How to Make Hotel Reservations

By Rick Steves

I used to travel with absolutely no reservations. A daily chore was checking out several hotels or pensions and choosing one. Europe was ramshackle, things were cheap, and hotel listings were unreliable and unnecessary. Now, like hobos in a Jetsons world, budget travelers need to think one step ahead.

If you decide to reserve rooms in advance, here are the basics.

Requesting a Reservation

It's usually easiest to book your room through the hotel's website. Many have a reservation-request form built right in. (For the best rates, always use the hotel's official site and not a booking agency's site.) If there's no reservation form, or for complicated requests, send an email. Most hotels are accustomed to guests who speak only English.

The hotelier wants to know:

  • the number and type of rooms you need
  • the number of nights you'll stay
  • your date of arrival (use the European style for writing dates: day/month/year)
  • your date of departure
  • any special needs (twin beds vs. double bed, crib, bathroom in the room vs. down the hall, air-conditioning, quiet, view, ground floor or no stairs, and so on)

Make sure you mention any discounts — for Rick Steves readers or otherwise — when you make the reservation.

Confirming a Reservation

Most places will request a credit-card number to hold your room. While you can email it (I do), it's safer to share that confidential info via a phone call, two emails (splitting your number between them), or the hotel's secure online reservation form. On the small chance that a hotel loses track of your reservation, bring along a printed copy of their confirmation.

Small B&Bs, which often don't accept credit cards, may not require a deposit; however, in places where no-shows are epidemic, some B&B owners request that you put money down to hold a room (it's becoming easier to do this, thanks to PayPal). Especially during slow times, some establishments will hold a room without a deposit if you promise to arrive early in the day. The earlier you arrive, the better your chances of a room being held for you. If you end up running a little late, call again to assure the owners that you're coming.

Canceling a Reservation

If you must cancel your reservation, it's courteous — and smart — to do so with as much notice as possible, especially for smaller family-run places. Request confirmation of your cancellation in case you are accidentally billed.

Be warned that cancellation policies can be strict; read the fine print or ask about these before you book. For example, if you cancel on short notice, you could lose your deposit, or be billed for one night or even your entire stay. Internet deals may require prepayment, with no refunds for cancellations.

Reconfirming a Reservation

Always call to reconfirm your room reservation a few days in advance. This gives you time to improvise in the unlikely event that something has gone wrong with your reservation. For smaller hotels and B&Bs (which may not have a 24-hour reception desk), I call again on my day of arrival to tell my host what time I expect to get there; this is especially important to do when arriving late (after 5 p.m.).