Preparation

9 tips for using Booking.com in Iceland (or anywhere)!

Guesthouse Milli Vina in Hvitarbakka by Maedi. is licensed under CC BY 2.0
(Link to Milli Vina on Booking.com.)

(This is not a sponsored post- I have no affiliation with Booking.com.)

If you are planning a trip to Iceland this summer, you probably started looking at hotels. At least, that seems to be the default option when traveling. Hotels offer an excellent level of service, and many hotels in Iceland include breakfast. But there are a few reasons why you might want to look beyond hotel options:

  1. You want more space. When you have kids, the novelty of all being in the same single hotel room quickly wears off. You can get 2 connecting rooms, or at least 2 rooms next to each other, but that can get expensive.
  2. There aren’t many choices for families with kids.  Very few hotels in Iceland have rooms that hold more than 4 people.  When you search for a family of 5, the options all seem to have “apartment” or “guesthouse” in the name.
  3. You can hardly find any hotel rooms at all this year.  Many hotels are sold out, or selling out quickly, especially this summer. Indeed, “According to managing director of Nordic Travel, tourists to Iceland have increased so enormously that finding accommodation for them all this summer could be very difficult.   … bookings started really early and if all hotels are booked up by the summer, some people may have to cancel their flights to Iceland.” Source: Iceland Monitor

If you are looking for an apartment or guesthouse for your stay, you may end up looking at Booking.com. Booking.com, which is owned by Priceline, dominates the Eurpean travel market. “Booking.com has more than 41 per cent of Europe’s €43.9bn market for air travel and hotel bookings, according to Phocuswright.” Source: The Financial Times. Often, searching on Google or Bing, or browsing Tripadvisor,  will end up taking you to Booking.com at some point.

For our summer trip, I have booked many rooms using Booking.com. Here are some tips and tricks I have learned that may help you use the site.

1. Most reservations on Booking.com allow free cancellation. But the cancellation windows vary

Most reservations you make on the site can be cancelled without any charge or penalty. Typical terms look something like this:

free cancellation base

(This is from Kvöldstjarnan Gistiheimili guest house, but this is very typical).

You need to pay attention to the cancellation time frame. Many offer free cancellation up until a day or two before your stay, but some require notice of a week or more.  And without reading the fine print, you won’t necessarily notice the difference. Here’s a 5 day cancellation policy:

free cancellation base 5 day

Source: Bakland ad Lágafelli Apartment. Note that this is literally just a single apartment, which may help to explain the shorter cancellation window.

One more thing to watch for here is that it seems you need to select free cancellation as an option when you book. I’m not really sure what happens if you don’t select this? I wasn’t willing to try.

free cancellation

I really don’t like that this is even an option, and that it isn’t selected by default.

2. But, not all properties on Booking.com allow free cancellation.

When you are searching through listing after listing to find a place to stay, it may be easy to assume that they all offer free cancellation. But not all properties do. For example, the lovely cottage Thormodseyri gives you very little of your money back:

cottage no cancellation

3. You are taking on currency risk in exchange for the free cancellation.

Most properties are booking your reservation in Euros. For example:

currency

(By the way- note that cleaning fee. It’s not included in the quotes price. See #8 below!)

The price is quoted at $339, but really I am paying 304 Euros. If the exchange rate changes, 309 Euros will be value at more or less than $339, and that’s what I will pay.

So how much will the Euro fluctuate vs. the US Dollar, or the Canadian Dollar, or whatever your local currency is? If I knew, I’d be a currency trader!

At the time of this post in early February, a US dollar buys you about 0.90 Euros. but at the start of December, it bought 0.94. So your dollars have become about 5% less valuable, and so places to stay cost 5% more! See the current exchange rate here.

The Canadian dollar has been losing more ground vs. the Euro. (It’s complicated, but I think it has to do with the price of oil and other commodities.) Today, a Canadian dollar buys you about 0.64 Euros. See the current exchange rate here. That’s 8% less than 2 months ago, and so your reservation just got about 8% more expensive.

These are somewhat unusual moves, but far from unprecedented. You’ll need to leave some money in your budget for fluctuations, or book immediately but lose the free cancellation benefit! (Maybe this is why Booking.com offers you the option to not accept free cancellation? See #1 above.)

4. Make sure you aren’t booking shared accommodations or tons of rooms (unless you want to).

Booking.com tried to put our family of 7 into some interesting configurations. For example:

hostel

While Selfoss Hostel may be lovely, I’m not looking to have a twin room plus 5 beds in a shared accommodation. Other times, Booking.com will try to book 4 separate 2-person rooms for our family.

