1. Location, Location, Location
My first and most important consideration is location. I open Google Maps to the city we're visiting, then search for all the museums, monuments, etc. we'd like to visit. If we're staying in a city that is pedestrian-friendly or has great public transportation, I look for hotels that are near where we want to be. If our destinations are spread out and we'll be traveling to them by car anyway, I expand my hotel search accordingly.
For example, when we visited Omaha, I knew we would be visiting the Joslyn Art Museum, Bob the Bridge, Lewis & Clark Landing, and the Durham Museum, so I started my hotel search in the downtown area.
Once I narrow down the part of town where I think we want to stay, I use Street View on Google Maps to "walk" through the neighborhood surrounding our potential hotels. I'm looking for red flags: bars on windows, run-down properties, and businesses that don't fit my definition of family-friendly. I'm also looking for green flags: cool restaurants, wide sidewalks, interesting public art, and a family-friendly vibe.
I'm assuming that if you're reading this, price is a consideration for where you stay. (If not and you feel like sharing the wealth with your favorite blogger, please let me know. Unless I'm not your favorite blogger, because it would be mean to tell me that you'll be giving money to your favorite blogger, but that it's not me.) Anyway, price.
By hovering over the prices, you can see the number of stars that hotel has, as well as one or two of its desirable amenities. That $143/night hotel is a 3-star hotel, Embassy Suites by Hilton. It offers free breakfast and guests rate it 4.2 out of 5.
The Embassy Suites sounds good, but check this out. Hotel Deco offers free breakfast and has the same 4.2 rating, but it's a 4-star hotel with free wifi for only $107/night.
So why is Hotel Deco cheaper than Embassy Suites? Google Maps answered that for me too. The Embassy Suites is located right by the headquarters of Conagra, plus it's really close to Omaha's trendy Old Market district. Hotel Deco is 7 blocks away.
Of course, make sure you're comparing apples to apples. Embassy Suites has a bedroom separate from the living room and sofa bed, which is really nice for families. We don't need that if it's just Steve and me. It's also important to consider amenities when comparing prices. How much does wifi cost at Embassy Suites? What's the cost to park at each of the hotels? Think about what other amenities or policies are important to you so you can compare true costs. A free shuttle is great when we're traveling without a car, but useless if we have our own car.
Also, know your deal-breakers. Our family will not stay in a hotel that allows smoking, even if it means paying twice as much somewhere else.
I never, ever book a hotel without reading reviews, usually on Trip Advisor. I take all reviews with a grain of salt; most people don't leave a review unless their experience was outstanding or horrific. But there's a lot to be learned from reading reviews. One terrible review may mean nothing, but if 90% of the reviews mention dirty rooms, I'm not going to book at that hotel. Conversely, if there are a bunch of complaints about the hotel's bar closing really early, I wouldn't hesitate to book because I don't care about hotel bars.
4. Loyalty Programs
If, after going through the three steps above, I am still debating between hotels, I let their loyalty programs decide. Most hotels fall into one of five groups: Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, IHG, and Wyndham. When all other factors are equal, we choose a Hilton property because of the loyalty perks. Our second choice is Marriott or IHG.
So where did we end up staying during our Omaha trip? We picked Hotel Deco and it was AWESOME. You can read all about it here.