app for Booking.com to get notifications.

booking deals

Deals on booking.com

Price equalizer

One other method to cut down the travel cost is the price equalizers. Portal promises us to equal the price of the property if we are able to find a cheaper offer elsewhere.

Advice for Booking.com

Advice

© Brian Jackson / Adobe Stock


Make notes

We found it is unlikely to remember all the pros and cons of the properties we search through. The only possible way to pick the best one is to make notes and compare the best ones. We go one by one via each apartment and make some notes for later.

On one piece of paper, we can write all thing that matter to us beyond the information noise. We could go even one step further and put it into a spreadsheet table.

Service expectation

The difference in service attitude in Central and Eastern Europe is noticeable. Here not smiling is more normal than smiling. Vegetarian and Vegan restaurants are reachable only in big cities. 

Get help

Fortunately, we didn’t have to use Booking.com help desk but if you ever need it is available 24 hours a day 365 days in a year. (This may be available or not depends on your country of residence)

If we are going to be delayed or we have to arrive the next day it's best to notify the hotel. It helps to avoid extra fees or reservation cancellation using the contact information on the booking confirmation document. 

Validate your data

Double-check entered the phone number, email and credit card. Besides, review everything once again after receiving a booking confirmation email. This email contains all the essential information and policies of reservation. Getting some info wrong could be catastrophic for your holiday.

Advantage of early booking

Book in advance. Most expensive hotels are not the best hotels - we found. Most occupied hotels are usually the best ones. Regardless of reviews, stars, price. How strongly the hotel is occupied should be an important indicator that the property may be a perfect one.

Better planning even year or more ahead is something we should develop when we want o to have maximum options.

Try to ignore: "You missed it!" or "Only one room left!"

Unfortunately, in our opinion, Booking.com is using emotional triggers that could affect your reservation process. Please try to ignore them or use the checkbox on filtering to hide fully-booked properties. We are aware of that trick, but still, we can't help scary feelings when seeing these red texts.

Take your time

Our most important mission on this blog is to enable you to have the safest and most satisfying experience on your trips. And we advise you if you feel emotional about your online reservation - pause. Take a rest and try the next day again. It is necessary to fully understand all the policies of the properties we are going to visit. Otherwise, it may be too late for cancellation later.

Summary

Booking.com was designed to be used without instructions like that. But in our opinion, it intends on information noise and a bit of scarcity marketing. To keep it all under control we should apply all learnings and hints from here to our next journey.

Go to Booking.com

Booking.com inconsistency note

We created all advice included in this guide best to our knowledge but some countries may have some of the features disabled due to legal or marketing strategy reasons. If we notice something not aligned with our guide it may be caused by that.

Ufff, that took me quite a lot of time

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Our blog contains booking.com affiliate links, which means we will receive a small commission if you book your stay with such link. This comes at no additional cost to you, and helps to support this website in its goal to create quality content.

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