Revealing Lastminute's Secret Hotels Tips & Tricks (but keep shopping about)
We've delved into Lastminute.com's Top Secret Hotels before on Bitterwallet - when one deal in particular was better off left a secret. However there are plenty of tips and tricks to figure out exactly what you'll get for your money - guest author Emma Kelly has a few pearls of wisdoms for you, so stop slouching at the back and pay attention:
What are Top Secret Hotels?
"Top Secret Hotels" are exclusive cheap hotel deals, booked through Lastminute.com. Before booking, you know the price you will pay, the star rating and the rough area of your cheap hotel room, but you do not know the exact name of the hotel. Lastminute state you can find cheap hotels and get up to a 45% discount when booking your budget rooms in this fashion.
How do I book a top secret hotel deal?
It's pretty simple. Just go to Lastminute.com, do a search for cheap hotel rooms in the city you are interested in, and the top secret hotels will show up in the search results, the same as with a normal search. It's possible to use their filter options to show you only the secret hotels in the search results.
How do I figure out which hotel it is?
Google it baby. Once you have seen the cheap hotel prices on Lastminute, it's time for a bit of detective work. Grab some of the details off the Lastminute hotel's page, and fire them into the search engine of your choice. Hopefully you will see some results that give you the bargain hotel's name. Be sure to check through at least the first page of results, and try a few different keyword searches during this process. Search for text from the hotel's title, the description, even the amenities.
I have found that Lastminute don't often copy and paste the exact description from the cheap hotel room, but you can usually work it out from the list of amenities. For example, the "Traditional hotel with brilliant offer - 4* - Reykjavik" lists that the hotel has a gym and an indoor pool, which can all be seen in the facilities on the Loftleidir hotel. You can also compare the style of restaurant, as Lastminute often lists "Chinese restaurant" or "Italian restaurant" as a feature.
This doesn't work for every city, but if the hotel search has the option to sort by "closest to" you can use this to help figure out which secret hotel they are offering. Simply sort the list by "closest to" a certain well-known landmark. The list then shows in that order, with a figure at the top right, stating "distance from..."
For example, I did a search for cheap London hotel rooms, I sorted by "closest to" Buckingham Palace, and the list of top secret hotels shows me the distance from that landmark. From that point, you take the hotel name from the research which you have previously carried out, and try and verify the distances to see if the secret hotel room is where you think it is. You could use Google maps - enter the hotel name and the landmark and note the distance between. You can also use the tourist information on the hotel's own website.
Research your choice
Once you think you know which hotel they are offering, be sure to do some more research. Go directly to the hotel's own website, and input the same information, to check the direct price against the Lastminute hotels offer. Obviously, if it is cheaper to book direct, you can do so if you wish, but I have rarely found this to be the case.
You should also go a bit further afield, and check the prices of that specific hotel on the other major travel websites, such as Expedia, Laterooms, etc. Sometimes these other sites will have a special promotion, so you can easily compare the prices of the specific hotels, and see if you will be getting a bargain or not.
What do I get for my money?
With these secret hotel deals, the majority of the offers are for "room only." In some cases, you can choose to pay extra for additional services, such as room upgrades, or breakfasts, but that will all be stated on the booking page.
What if I am not happy with the hotel?
Once you find out which secret hotel you have been allocated, there is a chance that you might not be happy with the result. Lastminute.com do accept cancellations on these low cost hotels, up to 48 hours before the check-in date. However, there would be a £20 administration fee, plus they do not refund the small credit card charge which you are told about at the time of ordering. Additionally, you must also check the hotel cancellation policy - this will be clearly stated on the hotel description, prior to booking. Some hotels don't have any penalties, but some might - so it is worth noting before you commence with your cheap hotel reservations. For example, some hotels state "Cancel free of charge up to 24 hrs before check-in, else first night rate."
So once you have booked, compare prices again, and if the price is substantially cheaper than the fees it would cost to cancel, then consider cancelling and re-booking the same hotel through another agent.
Is there a price-match policy?
I called the Lastminute.com help centre to find out about their Price Match policy, which one of their representatives had casually mentioned on a previous call. If you call them within 24 hours of making your booking, they will investigate the case and possibly match other prices. The representative I spoke to seemed to be very unsure about this though, so I wouldn't bank on it.
From personal experience, I have used the Lastminute secret hotels quite a few times, for various cities round the world. Recently, I used the Top Secret Hotel deal to book a trip to Reykjavík, Iceland, in September 2009. A search on Lastminute.com offered me the "Traditional hotel with brilliant offer - 4* - Reykjavik" for £312, as mentioned above.
After following all the hints and tips above, I came to the conclusion that it was probably the Loftleidir, and I was happy enough to give it a shot. The 4* hotel cost a total of £317 including charges, for 6 nights accommodation. To book the same deal directly on the Loftleidir hotel's website costs about £395 (using today's exchange rate for the Euro). While that's only a saving of £78, it's still nicer to pay less!
I thought I was getting cheap hotel rates. But a week later, I decided to put the hotel name and the same dates into Expedia, to see if it was much different. Expedia quoted me a price of £234!! I promptly phoned lastminute.com. That particular hotel had no cancellation fees as long as the stay was cancelled more than 24 hours before arrival. So I decided to cancel and just pay the Lastminute cancellation charge of £20, plus the credit card fee of £4.
I ended up making a further saving of about £59. So, while the Lastminute secret hotels can be a good deal in your hunt for the cheapest hotel rooms, it still pays to be savvy and check out all your options, even up to a few days before your trip.