In general, Germany has one of the highest standards of innkeeping in the world. Hotels range from five-star palaces of luxury and comfort to plain country inns and simple guesthouses (Gasthäuser), with a huge variation in rates. The cheapest accommodations are in pensions (Fremdenheime) or rooms in private homes (look for a sign saying ZIMMER FREI, meaning there's a room for rent). Hotels listed as garni provide no meals other than breakfast.
Also, tourist offices will often book you into a room for a small charge. Obviously, the earlier you arrive in these offices, the more likely you are to get a good room at the price you want.
Surfing for Hotels -- In addition to the online travel booking sites Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline, and Hotwire, you can book hotels through Hotels.com; Quikbook (www.quikbook.com); and Travelaxe (www.travelaxe.com/Information_Overview.asp).
HotelChatter.com is a daily webzine offering smart coverage and critiques of hotels worldwide. Go to TripAdvisor.com or HotelShark.com for helpful independent consumer reviews of hotels and resort properties.
It's a good idea to get a confirmation number and make a printout of any online booking transaction.
Throughout Germany, as in many tourist centers worldwide, hotels routinely overbook, so booking by credit card doesn't automatically hold your room if you arrive later than expected or after 6pm. The hotel clerk always asks when you expect to arrive, and the hotel usually holds the room until that time. Always pad your expected arrival by a few hours to be safe. However, all bets are off after 7pm, and the hotel is likely to give your room away unless you call and specifically ask them to hold it. If you've made a reservation very far in advance, confirm within 24 hours of your expected arrival. If you're experiencing a major travel delay, alert the hotel as soon as you can.
Beware of billing. Readers report that sometimes in Germany they booked a room online at one rate, but were charged a higher rate when they checked out. Keep your online confirmation in case of a dispute.
Many travelers prefer to go the B&B route when touring Bavaria. This can be an inexpensive alternative to pricey hotels. However, some B&Bs, of course, are more luxurious than even a first-class hotel. Naturally, these come with a higher price tag. Breakfast, as promised in the name, is served, and often the staff at a B&B will pack you a picnic lunch if you're staying over in the area and want to go hiking. In some cases, and only if arranged in advance, a home-cooked German dinner might be served.
For reservations, contact Bed & Breakfast Inns Online (tel. 800/215-7365 or 310/280-4363; www.bbonline.com), or BnBFinder.com (tel. 888/547-8226 or 212/432-7693; www.bnbfinder.com).
Bungalow, Villa & Apartment Rentals
Dozens of agencies handle these kinds of rentals, the best of which are At Home Abroad, Inc. (tel. 212/421-9165; www.athomeabroadinc.com); and Drawbridge to Europe (tel. 888/268-1148; www.drawbridgetoeurope.com), which offers vacation rentals (even a private castle) in Mittel Europa, including not only Bavaria but also Switzerland and Austria. Interhome (tel. 800/882-6864 or 954/791-8282; www.interhomeusa.com) offers properties in 21 countries, including Germany.
House-swapping is becoming a more popular and viable means of travel; you stay in their place, they stay in yours, and you both get a more authentic and personal view of a destination, the opposite of the escapist retreat many hotels offer. Try HomeLink International (www.homelink.org), the largest and oldest home-swapping organization, founded in 1952, with more than 11,000 listings worldwide ($115 yearly membership). HomeExchange.com ($9.95 a month for 6,000 listings) and InterVac.com ($99.99 for more than 10,000 listings) are also reliable.
Throughout Germany, including Bavaria, you'll encounter "Romantik" hotels, not chains but voluntary associations of small inns and guesthouses that have one element in common: They are usually old and charming, and romantic in architecture. If you like a traditional ambience as opposed to bandbox modern, then a Romantik Hotel might be for you. The requirement is that the hotel be in a historic building (or at least one of vintage date) and personally managed by the owner. Usually you get a regional cuisine and good, personal service, along with an old-fashioned setting and cozy charm. Sometimes the plumbing could be better, and standards of comfort vary widely, but all have been inspected.
For details, contact Romantik Hotels & Restaurants (tel. 800/650-8018 in the U.S. or 069/661-2340 in Germany; www.romantikhotels.com).