Booking a Hotel Room in Austria
Booking a room in a hotel or private accommodation in Austria is not such a trivial matter as one might think. With an extremely high tourist-per-capita ratio, even Austria′s well-developed accommodation facilities tend to be over-booked during the main season. This applies in particular to the cities of Vienna, Salzburg and Innsbruck during the summer season (late May to early September), but also to the Wachau and the Salzkammergut.
During the winter season, skiing areas tend to be booked solidly, most importantly in Tyrol and Salzburg, from January to Easter. During these times, I would strongly recommend to book your rooms in advance, especially if you travel by public means of transport. By using a car you will gain flexibility, which might lead to cheaper rooms off the beaten track.
Booking is easy these days - there are plenty of companies that buy a certain number of nights in a hotel at a fixed rate and then re-sell these nights individually online. Since major hotel chains grant discounts to such companies, you are likely to find a good deal through them. For TourMyCountry.com, I have implemented a booking service for rooms with Booking.com, one of the major online providers of hotel rooms.
Hotel Nomenclature: What Service to Expect
Local tourist information centres in Austria usually offer assistance to people who are looking for a room. Some of them charge a fee (usually a percentage of the booked arrangement or a fixed charge), others do it for free. It depends on the area, but especially if you arrive somewhere late, it is good to know that there is a central coordinator of booking arrangements.
Austrian hotels are divided into three types: A "Vollpension" package means that you get a room and three meals a day; "Halbpension" means that you get a room, breakfast and dinner; and "Frühstückspension", "Übernachtung mit Frühstück" or "Hotel Garni" means that you get a room and breakfast - by far the most common arrangement.
The term "Pension" typically refers to private accommodation, of which there are plenty in Austria. They usually offer room and breakfast arrangements only and are normally run by families. There is some degree of variation between Pensions, they range from rooms on traditional farms to small hotel-like companies. I recommend to specify at the booking desk what you expect to find. Generally, Pensionen offer slightly cheaper rooms than hotels. Most people who are after Pensionen, however, prefer them for the personal touch of staying in a family-run place similar to B&Bs in Great Britain or the US.
Bargain Hotels: Finding a Hostel
For real bargains, I would advise you to look for youth hostels ("Jugendherberge"). Dormitories or rooms in hostels are by far the cheapest option apart from camping or staying on a bench in a park. There are two types of hostels in Austria: those who are part of the international youth hostelling association and those who are not.
The former ones are restricted to major cities and somewhat standardised in comfort and facilities; the latter ones are private and vary in quality. Over-all, Austrian youth hostels have a reputation for being clean, well-equipped and safe in comparison to hostels in other countries.
Many hostels are actually student accommodation during term - since student dorms are usually not owned by the universities in Austria, but by private entities (unions, parties, church organisations and orders…), it is difficult to say anything about them in general. However, I think if you travel cheaply, they are they way forward.
Practicalities & Useful Bits
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