Booking accommodation online for your stay in Bali – great deal or great disappointment?
Here at inBali, we’ve been gallivanting around the island of the Gods all summer to bring you the inside scoop on the best things to see and do, from every corner of Bali. We’ve been chatting to fellow travellers on the road, in Ubud’s yoga shalas, and in beachside warungs on the shores of the lesser-visited East Bali.
It seems no matter where the winds take us, the same conundrums keeps coming up when it comes to booking accommodation for Bali online:
It begs the obvious question: what did bootstrapping travellers do before the days of Agoda, Trip Advisor, Wotif and all the other accommodation booking websites we can’t seem to leave home without bookmarking?
Conundrum A) You arrive at the hotel, check in, and whilst making friends at the pool bar, discover that Mary and Jane from the Netherlands paid half the price in cash as you paid online – all because you were worried about securing a place to sleep.
Conundrum B) You learn from Conundrum A, and arrive at a destination without a booking and make (what you think is) a good deal for your stay, then learn that other travellers staying in the same place have still paid less than you. You confront the owner who smiles sweetly and informs you that you arrived right on the day the season changed from low to high. What a coincidence.
Conundrum C) You arrive at a destination and discover your booking was not received, and to your horror the hotel is full. And so are all the nearby hotels. You’re tired from the long haul flight and a long car ride, but you have to hunt around for a place to sleep that’s within budget. And your partner in crime is on the brink of a tantrum. Not a flash start to the holiday.
Conundrum D) You arrive at the hotel, extra excited about the magnificent deal you booked online, only to learn from the nice hotel manager upon arrival that your booking was not received, and that the online special you found is no longer valid, but the room is available, at full price. “The promotion was meant to be taken down,” he apologises profusely. That’s odd. Not.
Conundrum E) You arrive at the hotel which you’ve booked online and paid for in full. It looks nothing like it did online. It’s starving for a lick of paint (and a clean), and there’s no way you’re sleeping on that bed – because if the bedbugs don’t keep you up at night, the chickens, dogs and road noises will. Sorry, no refunds.
The logic behind Bali’s accommodation pricing
While big resort and hotels in Bali (read: luxury) offer unbelievable value on holiday and spa packages through online booking websites and their own portals, the same can’t be said for guesthouses and small hotels. They are often the worst culprits when it comes to fluctuating room rates and levels of service. But they’re cheap, and you’re tired. If you’re staying for just a few nights, you won’t feel the pinch of an extra $10 – 20. If you’re staying for longer than a week, however, always negotiate a better price.
The further afoot you drift in Bali’s less explored regions, the more confusing it gets. Theoretically, outside the credit card Bermuda Triangle that is Kuta, Seminyak and Canggu, prices for everything from transport and accommodation should be cheaper. You’re in the “real” Indonesian economy after all. In actuality, the further away you drift from Bali’s civilised hotspots, the more lawless it gets.
If you’re looking for a reception desk and a neat printout of standard room rates, you’re puff out of luck. The unsaid rule in Bali when it comes to prices for tourist activities, as one residence manager told me explains it all.
“In Bali, there are three prices. Local price, Bule price, and Japanese price. I feel so sorry for the Japanese tourists, they get charged the most.”
Ouch, so do we. It screams unfair (and unpleasant) when you’re constantly being sized up every time you need to pay for something, or everything for that matter. We’d like to think booking our accommodation online saves the hassle of cattle trading, gives us the best deals and ensures we have a happy place to sleep. But sadly, that’s not always the case.
Agoda, Trip Advisor and Wotif are legit … right?
The holy trinity of online accommodation booking websites; Agoda, Trip Advisor, and Wotif. They seem like reliable go-to accommodation and review websites. Everyone talks about them, so why don’t they actually do what they’re supposed to do (i.e., let me book and confirm my booking)?
They’re all pretty straight forward to use. Enter check-in and check-out dates into the search widget. Sift through hundreds of available hotels and guesthouses. Click pay to confirm desired accommodation. No luck.
Listing after listing that claims to be as available as drunken bachelors on a stag weekend are in fact already taken. But we’re set on the place and think to ourselves, it must be an internet-thingie mistake. Ringing the hotel directly confirms that they are indeed fully booked. All that jam and no toast.
Plenty more online accommodation portals are guilty of raising our hopes and leaving us homeless. So what is TripAdvisor and the gang good for? User photos. They’re recent and they give you a good idea of what hotels and beach bungalows look like when they wake up in the morning, without makeup. You be the judge.
Online booking websites to swear by
Dear traveller, accommodation in Bali is not in short supply. The island of Gods may run out of power from time to time, but they’re not going to run out of places to stay across the whole spectrum of budgets.
We hear you – you’re not always in the mood to rock up to a joint and do the scooter/driver mission. Sometimes, carrying a neat printout of our accommodation booking and stepping off the plane with confidence is nice.
Well, the disasters of booking accommodation online don’t have to surpass the glories – if you know where to look, and who to book with online. Here are the booking websites we swear by:
TabletHotels.com for boutique and luxury hotels. The selection of hotels is top class, and meticulously curated. So you won’t waste time in the office pre-holiday sifting through hundreds of listings. The deals are unbeatable and you won’t find them anywhere else – not even if you book with the hotel directly.
Hotels to book with TabletHotels.com: Alila Manggis, (US$126 instead of US$180 per night), The Amala Seminyak (US$152 instead of US$234 per night), Ayana Resort and Spa (US$189 instead of US$293 per night), and The Legian *extra luxe* (US$209 instead of US$509 per night!!).
Latestays.com is the original, pioneer accommodation-booking portal, but no one seems to know about it. Strange. They only take a small deposit and confirmation is instant. Hundreds of hotels are listed, from six star luxury stays to budget hotels. What we love about Latestays the most is the old-school chart-like interface that lets you scan rates and availability in seconds.
Rates and specials are constantly changing (the idea of the website is to help hotels stay fully booked by selling last minute rooms cheap), so you’ll always score a primo deal. A handful of modern residences can even be found for the same nightly rate as a guesthouse. Outstanding.
AirBnB.com is everyone’s newest obsession. For Bali, the social platform allows people to rent out their holiday villas in Bali when they’re not around, as well as individual rooms in shared villas. We’ve found the most incredible properties that you won’t find anywhere else (12 acre estates in the Ayung River valley, eccentric writer’s retreats in Ubud, Seminyak mansions that look like beach clubs, the list goes on).
Being a social platform created to help people monetize their holiday homes (because they really need to), and help travellers find unique places to stay which cost less than standard hotels (we win too!), AirBnB.com works a little differently.
First you create a profile, and then you contact the owners or managers of the properties you are interested in that are available on your desired travel dates. Confirmation is quick, but not instant. The owner has to approve your stay before you can book. So you might want to upload a photo from last year’s Christmas gathering with the fam rather than that cool but clearly intoxicated snap of you doing body shots in Kuta.
AirBnb also rewards with generous credit for getting your mates to sign up and when they book stays with AirBnB. A pyramid scheme at its finest. We love it.