New York Times: Searching for a hotel online has long been limited to plugging in your travel dates and destination and then sifting through star ratings and prices. But there are other factors involved. Is the hotel in a convenient location? Is it child friendly? Will the room have a view of a brick wall or the sea?
Now, a number of Web sites are attempting to answer these questions with tools including photo-based searches and maps that show where a town’s hot spots are.
Google’s experimental hotel search site, which started in July, focuses on where to stay and finding a good deal. After entering your destination, dates and price range, HotelFinder delivers its top recommendations (for cities within the United States) in a list or on a Google Map. A blue perimeter delineates the area, with less-popular zones shadowed in gray.
In addition to the current price of a hotel, the site offers the hotel’s historical average so you can tell if you are getting a deal or not. For example, a $144 nightly rate for the Latham Hotel in Washington in early September was 11 percent less than usual.
Clicking on a hotel brings up a collage of images, reviews by Google users and basic hotel information so you do not have to leave the page to do more research. You can also create a list of hotels you would like to compare further.
Best feature: You can redraw the perimeters on the map to narrow your search. So if you want to look at hotels only in, say, the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, you can manipulate the blue lines to home in on it.
Worst feature: The so-called “tourist spotlight” designed to shine a light on popular zones isn’t very enlightening. In a search for New York City hotels, for instance, practically all of Manhattan (with the exception of parts of Harlem and the Lower East Side, where few hotels are located) was highlighted.
Similarly focused on finding a good deal in a good location, Hipmunk’s hotel search, which made its debut in March, is best for Web-savvy travelers. After you type in your dates and destination, the site plots results (including apartment rentals from Airbnb.com) as color-coded dots on a map: green for cheap, blue for average or pink for pricey. (If there are multiple hotels close together, the site groups them into a single numbered dot so the map does not get too cluttered.)
Like this Web site’s clever “agony” flight index, which sorts fares by price, length of flight and number of connections, its hotel search ranks hotel results by “ecstasy,” a combination of price, amenities and TripAdvisor reviews. Clicking on “heatmaps” allows you to see if your hotel is in a lively part of the city for food, shopping, nightlife; “vice” shows bars and casinos. You can also filter hotels by chain and amenities (pools, child care, refrigerator and the like).
Best feature: The color-coded heatmaps, which go beyond Google’s “tourist spotlight” by showing users which areas of the city are best for their individual interests. For example, by zooming in on the Mandarin Oriental in Washington, you can clearly see that it is not near many restaurants, bars or attractions.
Worst feature: If you are not very Web-savvy, Hipmunk’s visually oriented interactive design may be confusing. There are no adjustable tool bars for sorting price and distance, for instance. Instead, Hipmunk assumes its users will click on categories like “cheap,” “average” and “pricey” to narrow their search, or, for example, select the square box at the top of the search results page to draw their own perimeters on the map. (If you get stuck, you can open a chat box for live help.)
This Web site, which went live in March, is a good one for the room-obsessed. You can easily sift through roughly 200 hotels, mostly independent and primarily in Europe, by destination and budget or by typing in key words (suite, fireplace, view). Results range from quirky (the round-bed suite at the Seeko’o hotel in Bordeaux, France, for 175 euros, about $275, a night) to minimalist chic (sleek bungalows perched over Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland for 700 Swiss francs, about $850, a night).
If you do not have the time to search for the perfect room, you can fill out an online form with your hotel room requests, including destination and budget and, for a fee of 25 euros, one of the site’s “room concierges” will respond with suggestions, typically within one business day. (An annual membership, which includes 15 room recommendations a year, is 200 euros.)
Best feature: The key word search, which lets you find a room simply by typing in a description of features you want (fireplace, Wi-Fi, red décor).
Worst feature: Currently only 10 percent of hotels on the site offer live bookings. To check dates and prices for the others, you must either fill out a booking request form and wait for a response, or surf the hotel’s site.
Designed to uncover the best and worst rooms in a hotel, Room77 allows you to view the layout of every floor in a hotel and see a simulation of the view from the window. Since the site went live in February, Room77 has compiled hotel maps, blueprints and other records into a searchable database of more than 500,000 rooms in about 2,500 upscale hotels in 29 cities in North America and London.
Type the name of a hotel in the search box and adjust your preferences (like high or low floor, proximity to elevators and connecting rooms) for color-coded room rankings. Clicking on a particular room number pulls up details like square footage, a map of where the room is located, photos, traveler reviews and a simulation of the view using Google Earth-enabled technology. The site also offers “insider” tips pointing out which rooms tend to be noisy and those with the best views.
Best feature: Google Earth simulations offer a virtual view out the window of a given room so you can ask for the best one. For example, Room 1724 at the Westin Chicago River North, according to the site, offers a view of the water, while a room in the same category on the same floor looks at office buildings.
Worst feature: There is no seamless way to request the hotel room online. Once you have decided on the room you want, you have to contact the hotel directly.
This photo-based hotel search engine, which went live in June, lets you compare candid hotel shots side by side to determine which has the best children’s pool, balcony or other specific feature.
Instead of sifting through promotional photos at hotel Web sites or pulling up random shots via Google Images or TripAdvisor, you can type in what you are looking for in the search box, and Oyster Shots will deliver undoctored photos taken by hotel reviewers employed by the site.
Best feature: To ensure consistency, hotels are photographed systematically (room shots feature all four corners of the room and the entire bed) so shortcomings are all but certain to be revealed. For example, a shot of a two-bedroom at the Mansfield Hotel in New York City shows a view of the air shaft.
Worst feature: Limited selection. Though its database is growing, it currently covers only about 1,300 hotels in 32 cities, mostly in the United States and the Caribbean.