During the high season, reservations are recommended in popular tourist areas such as Boracay or El Nido. At other times, you should do fine walking in.
Resorts These range from ultraluxurious, the rival of any in Southeast Asia, to basic fan-cooled bungalows.
Hotels Many cater to the domestic market, which means generic concrete construction and air-con. Five-star hotels in Manila are truly sumptuous affairs.
Pensionnes Sort of a catch-all term referring to less expensive, independently owned hotels.
Hostels Those that target foreign travellers tend to be more comfortable and stylish, but also more expensive, than ones for primarily young Filipinos.
From homestays in basic nipa huts to modern boutique hotels in big cities, there's something for everyone in the Philippines.
The top end includes big-city Shangri-Las (including the actual one in Manila) to extravagant private island resorts where guests arrive by helicopter or float plane. The very bottom end includes cold water, windowless cells with paper-thin walls and neither fan nor air-con. Of course the vast majority of accommodation options are somewhere in between.
It's worth noting the very real divide between accommodation that caters to Filipino tourists and those that target foreigners. The former tend to be concrete with family-sized rooms, air-con and little attention to aesthetics, whereas the latter, or at least those owned by foreigners (most often Europeans), are usually more sophisticated and tastefully done and utilise native-style features such as thatched roofs.
Costs & Seasons
Within the budget category, rooms for less than P500 are generally dorms or private fan-cooled rooms with a shared cold-water bathroom. Rooms between P700 and P1000 usually have a fan and private bathroom. Anything higher (and some within this range) should have both air-conditioning and a private bathroom.
High-season rates are from November to April or May. While prices in resort areas go down around 20% to 50% in the low season, they may double, triple or even quadruple during the ‘superpeak’ periods of Holy Week (Easter) and around New Year.
Chinese New Year (usually in February) and the Japanese holiday period of Golden Week (29 April to 5 May) are additional times of heavy travel that may cause price spikes in resort areas.
As more and more Filipinos travel it’s becoming more difficult to just walk in and find a room in the most popular resort areas and touristy towns. Booking ahead is not a bad idea in the high season and is essential in ‘superpeak’ periods. That said, if you don’t book ahead, even in the high season, you’ll find something eventually.
Many resorts, especially at the top end, require a deposit, often 100% but usually closer to 50%. This is usually nonrefundable if you cancel less than two weeks prior to your arrival. Annoyingly, a few still ask you to wire or direct-deposit the money into a Manila bank account, although fancier resorts will allow credit-card deposits.
Circumvent this by choosing another resort. Or consider just showing up without a reservation. Call the resort a day or two ahead to make sure there are vacancies (if you try this, have a backup resort in mind just in case).
Discounts & Promo Rates
A few potential money-saving tips for booking hotels in the Philippines:
Promo rates Especially during off-peak periods, hotels often offer ‘promo rates’ that they won’t tell you about unless you ask. So always ask.
Walking in In many resort areas, the ‘walk-in’ (ie no reservation) rate is substantially cheaper than the reservation rate. Conversely, in some hotels the reservation rate is actually cheaper than the walk-in rate. It always helps to ask.
Websites Direct booking on a hotel's website is often, but not always, cheaper than booking through online travel agencies. At any rate it helps to check.
Fan v air-con Some midrange places have two-tiered pricing for the same room. Even if not formally offered, you can say no to the air-con and request a fan for cheaper rates.