Hotel Lingo Decoder: How to Know What You're Actually Getting

by  Katie McElveen | Jun 11, 2018

Booking the wrong hotel, or room, isn’t just frustrating—it can cost you dearly. Reading descriptions and looking at splashy photos online don’t always paint the whole picture.

Here’s how to decode the buzzwords that hotels and resorts use to describe their digs, so you don’t end up anywhere less than where you want to be.

1. Determine whether the location is in line with your needs.

If you love being amid the action, phrases like “centrally located,” “bustling lobby,” and “steps from restaurants and sights” will guide you to the right locale.

Bonus: If the hotel is home to a trendy bar or restaurant, the scene will be built right into your stay. Plus, they generally provide preferred reservations for guests.

Caveat: The rooms might be noisy at night. Ask about soundproofing, or book a room facing a side street.

Prefer peace and quiet? Look for properties that “sit on five manicured acres,” offer hiking or walking trails, an on-site golf course, or have rooms scattered about gardens. Lots of activities—ceramics classes, foraging, guided hikes—could also indicate a more secluded locale.

Bonus: You’ll probably have room to roam—and not a lot of noise.

Caveat: If the property doesn’t provide a shuttle to restaurants or a train station, you could end of spending a lot of money on taxis getting to sights and food at the resort.

2. Know how style translates to comfort.

If open windows, cozy reading nooks, and a clientele that's included old-school royals and stars make you swoon, “landmark” properties and hotels with “Old World style,” “classic glamour,” and “generations of tradition” will provide what you’re looking for.

Bonus: If you’re drawn to buildings with character, you’ll likely find ornate architectural features, grand staircases, expansive public gardens, and soaring lobbies with frescoed ceilings.

Caveat: Rooms (and bathrooms) could be small and lack modern amenities like efficient climate control, fast wifi, sufficient outlets, and speedy elevators.

If you’d rather bed down in cutting-edge style, you’ll find it at “design-centric” hotels that are “sleek,” “buzzy,” and “tech-savvy.”

Bonus: Cool hotels attract a cool clientele; expect interesting perks like app-guided walking tours, artist-in-residence programs, and hip cocktail bars.

Caveat: Rooms can be stark and may not offer traditional amenities like clock radios or a live concierge.

3. Understand what all-inclusive really means.

All-inclusive resorts take the stress out of travel by rolling most of your vacation fun into one up-front cost. You can eat, drink, and play without dipping into your wallet. Even better, all of those options—high tea, snorkeling, breakfast in bed—make it fun and easy to try something new.

Bonus: Want two entrees at dinner? Done. A piña colada delivered poolside? No problem. Do consider tipping the staff—that small gesture will keep the drinks flowing even more freely.

Caveat: Spa treatments, fine wines, and those dreamy reserved beach cabanas all come with hefty upcharges, so check the prices before you (or your kids) get excited about something.

4. Choose a neighborhood that suits your travel style.

Districts described as “up and coming,” “still authentic,” “undiscovered,” “far from crowds,” and “residential” will immerse you in the sights and sounds of your locale and make you feel at home in a new city.

Bonus: Friendly locals will guide you to the places they eat, sip, and shop. You’ll not only get a real taste of your destination’s culture, but you’ll likely save money, too.

Caveat: In foreign cities, English may not be spoken outside of the tourist areas, so you may have trouble finding familiar dishes or knowing exactly what it is you’re eating or drinking. Occasionally "up and coming" can signal safety concerns, so double-check to make sure it's a neighborhood you'll feel comfortable in.

If you simply must start your day with Starbucks and need accessibility to major conveniences, you’re better off in areas that boast proximity to popular attractions and museums.

Bonus: If you’re using miles or hotel points to pay for your room, you’ll be in luck—chain hotels tend to be located within these high-traffic (often business district) areas.

Caveat: Pickpockets and other thieves make their living on tourists; be mindful of your belongings in these areas. Plus, things like food and drinks tend to be more expensive in the tourist-centric parts of town.

5. Make sure your beach-front hotel is actually on the beach.

When you want to be on the beach, look for rooms that are “steps from the sand,” or actually mention direct beach access. “Seaside” or “open onto the ocean” might indicate a rocky cove (or a stunning deck projecting over the water) but no actual beach. 

Bonus: You’ll fall asleep and wake up to the sound of crashing waves—there’s nothing between you and a glorious sun-splashed beach.

Caveat: You’ll pay top dollar for that prime piece of real estate.

If you’re more about the view, you’ll find it in rooms offering “uninterrupted ocean views,” “remarkable vistas,” and “breathtaking panoramas.” Note that “water views” could indicate a canal or lagoon-view room.

Bonus: You can watch the sunrise (or sunset) from the privacy of your room, and snap scenic selfies from your balcony.

Caveat: That lofty perch means your room might be quite a way from an actual beach—if there even is one on site. If that’s part of your resort checklist, be sure to ask first. Otherwise you may find yourself paying for taxis to get there.

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