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It’s not free breakfast, a kitchen or free parking. While those are the silver, bronze and runner-up winners of travelers' most beloved hotel amenities, the No. 1 hotel amenity this summer might come as a surprise — a pool.
That’s according to Hotels.com, which analyzed searches on its site and mobile app for trips set for summer 2022 to identify the most in-demand amenities. Even with 21st century hotel amenities like electric vehicle charging stations and elaborate vending machines that serve fresh food, pools continue to hold strong as the top amenity that vacationers care about.
Why are pools especially popular this year?
In the first year of the pandemic — when little was known about COVID-19 transmission — many hotels shut off pool access. We now know you’re less likely to be exposed to COVID-19 during outdoor activities even if unmasked, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says that people generally don't need to wear masks outdoors.
Given that outdoors is typically a safer choice than indoors, an outdoor pool could be a prime place for you to spend your vacation. But that might not be the only reason pools are so hot.
Opportunities for relaxation and wellness
Especially as a result of the pandemic, hotels have been leaning into upping their wellness offerings — both for fitness fanatics and spa-goers.
For some travelers, a calm escape is essential after a stressful few years. Others are actively seeking destinations with healthier options, like unique fitness activities and restaurants with lighter fare.
This wellness focus extends to hot tubs, which saw record demand in recent years, according to Steve Stigers, chair of the International Hot Tub Association, a group dedicated to strengthening the hot tub industry.
“Wellness as a trend has been on the rise for several years, and we finally feel that the average consumer is starting to connect the dots relative to wellness benefits that are derived from (hot tubs) … whether it’s stress relief, better sleep, improved family connections (or) faster athletic recovery,” Stigers said in a statement.
Since hotels often offer hot tubs alongside pools, a pool amenity is even more attractive.
Pools pair well with other outdoor activities
The top trend in residential pools isn’t actually the pool itself — it’s what’s around the pool. That’s according to a 2021 analysis from the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance, which found that recent pool designs are calling for features including firepits, outdoor fireplaces, pergolas, pavilions and larger seating areas.
Hotels, likewise, are ramping up outdoor pool designs. At resorts, you’ll find all kinds of amenities around pools like private cabanas, daybeds, bars and DJs. You can also find pools physically designed with fun elements like splash pads for kids, lazy rivers, waterslides, hot tubs or even waterfalls.
How to save money on a pool-centric vacation
Elaborate hotel pools often (though not always) come with more expensive room rates and potentially high resort fees. Here’s how you can take a pool-centric vacation without sinking your budget.
Avoid resort fees
If your hotel has a fancy pool, there’s a good chance it also charges resort fees. The fees, which tend to range from between $30-$60 per night, are often not well-advertised upfront and have been a source of tension for many travelers. These mandatory fees are usually charged by hotels to cover extra amenities like Wi-Fi, services like bike rentals and, yes, use of the pool.
The good news: Some major hotel chains, such as Hilton and Hyatt, don’t charge resort fees for rooms booked on points. And with some hotel loyalty programs, travelers in higher tiers of elite status could have their resort fees waived.
Look to free night certificates
Additionally, some hotels that offer free night certificates don't also charge a resort fee, including Hilton and Hyatt. That can make the value of such certificates even higher than simply the cash price of the hotel room. Hilton free night certificates can be used for standard rooms at most of Hilton’s 6,400-plus hotels.
Understand how the pool fits into the rest of your activities
Calculate how much the pool factors into the rest of your vacation itinerary. If it’s a significant portion of your day, then that can help offset other entertainment costs, especially if you plan to use the pool facilities for many hours. Whether you're renting a cabana, attending a pool movie night or playing yard games, going to the pool doesn’t have to just mean swimming in the water.
If you're looking for a pool this summer
While pools rank among the summer’s hottest travel trends, they might also compel you to stay at hotels that are more expensive. But with the right strategy, you can have that resort pool while also keeping your vacation budget out of hot water.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2022, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card