TIPS ON MAKING HOTEL RESERVATIONS:
When traveling for business or fun, there’s nothing worse than thinking you have a reservation and learning your hotel reservations been lost, your room has one bed and not two bedrooms, or you thought your check-in time was noon, only to find out it is really 3:00pm. To help avoid these things from happening, there are a few helpful hotel reservation tips seasoned travelers recommend:
Always use a credit card when making a hotel reservation. A credit cards offers the guest some level of protection should the hotel stay go awry. Any disputes a guest may have with the hotel, or with the billing can more easily be rectified through the credit card company. The card company will act as a mediator once their client can show effort to resolve the dispute. Additionally, if a dispute cannot be resolved, the credit card company has the authority to remove the charge from a client’s bill. If cash were paid, a hotel guest would have no recourse. Note: If you don’t use your own credit card to secure a reservation, be aware that the person whose name is on the card will be responsible for showing the card and signing at check in. If the card does not belong to the person staying at the hotel, notify the desk before leaving home (prior to arrival) and ask what their identification procedure is. They may accept a letter from the credit card holder authorizing use, and a copy of both the front and back of the card.
Ask for deals/discounts at each hotel. Many hotels offer corporate, AAA, senior, or even mid-week/off-season discounts. If one is not offered - ask about them. Many hotels now offer ‘rewards’ programs and some hotels reduce rates by $50 or more, for simply signing up for their program. If making reservations online, look for internet-only rates and shop various websites to find the best deals. Travel agents can often secure unadvertised specials or late check-in opportunities which can translate into huge savings.
When making reservations speak clearly and repeat spelling of all names. There have been many reservations lost because of inaccurate spelling and guests have been told they did not have rooms when a hotel or an entire city was booked to capacity. If any special requests are made, verify them and if possible get them in writing. Also make sure to get the name of the employee. Verify everything spell names and verify information/requests etc. Double check reservations prior to leaving for hotel and make sure names of all hotel employees you’ve spoken to are taken.
When reservations are made, changed and cancelled-confirmation numbers are given. Make sure all numbers are kept in a safe place until credit cards are billed and all charges are verified. Cancellation and confirmation numbers are often the difference between being charged for a hotel reservation that was cancelled, the possibility of a free upgrade when the hotel overbooks and you can prove when your reservation was made, and being stranded away from home without a room for the night.
Discuss hotel policies prior to making reservations, and verify them at check-in. Some hotels require credit cards at check in for any hotel charges, such as telephone usage, room service, meals in the hotel, or even take -out arranged through the hotel with area restaurants, etc. If a credit card is not available, a cash/check deposit maybe required for any services/fees that may accrue during the hotel stay. Determine when check-in/check-out times are, when cancellation policies go into affect and verify occupancy limits if staying in a room with multiple occupants.
Remember these hotel reservation tips when scheduling your travel plans. Whether by internet, through a travel agent, or by telephone, it pays to research the hotel and be meticulous when making arrangements. A little pre-planning when making reservations can save major headaches when traveling away from home.
DID YOU KNOW:
FINDING THE BEST HOTEL RATES:
Due to the internet, the manners in which hotel rooms are procured have drastically changed over the last couple of decades. Prior to internet access, guests called hotels directly to book rooms. While some guests continue to book rooms this way, many have learned that calling a hotel directly may not be the most economical choice. However, it is also been found that hotel rates also vary a great deal from website to website, especially discount travel sites.
Hotels are in constant competition with each other for your business. The goal of every hotel is to achieve 100% occupancy. Not only are they competing with each other, they are often competing with themselves. Look at how many hotels have various hotel chain subsidiaries beneath them. They must stay competitive, but still continue to make a profit while keeping their rooms occupied. This said, many hotels offer blocks of rooms to a variety of other entities to sell. Travel agents and online brokers typically compete to sell rooms for hotels, and they receive a percentage of the purchase price. The rate disparity comes into play two ways. First, the hotel is offering rooms at their standard rates or discount club rates. Second, because hotels offer these agents and booking websites various rates, someone who is getting a larger percentage of the sale price, can afford to offer the room at a lower rate than someone who is getting a small percentage from the sale.
Finding the best room rate:
If contacting the hotel directly, ask if they have any current specials. If your travel plans are flexible, inquire about any future specials, and the specific parameters of those specials.
If you’re a ‘select’, ‘rewards’ or hotel ‘member’, mention this, and ask if they have any special discounts available for members of their programs. Additionally, if you are affiliated with a corporate account, or a roadside assistance plan which offers travel benefits, mention that too. Sometimes guests are eligible for more than one discount and can pick and choose the one that provides the greatest savings.
