The hotel hunt in Italy

The hotel hunt, Italy, Italy (Photo by Thomas Hawk)

All the steps you can take to find the lowest price on the perfect place to stay in Italy

  1. Use a booking engineIt's sad, but the best booking engines can often undersell the rates the hotel itself charges by a good 5% to 15%. Notice I was "the best booking engines." This rarely means the most famous names (like Expedia.com or Hotels.com). The best booking site by far—with tons of smaller, non-chain properties, B&Bs, and other alternatives—is Booking.com. Another good option: Hostelz.com (which actually lists more inexpensive hotels than it does hostels). » more 
  2. Use your guidebooks. Hey, you shelled out $20 or $30 for the things. Use 'em. Read the reviews thoroughly and figure out which ones best fit your taste and budget. Then prioritize your top half-dozen or so choices by scribbling 1, 2, 3, etc. in the page margins. If your first choice is already booked, this saves you the time and hassle of huddling around a pay phone in the train station with your companions saying, "Well, how does this one sound, then?" while another traveler is busy booking that free room in what would have been your second choice if only you had found it sooner. » more 
  3. Check hotel websites. Not only will a hotel's own website (usually) provide you with the rack rates (the top going prices for each type of room, often broken down by season)—which will allow you to comparison-shop prices better at the booking engines—but it will also feature sales and promotions found nowhere else. » more
  4. Use Tripadvisor.com — just don't trust it completely. Look: Tripadvisor is great. It's an invaluable tool for finding out the latest, greatest (and worstest) about hotels and such. However, crowd-sourced travel guides and wikis like this have one gargantuan flaw: they're written by amateurs. » more
  5. Call when you get to town. This is generally what I do. It almost never fails. If you're arriving in town without a reservation and haven't yet ranked those hotel choices (see step 2: guidebooks), do so during the train ride in. When you get to the station, buy a phone card from a newsstand, hit the nearby pay phones, and begin calling hotels immediately. This way, you get the drop on the many people who march out of the station lugging their bags and walk to the nearest hotel to see if there's room. I rarely have trouble finding a place by booking each night between around noon and 3pm that afternoon—which is usually the time by which I've decided in which town I'll want to be for the night.
  6. Use a local booking service. If you don't want to do the telephone legwork when you get to town yourself, a desk at the train station or tourist office usually runs a reservations service for a small fee (about $3 to $10). You tell them your price range, where you'd like to be in the city, and sometimes even the style of hotel and they'll use a computer database to find you a room. 

    On the plus side, they always speak English (so do most hoteliers, but these folks often have a surer command of it, and that helps), and they can almost always find you something when everything in your guidebooks seems to be booked. 

    On the minus side, the desk staff (usually) offer no opinion on the hotels, just locations and prices, so it's a crap shoot. Plus, some hotels charge higher rates to people booking through such a service—it's cheapest to contact hotels directly. 

    That said, I can assure you I've found wonderful little B&Bs in Ireland through the glossy promo cataloge the tourist office sent me. I've also had a Prague hotel agency stick me in what appeared to be a communist-era high school and/or hospital that took almost an hour (one metro and two tram rides) to reach from the city center and where the room made my freshman dorm in college look like a suite at the Ritz. 

