Advantages Quick and easy, no hassle
Disadvantages Limited searching capability, care needed when booking
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|How fast is this website?|
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She had been working hard for a year, had a temporary contract extended three times until it eventually culminated into a successful interview for a permanent teaching post. I had got a promotion at work a couple of months earlier, and so I got round to thinking about booking a surprise trip away for us both to London, but it would all depend on the price. But where would I start? I went to the trusty NHS Discounts site (see one of my earlier ops for details of this great site) and looked in their travel section for hotels and found www.totalstay.com - no NHS Discounts specifically but claiming to offer discount prices for over 15,000 hotels on over 3,000 destinations throughout the world. So this was to be my first and as it turned out only port of call.Initial searching
On entering the site, you are subjected to a pretty basic homepage. A kind of pale mustard and green in colour, it gives you 5 options - either a hotel search, a search for groups of 10 or more people, special offers, sightseeing tours or to log in to your account. You don't have to set up an account just to search - you only need to do it if you make a booking. Your best bet is to go straight to the hotel search, as the options for the others are limited. Special offers concentrates on a featured city in the world and gives you details of whatever they have available there and then for that city. To be honest, the deals weren't nearly as good as what you could find if you took the time to search.Still on the homepage, you are asked to choose your language by clicking on one of the rather small trio of flags that they have as options - UK (for English), France (for French), and Spain (for Spanish). You are then asked where you live and what currency you would like prices to be displayed in. Click on hotel search and you are away.
Advanced SearchingYou are then taken to the next page, which asks you for further details. Here you enter a choice from the list of about 300 popular destinations, or you can use the search function to see if they have any of the more obscure destinations listed. Most major destinations that I have looked at are on there. You also enter your check-in date, how many nights you are staying for, and what type and how many rooms you will need. You can also limit your search to hotels with a certain name, certain star rating, or in a certain part of the city.
Results pageAfter hitting the search button, you have a 10-15 second wait before it brings up the first page of results. The results are shown by the lowest price first, and there doesn't appear to be any mechanism to order them by any other method such as distance to city centre or star ratings. This can be a problem when a city such as London will show over 200 listed hotels, and the option to limit your search further would be useful.
You are given basic details about the hotel such as its name, location in relation to the city that you searched for, how far it is from the city, and what facilities is has demonstrated by little diagrams (for example, a knife and fork representing a restaurant on site).The next column gives the star rating of the hotel, followed by what meals are included - usually whether there is a breakfast and what type as most of them will be B&B hotels rather than full or half board. Then you are given the price. The strong point about this site over any other hotel booking sites that I have seen is that it gives you the total price - not the price per person per night where you have to remember your GCSE Maths, but an all in price.
The next column states whether you can get instant confirmation or whether you have to book, and wait up to 48 hours for total stay to get back to you an confirm your booking. If your chosen hotel isn't available, they will suggest an alternative. Either way, they guarantee you a decision within 48 hours. If it is instant confirmation then you will hear almost straight away - I waited just 5 minutes for my confirmation email.There are also little icons, which on selected hotels will allow you to see pictures of the exterior and the bedroom and also a map showing where the hotel is situated.
Finally, there is the booking icon, which will take you to the next page where you can book your chosen hotel.Booking
When you click on the booking icon, you are taken to a page which asks you to enter the names of each of the people who are to be involved in the stay, and whether they are under 16 or not. After that, you are taken to a few pages to enter your details, choose a username and password, and the particulars of your credit card. Beware though, as they say that you will be given a final confirmation page prior to your booking being finalised - I didn't see it, and was expecting a further page before I got to the last. And then that's it - you have booked, all straightforward and easy.After booking
Your booking is conditionally confirmed and they recommend that you print off the invoice that appears on screen as the last page of the booking process. My hotel was one with the online booking facility, meaning that I should have received a confirmation almost straightaway. Most hotels on the site that I found gave this facility, and it appears that only a minority doesn't. As it happened, it took around 10 minutes for the email to arrive which gave confirmation that the room had been booked. After that, you are to return to the site, log in using your chosen name and password and print off the confirmation slip. This slip is what you take with you to your hotel, and it states on it that the fee has been paid, gives the details of your stay, and says that you are liable to pay only for your room service bill.On arrival at your chosen hotel
It is relatively straightforward really - you take your confirmation letter to the check-in desk and they confirm that your room is ready. Being a non-smoker, it never occurred to me at the time to check what I had booked, but when I arrived at the hotel the lady on check-in explained that this particular agent doesn't book specific rooms for smokers and that I had the option there and then to choose.Apart from that, it is the usual check-in procedure and it all went like clockwork - no complaints, and just what I hoped by first online travel experience would be.
What did it do for me?Well, I chose 3 nights bed and continental breakfast at the Express by Holiday Inn in North Greenwich about 4km outside of London according to the site, and within throwing distance of the Millenium Dome - For 2 people, it cost me £124.50 all in. I actually went onto the website for the Express by Holiday Inn, as they allow online bookings through their site. For exactly the same room and service, they quoted me £99 per night, meaning the total stay would have cost me £297.00 - a saving of £172.50. Now you can't say fairer than that, and nothing went awry with any part of the process - it was how booking on the Internet should be.
Customer ServicesAfter I had booked I had a fit of panic - I didn't remember anything on the description mentioning that I had booked an en-suite room, and if I was going to go I needed one of those. I emailed totalstay.com and received a response within 24 hours letting me knw that they had checked with the hotel and I had been given an en-suite room. Full marks for the customer service team for speed and efficiency.
I don't really have anything bad to say about totalstay.com. For my needs it was a dream experience. Since that initial booking I have looked at various other cities in the world to gain a view of how much it would cost, but it appears that the savings aren't quite as big as they were for London. A couple of minor improvements around the search capabilities, and more advanced warning before you realise that you have actually booked and this would have been 5 stars for me. I think that the site is definitely going the right way, and I wouldn't be surprised to see a takeover or expansion within the next couple of years. Whether or not this affects the quality of service remains to be seen.** I should just make it clear that the prices are in no way affected by being directed through NHS Discounts - the prices are the same no matter how you get to the site.
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