BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (TheStreet) -- The most important travel decisions are often the ones made long before the vacation even starts, as you do your due diligence checking out hotels, airlines and exotic destinations. Other times they are the little choices you make at the airport or hotel front desk that can define the mood for the rest of your trip. We've asked a few travel insiders and business travelers for their most guarded travel secrets of each kind to help your next vacation or business trip go off without a hitch:
Tripadvisor has become one of the most frequently visited travel websites for scouting out hotels in a place you've never been or don't know very well. While the objectivity of some Tripadvisor travel reviews has been rightly called into question (just check out the top hotel picks in your own home city), a picture can tell a thousand words and rarely lies. At least for hotels there's almost more travel knowledge to be had in scouring user pictures -- and seeing how they compare with promo shots -- than reading lengthy, often tedious reviews to see if the hotel meets your demands.
Hotel loyalty isn't always rewarded
A fabulous W Hotel in Barcelona does not always mean an equally fabulous W in Montreal. While we understand the desire to accumulate frequent guest points at chains that offer them, such as Hilton and Starwood (Stock Quote: HOT), keep in mind that not all luxury hotels of the same chain are created equally. If traveling with Starwood, take a look at the hotel's SPG Category rating. The company's top properties are usually rated SPG Category 6 or 7. The category level refers to redemption points required for an SPG Award stay but also offers even non-SPG members a glimpse at what the company considers to be their hottest and most in-demand properties.