Booking Rooms Online for Family Trips to Europe: Check the Fine Print to Avoid Seeing Red

  When booking rooms for any vacation, it's always important to read the fine print. This axiom is particularly important when booking family-sized European accommodations online. Ignore this advice at your own peril, as it could easily send your carefully planned budget hundreds of dollars into the red. One of our readers found out the hard way, and wrote to suggest that we alert other families to this potential planning pitfall.

With all of the recent airfare steals to London, our reader decided that fall would be a great time to take her family to England for a long weekend. She planned her family's entire trip online, and had booked all of her rooms using the booking engine on one of the major online travel sites. She carefully entered in her family's configuration for each booking (2 adults and 1 twelve-year old child), and selected a room from those available in each of the cities they planned to visit.

When she arrived at the first hotel, however, she was informed that the room she had purchased would not accommodate three people. She produced her online receipt which clearly showed that there were to be three guests in the room, but to no avail. Her only choice -- rent an additional room. She encountered the same situation at the next hotel, and the cost of her family's trip continued to spiral out of control. At their final destination, the hotel took pity on them and gave them an additional room at no charge.

Upon returning home, our reader looked carefully at the pages she had printed out from the online booking site. The Summary section on the left-hand side of the page stated that two adults and one child would occupy the room, and listed the rate and total cost. Another "rate details" section also clearly stated that 2 adults and 1 child would occupy the room. As she continued to scan the pages, however, she noticed some additional tiny type under "hotel details" near the bottom of the page. It stated:

"This room/unit is only guaranteed for 2 adults. Contact the lodging directly to check availability and charges for extra guests."

Obviously, she had focused on the large print under "rate details" and had clearly missed the rest.

Large online booking sites are great tools for locating available accommodations and obtaining hotel bargains. There appears to be some difficulty, however, in guaranteeing that the room you pay for in Europe will accommodate families of three or more. Our suggestion: once you decide on a particular property, call the hotel directly before booking to make sure that the room you are planning to purchase will accommodate your entire family. Alternatively, you may wish to use a seasoned travel agent who knows which hotels are suited to your family's needs. Travel agencies such as Vacationkids specialize in the family travel market and can help to make sure booking nightmares do not occur.

Late fall, winter, and early spring are wonderful times to grab low fares to Great Britain and the capitals of Europe. You can often take your children overseas to explore the land of Harry Potter for less than the cost of a quick domestic trip. Be careful when booking your hotels, however. As our reader discovered, there's nothing like multiplying accommodations times two to turn your low-budget trip into a high-priced extravagance.

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