5 questions to ask before booking a hotel recommended by a friend

by Janice Hough on October 27, 2011


These days, with all the information available on line, from guidebooks, to user-generated reviews, to hotels’ own websites, it can be difficult to get an accurate picture of a property, especially if it’s the right fit for a particular traveler.

And the scariest words I often hear when trying to help a client or friend find the right hotel, are “My Friend Said….”

My advice — stop and ask some hard questions that may save your friendship and your trip.

Sometimes a recommendation for a property, particularly a smaller hotel or one in an out-of-the-way location, can be very useful. In fact, I cheerfully admit that the Albergotto, one of my favorite moderately-priced hotels in Florence, was first brought to my attention by a client who said a good friend had stayed there and loved it.

More often than not, after a client explains what they want, and don’t want, a travel agent and the traveler can narrow the list of hotels down together. Later, a friend recommends “a special place” the client that the agent knows is not what they want.

I’ve written about this subject before, but it keeps rearing its ugly head. My most recent case is a client who wants “4-but-not-5-star hotels” in Maui. This client and has stayed at and liked both Hyatts and Westins. He loves Four Seasons and Ritz properties, when he can afford them. However, a friend recommended the Kaanapali Beach hotel, saying he really should stay there.

The Kaanapali Beach hotel in Maui is a comfortable hotel with many faithful clients, and staff that have been there for decades. But, the hotel is also, quite frankly, old and has a look that people either find “classic” or “dated.”

After some discussion and having the client read some reviews, he decided that his wife, more than likely, would not be happy with his friend’s choice. He is now back to deciding between a Hyatt and a Marriott Vacation Club property.

Another issue comes up when friends have timeshares. Many timeshares these days are affiliated with major chains, and can be reasonably deluxe. But, they are not the same thing as the chain’s regular hotels. On the positive side, they usually have kitchens and more space than average hotel rooms, but they generally don’t have all the same services, and may not enjoy the same level of facilities.

One very nice example, the Westin Kaanapali Villas, actually has a great pool area, but it’s not directly on the main Kaanapali Beach. It isn’t walking distance from the Westin Maui on Kaanapali (though it’s a short drive). Yet, I’ve had clients who had friends tell them the two properties are next door.

The list goes on. A traveler who loves classic hotels with big rooms told me a friend recommended the Hudson in New York — a very trendy boutique property, where the rooms start at 150-square-feet. In my own family, my father-in-law once raved about a place he found in Florence. His “find” was an easy walk to the train with a decent breakfast and a very cheap price, but also was loud, had tiny rooms, no tubs and doubled as a student hostel.

For travelers who do have well-meaning friends, here’s a few quick tips:

1. What do you know about your friend’s travel style? If you’ve traveled together, that’s easy. If not, ask them for example, what hotel they would stay at for a nice staycation. If nothing else you’ve get a sense if you have similar hotel tastes.

2. When did they stay at the hotel in question, and/or are they just repeating a recommendation?

3. How did they book the hotel they are recommending? And, ask yourself, how do you plan to book it? If your friend booked through a travel agent, or upscale package company they might have gotten an upgrade with freebies thrown in. Whereas the same hotel booked through, for example, Priceline, might be a very different experience.

4. If it’s a timeshare or condo, did your friend book a specific unit? And did they book as an owner or a renter. What are the different services offered to owners or “guests?”

5. Find out what they liked and didn’t like. See if those mesh. For example, some travelers are happier with a lesser room in a great location, others will love a super room even if it’s less convenient.

As mentioned, a friend’s recommendation can be a good thing. But a little due diligence may make a trip a much happier event. In the worst case, dodging a bad recommendation can save strain on a beautiful friendship.

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