Note the option at the top of that image, which allows you to remove listings with shared accommodations.

5. Booking.com does charge a commission, and may not always be the cheapest option.

The consensus is that Booking.com charges a commission of up to 15%. You may be able to find the same property at a cheaper price on other sites, though I don’t think this is the norm.

For example, let’s take a look at the cottage in point #2 above, that doesn’t offer free cancellation. Suppose we want to book it for 6 people for an 8 day vacation, from February 25 – March 4, 2016. Booking.com charges a total of $1,961 for those 8 nights, and you lose most of that if you cancel.

thorm booking dot com

In contrast, you can find the same property on airbnb.com (where you are booking directly with the owner) for $1,732 total:

thorm air bnb

Plus, if you cancel on airbnb, you only lose the $126 service fee. (I’ll look at airbnb in more detail in a future post.)

This doesn’t seem typical, though; I had to look through several examples to find this one. More often, I found that booking.com was the only option. For example, suppose you wanted to stay at Hótel Fosstún. If you go to their web site to see if you can find a cheaper price, this is what you get:

powered by booking dot com

Note that it says “Powered by Booking.com”- they just outsource their reservation system to Booking.com.

6. Booking.com tries to create the impression of scarcity.

Everywhere you click, you are bombarded with messages that you’d best book RIGHT NOW. Take a look:

just booked scarcity

prices increasing

one room left out of one

“We have 1 room left!” appears in red. But, Lambanes Reykir Holiday Home only offers one house to book. So they always have one room left (at most).

likely sell out

I took this image on February 4th. Let’s think about this for a minute. The latest booking for this property, Kvöldstjarnan Gistiheimili, was on January 28th, almost a week before. Is it really likely that it will sell out “within the next 3 hours?” And with at least 4 rooms left?

You’ll have to take my word for it, but the following screenshot was taken on February 6th, 2 days later:

3 hours still

Still 3 hours until it sells out. (As an aside, note that the exchange rate has changed slightly, and so this booking is now $8 more expensive.)

7. Booking.com does a nice job of telling you what you are getting.

When I’m booking a place for my family to stay, I want to make sure we will be comfortable. (Or, I guess if it’s cheap enough, I want to know how uncomfortable we will be.) How many kids will have to share a bed, and how big are those beds? Will the parents get their own room? Will we have to sleep on a sofa bed?

Booking.com usually does a very nice job of telling you exactly what you are getting. How big the space is, how many beds, etc. Let’s go back to the cottage I’ve used a couple of times above:

cottage beds

That’s a nice layout that shows you exactly what you are getting.

8. But read the fine print, if there is any.

Some properties will have a fine print section at the top:

fine print yes

And some will not:

fine print no

Always read the fine print! (I guess that’s good advice for life in general …) It may just provide information about check in times, or other informational items. Other times, there may be additional fees. For example, the Fine Print above for Vestri Pétursey specifies a bed linen fee:

real fine printAt $10 (or 10 Euros?) a person, that fee could make the difference in your decision to book this property.

9. Beware the Booking.com measure of how close a property is to a city.

I’ve saved my favorite tip for last. This may just be an Iceland thing, but I find it really funny. Suppose you are looking for a place to stay in Dalvik, Iceland. Dalvik is up in the north, and offers a really cool whale watching trip.

Booking.com doesn’t have any places to stay in Dalvik, at least not on the dates I was searching. But the first result it recommended was Visithrisey Holiday Homes, a mere 4.3 miles from Dalvik.

hrisey oh wow Looks lovely, so let’s go ahead and book it! But let’s first figure out how to drive from Hrísey to Dalvik.

dalvik fun

Turns out that the drive involves a ferry. The ferry does run every 2 hours, and will take your car. But I’m guessing that wasn’t what you were signing up for when Booking.com told you the towns were less than 5 miles apart.


Booking.com can be a great web site for the family traveler, especially if you have a lot of kids like us. It offers larger accommodations than you may find at sites that primarily offer hotels, and free cancellation on most bookings. Just make sure you understand the ins and outs, including fine print, currency risk, some unjustified pressure to book now, and some “nearby” options that aren’t so nearby.

Let us know what your experience has been!

9 tips for using Booking.com in Iceland (or anywhere)! was last modified: September 11th, 2016 by Eric