Should you reserve a Paris hotel in advance?

Always reserve at least the first night's room—especially if you’re arriving on a weekend—but reconsider that tactic booking the room for the whole first week.

After all, until you're actually in the room, you won't know whether it's got a view of the Eiffel Tower or of dumpsters across a dark alley.

There's a lot that can go wrong with a hotel room—and a lot that the photos on the Web site won't tell you—so I play it safe by playing by ear. Sure, sometimes I have to scramble a bit to find a room, but I rarely get suckered into settling for a hellhole that's been paid for in advance.

Direct reservations or booking sites?

To book a Paris hotel room you have two choices: Using a booking engine, or contacting the hotel directly via the web/email or by phone.

Benefits of a booking engine

A booking engine allows you to quickly compare multiple hotels to see which looks the best at the right price for you—and they include invaluable reviews and comments by travelers who have stayed in the past.

Also, the best booking engines often have discounted prices from 5% to 25% below the rack rates listed by the hotel. (Though, were you to call the hotel, you could probably get the discount as well.)

Notice I was "the best booking engines." This rarely means the big three (,, or the major hotel sites (like

You need to use a true independent hotel specialist booking engine like,, or a budget specialist like (which actually lists more inexpensive hotels than it does hostels). I'm serious. That's why I've partnered with these sites.

Lately on nearly all my trips I amd finding—and booking—nearly every hotel through either or because they have a better selection and lower prices than any other source.

Benfits of going direct

On the other hand, hotel websites often have more information about the hotel (including more pictures) than the booking sites, and they occasionally advertise specials and sales unavailable at the booking sites.

If booking directly, the hotel will probably require you to send an email (a few still insist on a fax) with: the dates you intend to arrive and leave, how many guests, and a credit card number. This protects them from no-shows.

All this is a fine procedure, since your copy of the email gives you a printed receipt of sorts to prove you've booked a room (booking errors do crop up from time to time).

That said, some smaller, cheaper hotels won't reserve far in advance for fewer than three nights. This is to protect them from cancellations, and no assurance on your part seems to change their policy. They'll hold a room only if you call from the train station and tell them you're physically on your way.

(Oddly, even the ones who won't take advance phone reservations are often on the booking sites, where you can reserve well in advance. Go figure.)

A few tips

The downside to advance reservations

I say book the first night(s), but then wing it from there. Reserving every night of the vacation ahead of time can crimp spontaneity, and, again, trip you up with possible bad choices.

I find peace of mind calling ahead from one city to the next a day or two in advance, but have rarely had any trouble simply searching out a room by phone from the train station upon arrival. (More on all this in the "Hotel Hunting Tips" section.)

A major caveat: Look into whether your plans happen to land you in a town on a festival day, in which case you're probably in for the highlight of your trip, but should reserve rooms immediately, from your home country, as far in advance as possible.

Dealing with hotel touts

As soon as you step off the train, hotel touts will swarm you in a feeding frenzy. Some are legitimately drumming up business, others are out to fleece you. I wouldn't bother with them ever (the good hotels needn't try to drum up business this way), but if you do, here are some tips:

Make sure they point to the exact location of their hotel on a map, and get the price set firmly in writing before you go off with them.

Look at the photos they show you, but remember that a fisheye lens in the room's upper corner and a sneaky collage of the inn's best furnishings all in one room can make a dismal cell look like a palatial suite (well, almost).

A note on writing the date

When e-mailing or faxing for a hotel room, don't write down the dates in number format (eg: 11/6/12).

Why? Well, because Americans write dates in the format of month/day/year, most of the rest of the world does it day/month/year. So while in the USA that date above would be read as "November 6, 2012" in Europe (and much of the rest of the world) they would see it as "June 11, 2012."

(Actually, if you think about it, the European way makes far more sense, as the units go in ascending order: first the shortest—the day—then the month, then the year.)

Regardless of which way is better, just to avoid confusion, always write out a date in the style: "6 November 2012."

Also, hotels in other countries like to define a stay by the arrival date and the day you actually check out—not the last night of your stay.

In other words, if the last night you intend to sleep there is Nov. 8, they'll think of you as "departing Nov. 9," so saying you want to "stay from Nov. 6 to 8" might end up in only a booking of only two nights, not three.

I always write both the arrival and departure dates followed by the number of night total in parentheses—and I put each on its own line—again just so there's no confusion:

"Arrive: 6 November 2011.
Depart: 9 November 2012.
(Stay: 3 nights)."

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