When placing reservations online through a hotel booking service, first find the service that offers the best deal. The best deal may not be the one which provides the lowest price, but the service with the best room guarantee, who is willing to price match. If you’ve found the room for a lower rate elsewhere, tell your preferred vendor and ask them to match the price. Several websites will even provide a 30-day guarantee against lower prices - so even after booking your reservation, stay vigilant.
Hotel rates vary so much because there are numerous entities vying to secure your business by competing with each other. With a little investigative prowess, you can secure the best rates possible for your hotel stay, despite the varying rates.
DID YOU KNOW ARIZONA IS A VERY POPULAR TOURIST DESTINATION?
Arizona-the Grand Canyon State-is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world. Beyond the iconic Grand Canyon, experiences await you in every direction and in every corner of the state. Arizona is home to 47 national parks, monuments and refuges as well as 29 state parks that showcase mountains, buttes, deserts and hidden lakes. Visitors often start exploring Arizona from Phoenix, the state capital and the fifth largest city in the United States.
Phoenix and Outskirts
Today, Phoenix is a destination as well as a gateway to further adventure in the rugged deserts, lakes and canyons around its edges. Here are some sites to visit around the city:
Phoenix was not the first town to arise along the banks of the Salt River. Explore Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park to see where the ancient Sonoran Desert people once lived and farmed.
The145-acre Desert Botanical Garden strives to be the premier center in the world for the display, study and understanding of desert plants and their environments. Visitors from around the world come here to appreciate the beauty of the garden and to enjoy its outdoor trails, special events and education programs.
The Heard Museum is one of the world’s finest destinations for learning about American Indian arts and cultures with its 11 exhibition galleries, free guided tours, outdoor sculpture gardens, renowned café, art gallery, trading-post style shopping and more. Be sure and watch the Heard’s Native People of the Southwest video series.
There is a reason National Geographic named Phoenix one of "America’s Best Hiking Cities." Phoenix’s South Mountain Park is the largest municipal park in the United States with 16,000 acres and 51 miles of trails for hiking, wildlife viewing or horseback riding. Other Phoenix area trails and desert preserves include Camelback Mountain, Shaw Butte and Piestewa Peak. The Tonto National Forest is another “backyard” desert playground for urban dwellers-tubing on the Salt River is an Arizona summer tradition!
HOW TO BUY YOUR FIRST HOME
STEP BY STEP
If you've decided to buy a house, you may be wondering where to begin -- find a real estate agent? Go to open houses? You'll have to juggle a number of tasks, ranging from the fun to the tedious. The preview below will alert you to what's ahead and link you to other key information.
Step 1: Confirm That You Wouldn't Be Better Off Staying Put
Homeownership can be great, but it isn't for everyone, or at least not at this point in their lives. Unless you really can't stand your apartment or landlord, start by asking yourself whether your lifestyle and finances aren't better suited to continuing to rent for now, as discussed in the Nolo article Rent or Buy a House? Or, if you're still in your twenties, check out Buying a House in Your Twenties: Are You Ready? And if you're a single woman, don't miss the advice in Single-Woman Homebuyers: What to Consider. For a last bit of (serious) fun, take our Homebuying Readiness Quiz.
Step 2: Decide Which Community or Neighborhood You're Interested In
If you're already committed to a certain geographical area and know you can afford it, jump down to the next step. However, if you're moving to a different state or you have an inkling that your ideal neighborhood might be out of your financial reach.
Step 3: Get to Know the Local Housing Scene
Even before you're ready to choose a house, getting to know your local market is important -- it may be very different from what you've read in the national or even regional media. Scanning the ads, both online and print, is a great way to start. Information from the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), which lists most houses for sale, is widely available on national and state real estate websites such as www.realtor.com and www.trulia.com.
But ads can be misleading. You should also visit open houses to see what's really available and at what list price. Visit a wide range of houses, noting the numbers of bedrooms and bathrooms, special features, and overall charm. If the seller has made pest or other inspection reports available, read them carefully, paying particular attention to the estimated cost of repairs.
Ask the agent how long the house has been on the market (a long time suggests that it's overpriced) or, if it's newly on view, how many offers are expected on the house (multiple bidders can drive up the list price and vice versa).
Step 4: Decide What You Want in a House
Now that you've gotten a sense of what's out there, and possibly been hit with a reality check about what you can afford, it's time to draw up a list of criteria for the home you're looking for. Include not only the obvious, like general location and number of bedrooms and bathrooms, but any other factors that are important to you, such as a view, an enclosed yard for pets, kids, or growing vegetables, a garage of a certain size, and so forth.
Step 5: Assemble Your Team of Professionals
Most people prefer to work with a real estate agent or a lawyer at some point in the process. (In fact, in a handful of U.S. states, a lawyer must be hired to help finalize the sale.) A mortgage broker can also be of great help in finding the right home loan.
