Insider Tip #1
We picked this up last October in an elevator in a hotel in Rome. Posted on the wall in Italian and English was a plea from the Hoteliers Association of Rome. They were directing their beloved customers to contact any hotels that they would like to stay in in the future by email. Not to book them by the booking sites, or even on the hotel’s online site, but simply to email the hotel first to ask for their best price.
Whoa—this was a direct jab at the booking sites. The booking sites (many of them in distant countries from the hotel you are booking) charge a hefty fee for each room they book. Here was a completely legal way for the hotel to make more money and for the customer to get a better price by cutting out the middleman.
Until the booking sites find a way to catch the hotels, here is what you should do.
Search for the hotels in the area you want. By the way, if you do a Google Maps search of an area that you want to stay in, many hotels will show up. Thus, geographically you can choose the hotels by how close they are to where you want to be (you want to be central—many central locations in Europe are actually in historically preserved areas and are a delight to stay and walk around in. Don’t stay out in no-man’s land where you will waste precious time getting in to where all the action is.)
Narrow it down to several hotels. Email each one of them (Click here if you want my pdf on how you can word it). Kindly ask for their best price, wait to hear what they say, and then give them a credit card to hold the room. Usually you will pay by credit card or cash at check out.
Here is what one friend who recently used this tip had to say—
“I was using an online site to find a hotel in Lisbon. In addition to checking that site’s reviews, I always also go to the hotel’s own website and compare the rate offered. It was a boutique hotel with just a few rooms. I emailed them and asked if they would match the rate offered by the discount travel site if I booked directly with them. They replied they would give a 5% discount from their published rate. I was also able to get in a special request directly with the hotel—a specific bed— one without a tall footboard for my tall husband’s long legs.”
Insider Tip #2
Skip-the-line but beware! The Internet has freed travel unlike any other industry.
This has been a boon for tourism and has enabled people of modest means to travel like people could only dream of a generation ago. However, when you are booking skip-the-line tickets for sites—choose only from the official site of said attraction.
It can be hard to decide because many sites seem to be the real deal—with pictures of David or the Duomo in all its glory, but many are companies that will just add hefty booking fees to your ticket. Instead of searching for ‘tickets to the Academia in Florence’, search for ‘the official site of the Academia Florence’. Most of these sites end in .org or .it (Italy) or .va (Vatican) or .gr (Greece) or .fr (France), etc.
Choose carefully to make sure you are buying from the correct site.
I have been to the Galleria dell’Accademia (where David resides) in Florence, waiting out front ahead of the arrival of our trippers. I get there each time very early in order to beat the crowds. No matter what time I am there lines are already forming and the cruise ship crowds have already made it into the city (!).
Each time, there are at least two people in the 15 minutes I am standing there who arrive with voucher in hand ready to bypass the line. Their smiles fade, as the door guards, who see this countless times a day, are nice but firm,
“Traveling in Greece—my home country.
The places we visit with our groups are definitely my favorites. Completely taken out of a movie scene, almost picture-perfect, almost unbelievable. However, there is a difference—you can smell it, taste it, feel it, and breathe it.
What I really get a kick out of during our trips is the unexpected pleasure each group feels. By providing them with experiences that they could not even expect or imagine just by reading the itinerary—it makes all our work worthwhile. There are all the extras that cannot be written down, only experienced.
My favorite moments are when I see the group being completely blown away. I stand off to the side and watch them without saying a word. I see their faces and hear their low-voiced comments and know they are taken by the moment/ the scenery/ the food / the hospitality/ the kindness of the Greek people. As a Greek myself—this is what I want each person who visits Greece to take back with them.”