Friday, March 27, 2009

Payless Princess

I used to take offense to being called, "Princess" because it was often used in the condescending phrase, "Suck it up, Princess."  (I still hate that phrase, BTW).  Nowadays, I would probably have to agree, at least in the context of accommodations.  I am a princess where overnight travel is concerned.  Gone are the days of cheesy chain hotels and crappy budget motels; no longer will I stay in a sub-standard lodging that requires that I sanitize the toilet and tub with Dettol before I dare use it.  No longer will I tolerate bugs crawling around the floors and having to slip plastic bags over the pillows before sleeping on the beds (on top of the covers, fully-clothed).  I've moved on to bigger and better now.

When I was young and had no money and no say, I was subject to my parents' frugal spending on travel lodgings.  We'd usually end up somewhere with a kitchenette, and the first thing my poor mom would have to do when we checked in would be to scrub down the bathroom with the Dettol that we brought with us from home.  Then she'd put away the pots and pans that we also brought with us, the very same that we would use to cook our own dinners with while on vacation ("vacation" being a gross overstatement of my mother's experience on these trips).  Because my folks wanted the cheapest rate possible, we never knew what it was like to stay in a hotel that had room service and amenities.  These places where we'd lay our heads were often bare-basic two-storey lodgings with worn carpets and chipped tiles.  

One time, in this gorgeous city of Van, prior to going on our bus tour down the west coast of the U.S., we stayed at some nasty place in Chinatown.  I remember that this dump was so filthy that my mom forbade us to take off our shoes or change into our PJs.  I think that she saw roaches on the floor, and that was when she hung up our bag of breakfast buns on the hinge of the door, off of any surface that a hungry roach might reach.  She did in fact cover our pillows with plastic bags before she let us sleep on them, and I don't think my folks slept at all through the night; they were probably on bedbug patrol to keep their kids from being eaten alive by rats and other creepy crawlies. 

It was a memorable childhood, and I hold fond memories of those trips we took as a family and unforgettable nightmares of those ghetto places in which we stayed.  My parents did the best that they could with the resources that they had, and I do not begrudge them in the slightest for these interesting accommodation "adventures."  In the decades before the Internet was available, there was little way for them to know in advance about the sort of lodgings that they had booked their family into, and as newbies in Canada, they probably weren't all too familiar with rating systems and the gross variance in hotel standards that was out there.

But times, they are a-changin'.  I am no longer a penniless kid, and I now have the means to control where I stay.  And as I've been booking our trips for the year, I am discovering more and more that I am a bit of a diva.  Not quite the 5-star Fairmont-properties-only type of diva, because I am still a frugal Chinese gal and I don't like to see extravagant money wasted, but I have definitely become a solid 3-stars and up sort of gal.  Sure, I've been spoiled rotten; Hubbs has been enormously generous in booking us into swanky places like the Sheraton Wall Centre on previous trips to Van.  But even before Hubbs entered my life, I think my bar was being raised.
So nowadays, this payless princess undergoes the following steps before booking any travel accommodation:

1) Check Expedia to find the highest rated and best-priced hotels.
2) Thoroughly examine all virtual tours, pictures, and information offered by Expedia on said hotels.
3) Read Expedia's reviews by travelers.
4) Go to Tripadvisor to cross-reference how well these hotels rank according to their reviewers, and eliminate hotels with wide discrepancies between the two.
5) Thoroughly examine traveler's pics of said hotels.  Read the 1/5 and 2/5 reviews to see what the complaints are about.
6) Go to the actual hotel sites to check out the rate differentials between booking third-party and booking directly with the hotel/chain.
7) Go back to Expedia and re-read all the information.  Look for:
- high-speed Internet access (preferably free)
- an attractive lobby/reception desk (it says a lot about a hotel)
- fitness center
- hot tub (if it's not a beach property)
- on-site restaurant(s)
- modern room layouts & adequate space
- hidden "service fees" (not good)
- free parking (if we rent/drive a car)
- hair dryer
- in room safe
- bathrobes (preferred, not necessary)
- complimentary (preferably designer) toiletries
- cable TV
8) Do a Google search on all images and reviews of the hotels from other sources just to be sure.
9) Go to the bedbug registry to check if there are any bugs at the hotels.
10) Go to my various points programs to see if I can swing a deal on a stay at any of these hotels, or redeem for gift certificates towards stays there.
11) Consult with Hubbs after having narrowed down my choices significantly.
12) Do one more cost analysis of the hotel(s) in question to see which would be the best value for the dollar.
13) Make a reservation or book and pay, depending on who the hotel is being booked through.

Hubbs wonders why it takes me hours and hours and days and days to book accommodations.  To go through all 13 steps honestly takes that long.  That said, we've booked our stays for HI now, and they are all well-ranked and good value-for-dollar (in that we'll be getting what we pay for).  No surprises, no roaches, no bedbugs, and no filth.  The research is well worth it, though, and in the end it offers us peace of mind when we travel to know that we're staying somewhere that many others have found not only adequate, but awesome.

So if you call me a princess because I'm so stinkin' picky about where we stay, I won't blame you.  In fact, I would wholeheartedly agree.  But this princess is going to have a great holiday and a good night's rest, thankyouverymuch. :)

PS - If you're wondering where we're staying, it's at the following 3 places:

1) Sheraton Maui Resort (on points & cash)
2) Aston Kauai on the Beach at Makaiwa (weekly discount rate direct with Aston)
3) Maui Kamaole (great rates through CRH and a connection of my father-in-law's)


tejanamama said...

so jealous about your trips!!! we havent taken one in ages. i'm also a snob about hotels but w/in our means. MOSTLY cuz i have a kid. Before my main requirement was havin rooms accesible from the INSIDE only (hate motel type places where the doors open to the outdoors. they freak me out!)

now we have to have room service and i read reviews pretty tirelessly. and of course i have to score a good deal its a time consuming ordeal!!!!

posted back to you on mine btw. PLEASE keep me in your prayers. Like loud, frequent ones..okay? LOL

Sylvana said...

I have traveled staying at very questionable motels in the past -- or I slept in my car. At the time, I really didn't think too much of it. It was a roof over my head.

Now that I am older, I am very picky. And I get pickier every time we travel. I will get the nicest place that I can afford, even if I can save a lot staying somewhere else. It's just not worth it. Besides, I like feeling pampered once in a while ;)

We recently stayed at Hyatt Place in Oklahoma City. It cost under $80/night (a deal from the hotel itself), and I have to say, that it was the second nicest place I ever stayed! (The nicest was The Grand America in Salt Lake City - I got a Premier room there with gorgeous views of the city and mountains because my original, cheaper, hotel was over-booked. SCORE!)