By Amy Bradley-Hole Travel columnist
updated 8/1/2007 11:30:48 AM ET 2007-08-01T15:30:48

I've worked for many hotels, and they've all had one thing in common: They all would say or do almost anything to entice travelers to stay with them and spend lots of money. While savvy consumers might be familiar with these ploys, plenty of guests are still falling for them every day. Don't you be one of them! Familiarize yourself with some of the most common ways hotels convince you to part with your hard-earned dollars.

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Location, location, location. Hotels greatly exaggerate their proximity to local landmarks and amenities. Just today, I was visiting a Web site for a Cocoa Beach, Fla., hotel. The property claims to be "minutes away from Orlando International Airport." Well, I live in the area, and I've made that drive before — it's almost 50 miles, and can take an hour depending on traffic conditions. Hotels also love to claim that they're "just steps away from" landmarks. Technically, Philadelphia is just steps away from New York City, so long as you're willing to take enough steps. If staying near a certain location is important to you, don't take the hotel's word for it. Use a mapping Web site to learn true distances, or call the hotel directly to inquire about distances. The employees there will usually tell you the truth.

Hotels will also exaggerate the quality of their surroundings. A hotel may claim to be in a "fashionable" area or against a "beautiful" backdrop or have "breathtaking" views, but all these terms are highly subjective. I think the biggest offenders of this type are hotels near the beach. There is a world of difference between "ocean view" and "oceanfront." An "oceanfront" room will look directly on the ocean. But a hotel will call its rooms "ocean view" if you can hang over the balcony, twist your neck, squint your eyes just so and catch a glimpse of the shoreline under the right atmospheric conditions.

Don't believe everything you see. When you see a photo of a hotel room on a property's Web site or in a brochure, there's a good chance that the room has been "staged" by the photographer's team. They know how to move furniture around to make a room look larger. They place fresh flower arrangements on tabletops to liven things up. They bring accessories from suites into a basic room to make it look fancier. They retouch the colors to soften and warm up the appearance of the room. What a supermodel wouldn't give for photographers like these!

"Special" rates aren't so special.I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: Hotels' special deals can be more expensive than their regular rates. Don't get suckered in by a great ad. Simply call the hotel, ask for its lowest rate and see if you qualify for it. And don't book a package deal just because you get all kinds of free stuff included in your room rate. Again, these rates may be very high, and those extras may not be anything you want or need. Hotels will throw just about anything in with a package, and their PR teams will make it sound exciting. Here's one of the stupidest examples I've ever seen: A hotel offered a "detailed map of exclusive boutiques and hidden hot spots" with its "Shopper's Paradise" package. The reality? A representative from the Chamber of Commerce had dropped off too many boxes of those little tourist maps, and the hotel wanted to get rid of them.

A preference is not a guarantee. When you make your reservation, you'll be asked if you prefer smoking or nonsmoking, one bed or two, and so on. That doesn't mean you'll get those preferences. Reservations agents are trained to make you feel that you'll surely get the room type you want, but they'll never guarantee it. Too many variables come into play for any but the smallest properties (I'm talking less than 20 rooms) to be able to guarantee room availability. And there's nothing that a little gnome or any other magical creature can do about it if all the king-bedded rooms have people in them when you arrive.

Hotels jack up prices. You might think I'm silly to mention this, but as long as people still complain about phone charges at checkout (and they do!), then I have to assume that some people have been living in caves until just recently. Hotels charge very high rates for phone calls. Hotel gift shops sell merchandise at a very high markup. Minibar prices are crazy. There you have it. If you buy something at a hotel that you can easily purchase elsewhere, or if you use the room's phone when your cell phone is at hand, then you are just asking to get ripped off.

Now you know a little bit more about some of the not-so-savory practices hotels engage in to boost bookings and revenue. You may think these tricks are illegal, but they're certainly not — in fact, they're quite common. If I prevent one traveler from falling for one of these tricks, then I've done my job. And if you ever fall for one of these tricks in the future, well, don't come crying to me!

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