Experienced, responsible professionals can save you time, money, and aggravation. By the same token, incompetent or unethical ones can mess matters up badly. Take the time to get referrals from friends, and meet with a few prospects before you hire anyone.
Step 6: Figure Out How You'll Pay for the House
Despite recent dips in the real estate market, the price of a house relative to the average U.S. income remains high. (Even if you buy a foreclosure, the cost of repairing it after months of neglect may be high, as described in Buying a Foreclosed Home: Your Way Into the Real Estate Market?) So, unless you're a statistical outlier, you'll probably have to save, scrounge, and borrow in order to afford your house.
There are three parts of the purchase that you'll need to prepare for: your down payment, your mortgage, and your closing costs. You'll most likely need to make a down payment of 20% or more of the purchase price in order to qualify for a loan and avoid paying private mortgage insurance (PMI).
You'll need to think about what you can afford to pay each month and how much uncertainty you're comfortable with when choosing a mortgage. The two main choices include fixed rate and adjustable rate ones.
Don't forget to factor in closing costs, too: the various fees you'll have to come up with on the day the property transfers, for things like the title or escrow company fees, your share of the year's property taxes, transfer fees and points on the mortgage, homeowners' and title insurance premiums, and so forth. These can add up to many thousands of dollars, often 2-4% of the purchase price.
Step 7: Choose the House You Want
This is where many buyers falter -- they look and look, but can't commit, don't like the options in their price range, or, in the case of couples, can't agree on which house is the one. Being choosy is wise, to a point. Only you know what compromises you can live with. But, if you see that months are going by and no house ever seems right, it might be time to figure out what's going on at a deeper level.
Step 8: Offer to Buy the House You Want
Here's where you lay your cards on the table and present the seller with a written offer to buy the house. (Most states have standard contract forms that you or your real estate agent can use for this purpose and, in many cases, can be readily converted into a signed contract.) The standard offer form will usually require you to state your proposed purchase price, where you expect to obtain financing, what conditions, or "contingencies," you're attaching to the offer, how quickly you're willing to close the deal, and more. (But this isn't true in all states -- some require only a very basic offer stating what price you're willing to pay, after which the seller does most of the contract drafting.)
For more on how to craft a solid offer and negotiate toward a purchase contract, see Nolo's article Making an Offer on a House, as well as Contingencies to Include in Your Home Purchase Contract. And don't forget that the strength of the real estate market affects what you can ask for, as described in House Buying Strategies in a Down Market.
Step 9: Deal With the House's Physical Condition
Whether new or old, no house is in perfect condition. An important part of the homebuying process is finding out about the house's condition from the seller, investigating its condition on your own, and protecting yourself against problems that will arise in the future.
Many states' laws require sellers to tell you about many or most problems that they know of concerning the house -- issues like leaks, termites and other pests, a faulty foundation, neighborhood noise, past water or fire damage, and more.
No matter how informative your seller seems to be, you'll still want to have your own inspections done by at least one experienced professional -- and for the sale to be contingent upon your approving the results. See Nolo's article Get a House Inspection Before Buying for details on the hows and whys of this step. If mold could possibly be an issue, read Mold: Is It Hiding in the Home You're Buying?
Also, when you yourself visit the house, don't just admire the views or the furniture and neglect to look for problems or signs of deferred maintenance. Examples you can spot yourself include cracked glass or tiles, stains from moisture damage, crumbling grout material between tiles, windows and doors that don't close properly, and so forth.
Neither the seller nor the inspector can know everything about the house, however. Problems could be lurking that neither they nor you can see, and new problems -- or disasters -- could arise later. For these, you'll need to buy homeowners' insurance. For more detailed advice, check out Nolo's article Homeowners' Insurance: What You Need to Know.
Step 10: Decide How You'll Take Title
Unless you're buying solo, you'll need to decide whose name should go on the ownership papers and with what rights if one of you leaves or dies.
Step 11: Close the Deal
After the purchase contract has been signed, events start moving very quickly. Your contract will normally contain a closing date, and all of your activities will be geared toward wrapping things up by then. You'll need to finalize your financing, review the home inspection and other reports, probably have the house appraised get title insurance, and more.
Stay focused on the big picture. Little issues will come up that need negotiating -- for example, the inspection report may show a minor needed repair that you'd like the seller to pay for. If the seller refuses, he or she risks your calling off the deal. But, if you play hardball, you may lose the house over a few hundred dollars.
On the closing day, you probably won't meet with the seller in person. More likely you'll go to the office of your title agent, escrow agent, or attorney to sign the final documents and pick up the keys. Then they'll record the new deed in your name at a local government office, and the house is yours!