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 have a successful and safe vacation. For all those who 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 during which we booked and stayed in 64 different locations, all of them via Booking.com.
This guide was written for first-timers in the online reservation but also for people looking 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 in finding 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 is an online portal and also mobile application.
Booking.com has one of the biggest databases of detailed information about tourist properties and rooms across Europe and a complete online reservation system that intermediate between guests and hotels. Also an army of editors who work very hard to keep all the property listings 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 medium-sized residences.
We have booked a total of 64 different properties using Booking.com in 2013 - 2023, and it was never before more comfortable. We didn't experience any problems with it whatsoever but we have some warnings about a few things in 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 for 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 and promotes hiking, nature, active and healthy lifestyle.
If you like what we are doing and you want to travel similarly, please consider booking using our link. We are not trying to sell you anything if you don't like it's totally fine - you decide. The main goal of this article is to help people.
At Résidence Florimontane, July 2013 Annecy, France - Our first reservation with Booking.com
In this guide, you will learn:
Table of contents
Why Booking.com is safe?
© Rido / Adobe Stock
While travelling abroad, we usually fear for our safety. Relief should come from the primary safety space which is supposed to be our apartment. That's why it is always worth investing a little bit more time to 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 and 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, the most safe are the properties with a high number of positive reviews as an indicator of reliability. When we look for the safest option we should prefer long-existing proven offers with lots of positive reviews. If there is a problem with some property and many complaints, we may be more than sure that it won't stay for very long in the listings.
In 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 a 100% guarantee of 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 flagged if needed.
Booking.com vs "package holidays"
Gran Canaria package holiday, 2018
Here are the reasons why we rarely use package holidays in comparison 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 a spot representative who may provide help
- In some cases of package holidays, you travel in a 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 of nights to spend and how many guests will travel with us (some properties may allow changing these later).
- Many hotels require a credit/debit card for upfront or prepayment. In some properties, even if the entire payment is paid on check-in, you still need a credit card for the 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?
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 results 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 of 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, and 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
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 to 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 a 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
2) Price or review ratings are not the most important factors in property searching. Many places could be overpriced. 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 scores 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 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:
Yellow thumb up icon showing that property pays a higher commission to be higher in the listing.
The main listing uses sophisticated algorithms but it is a double-edged sword. It turns out properties that pay bigger provisions to Booking.com are listed higher in their indexes. It is called Preferred Partners and it works both ways as the portal will require high standards for them to keep membership.
But we may logically expect a hidden fee included in the price just because the hotels/apartments pay more to be on the portal. But on the contrary, Booking.com makes no secret of that. Such properties have clearly visible tags like the one in the picture.
Also, some results may be paid advertisements - 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.
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, how far will you be from tourist attractions or how to commute and whether the place is considered quiet or noisy. Reading the reviews submitted by other guests is also useful.
What is worth to check during the offer page review? Price is not everything. As we will see a lot depends on the specific rules of a given property.
Guest reviews are also a good indicator for ranking, but it shouldn't be a final one. Reviews can tell us many things but not everything. The high number of reviews may guarantee that the 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 on the official description page.
Also, when most of the guests are local people who have 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.
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.
Always expect lower standards from what you see in 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 rooms when we often got less beautiful rooms 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.
Residence/hotel owners 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 you to pay less attention to them.
House Rules - Policies Section
Example hotel's house rules section in booking.com
Also at this stage, we can find the tab describing the local rules and law differences we should be aware of. Cultural differences can be shocking even for seemingly not-so-different countries it is worth visiting and getting 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.
It's one of the must-know and check information before considering your trip. Depending on how great the 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.
Every hotel will have its 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 hotels accept only cards or traditional bank transfers or only cash. This is important and detailed information will be included in the offer description and reservation confirmation email.
Some hotels may disallow arrival and leave date changes. Make sure you are familiar with the rules as each owner may establish a different policy. If this information is missing and it's important for you, you should contact the property via Booking.com messages or other means.
Other surprises of the policy section:
- Minimal age - families make sure there are no minimum age restrictions.
- Damage deposit - some hotels may require additional money as damage deposit insurance.
- Not accepting credit cards - this may happen and info about this is supposed to be in the description.
- Not accepting pets - this may happen too - stay alert.
- Not allowing to hold parties and events.
© 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 details. Sometimes the hotel will charge us after arrival but needs your card to make balance checks for credibility. Also sometimes hotels charge a lesser upfront cost for reservation and the rest of the payment at check-in or check-out.
Every hotel has different rules so make sure you find them in the policies section of the offer description.
Also, some properties allow for reservations without credit cards.
Money always goes directly to the hotel. The Booking.com role is only to host, handle and redirect the amount to the proper account.
How to book cheaper with Booking.com
We can monitor the home page for discount codes that may appear there. Widget like an example below:
Genius loyalty program
After two reservations within two years, you can join the Genius program on Booking.com for a lifetime.
Genius is a loyalty program that promises price discounts. The higher the number of properties you book the more discount you will collect. It has multiple levels and each level gives more bonuses.
At 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.
On the screenshot, we see a property that has a "Genious" tag on it.
Not all of the offers can be part of the Genius program. Some properties may offer only individual apartments available for Genius discounts. On average, we found that a quarter of properties on default listing have a Genius discount tag. It is hard to predict how many of them will be for different cities. We can also order property using Genius sorting and see only Genius hotels on the top.
Note: it is said by Booking.com that discounts of the Genius program can't cumulate with other discounts unless there is an exception - which means we would probably see if they add up in the 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 deals sign up or subscribe to the newsletter or download the mobile app for Booking.com to get notifications.
Deals on booking.com
One other method to cut down the travel cost is the price equalizers. Portal promises to equal the price of the property if you are able to find a cheaper offer elsewhere.
Advice for Booking.com
© Brian Jackson / Adobe Stock
We found it is unlikely to remember all the pros and cons of the properties we searched 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 things that matter to us beyond the information noise. We could go even one step further and put it into a spreadsheet table.
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.
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 a year (this may be available or not depending 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 cancellations using the contact information on the booking confirmation document.
Validate your data
Double-check 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.
Planning a trip even a year or more ahead is something you get accustomed to if you wish 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 beak 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.
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.
Many happy reservations at 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.