    Just learn to read between the lines to cut through the promotional fluff, and ask tough, pointed questions when you call around. It seems silly to say so, but do remember this: if you don't like a room, you don't have to take it.
  7. Ask to see different rooms. When you get to the hotel, don't take the first room they show you. Ask to see different ones. Open and close windows to see how well they shut out noise. Peek at the rates posted on the room door (usually there by law) to make sure they agree with the rate you're quoted and that's posted in the lobby. Ask about heating. Ask if some rooms are cheaper than others. » more
  8. Bargain. Room prices are rarely set, especially in mom-and-pop joints. If you're staying one night in high season, you'll have to pay the going rate. Off season and for stays of longer than three nights, always ask if you can get a discount. The more rooms a hotel has left to fill for the night, the lower they'll go. Also, many hotels offer weekend discounts. » more
  9. Ask for rates without breakfast. This will usually shave $5 to $15 off the price. Hotel breakfasts are always overpriced, usually just a roll and coffee or tea. You can get the same thing much more cheaply at any corner cafe or bar. » more 
  10. Rooms without private baths are cheaper. If you don't mind walking down the hall and sharing a bath, you'll often save considerably. Except in hostels, rarely is a bath down the hall shared by more than two or three rooms (sometimes it's even your own private bathroom; it's just not located inside the room itself thanks to the constraints of medieval architecture and historic preservation laws).
  11. Double rooms with one large bed are often cheaper than ones with two single beds. 
  12. A triple with a cot for a family of four is much cheaper than two double rooms. » more
  13. Settle all hotel charges at the outset. You needn't pay in advance, but do agree on the rates, whether breakfast, taxes, and showers are included, what phone rates are (remember, never call long distance from the hotel), etc. Also be sure the price they quote you is per room, not per person.
  14. Check different hotels. Many people don't want to bother with this method, but if you have an abundance of time but not of budget, try it. Don't assume the first hotel you visit is the best. If you've called around and housing seems tight in town, take a room when you get it. But if there seems to be plenty of room in a city, tell the first hotel you'll think about it and head to another one nearby. If you hotel hunt with your luggage left at the train station lockers, you will feel (and appear) more able to bargain and hunt effectively. Return to the hotel you liked best and ask what the best price they can offer is. They'll often come down if they think you have another option waiting around the corner.
  15. In a pinch: Wander If you can't find room, either use a booking service (above) or wander the streets checking each hotel you pass (the area around the train station is usually glutted with cheap hotels). 
  16. Widen the scope of your search. Hotels outside the center will often have more rooms free and will usually be cheaper. Hotels in the next town over may be even cheaper (and give you the added plus of getting to see a second, often far less touristy city). That said, anything more than a 30-minute commute by train, though, and a hotel outside of town won't be worth the hassle and you should use it only as a last resort. This technique doesn't work so well for Rome (nothing that interesting is close enough), but can work gangbusters elsewhere. » more
Hotels links
B&Bs links

Tips

About the lodging star ratings (☆☆☆ to ★★★)

You will notice that all hotels, B&Bs, and other lodgingds (as well as sights and restaurants) on this site have a ReidsItaly.com star designation from ☆☆☆ to ★★★.

This merely indicates that I feel these accommodations offer a little something that makes them special (or extra-special, or extra-extra special, etc.).

These star ratings are entirely based on personal opinion, and have nothing to do with the official Italian hotel ratings—which have more to do with quantifiable amenities such as minibars, and not the intangibles that make a hotel truly stand out, like a combination of great location, friendly owners, nice style, and low prices.

In general, a pricier place to stay has to impress me that it is worth the added expense.

This is why I give ★★★ to some (official) "two-star" hotels or B&Bs that happen to provide amazing value for the money—and similarly have ranked a few (official) "four-star" properties just (★★☆).

About the lodging price brackets (€–€€€)

Accommodations rates vary wildly—even at the same hotel or B&B—depending on type of room, number of people in it, and the season.

That's why here at ReidsItaly.com we simply provde a general price range indicating the rough rate you should expect to pay for a standard double room in mid-season.

There are three price ranges, giving you a sense of which lodgings are budget, which are moderate, and which are splurges:

under €100
€€ €100–€200
€€€ over €200
Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for lodging

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...a hotel un albergo oon al-BEAR-go
...a B&B un bed-and-breakfast oon bet hand BREK-fust
...a rental room un'affittacamera oon ah-feet-ah-CAH-mair-ra
...an apartment for rent un appartamento oon ah-part-tah-MENT-toh
...a farm stay un agriturismo oon ah-gree-tour-EES-moh
...a hostel un ostello oon oh-STEHL-loh
     
How much is...? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
a single room una singola OO-nah SEEN-go-la
double room for single use [will often be offered if singles are unavailable] doppia uso singola DOPE-pee-ya OO-so SEEN-go-la
a double room with two beds una doppia con due letti OO-nah DOPE-pee-ya cone DOO-way LET-tee
a double room with one big bed una matrimoniale OO-nah mat-tree-moan-nee-YAAL-lay
triple room una tripla OO-nah TREE-plah
with private bathroom con bagno cone BAHN-yoh
without private bathroom senza bagno [they might say con bagno in comune—"with a communal bath"] SEN-zah BAHN-yoh
for one night per una notte pair OO-nah NOH-tay
for two nights per due notti pair DOO-way NOH-tee
for three nights per tre notti pair tray NOH-tee
Is breakfast included? É incluso la prima colazione? ay in-CLOO-soh lah PREE-mah coal-laht-zee-YOAN-nay
Is there WiFi? C'é WiFi? chay WHY-fy?
May I see the room? Posso vedere la camera? POH-soh veh-DAIR-eh lah CAH-mair-rah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Is there a cheaper one? C'é una più economica? chay OO-nah pew eh-ko-NO-mee-kah


 

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
     
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
     
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
     
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
     
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
     
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
     
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah


* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).