Archive for the ‘Hotels’ Category

Tools for choosing the best hotel; big summer bonuses

With the peak summer travel season right around the corner and plenty of BAT readers busy planning their trips, we’ve put together an array news and tools to help you make the right decision. Happy planning!

CONSUMER REPORTS RATES HOTELS. There are all kinds of hotel ratings and rankings and lists out there…so many in fact, that I sorta glaze over when I read about them. However, when Consumer Reports ranks hotels, I prick up my ears. Its ratings are based on the experiences of nearly 28,000 CR readers regarding their hotel stays between January 2008 and April 2009. You’ve got to subscribe to the magazine for the full report (June 2010 issue), but here are a few nuggets: Ritz-Carlton (no surprise) placed at the top of the “Fanciest” category. For “luxury” hotels, Renaissance (Marriott) and Embassy Suites ranked highest, Sheraton lowest. In the “upscale” category, Homewood Suites (Hilton) came out at the top, Radisson at the bottom. For moderate hotels, Drury Inn & Suites ranked highest and Howard Johnson ranked lowest. (Have you ever stayed at a Drury Inn?? If so, please leave a comment. I’m not familiar with this chain and I’m curious!) In the budget category, Microtel ranked best and America’s Best Value Inn ranked worst.

CR SAYS IT PAYS TO HAGGLE WITH HOTELS. From the article that accompanied the Consumer Reports hotel ranking: “Only 35 percent of respondents tried to negotiate for a better deal, but those who did were rewarded with a lower rate or room upgrade 80 percent of the time. That’s a slightly higher success rate than readers experienced in our 2006 survey. Those who called ahead to do their haggling were even more successful than those who tried to negotiate in person.” What’s your experience with haggling with hotels? Leave your comments below.

HOTEL INDUSTRY INSIDERS’ TOP PICKS FOR 2010. Since 2007 Expedia has produced the annual Insider’s Select List, an excellent resource for those blindly seeking a good hotel in an unknown city. Why do I like it? Because the selection is based on three factors: first, of course, it incorporates user reviews…but since user reviews are not always such a great gauge, they also include input from Expedia’s 400 local hotel market managers who know what’s hot and what’s not in their hometowns. They also use a value rating of each hotel, which compares the hotel’s average rate with that of comparable properties in the market. Combined, those three factors churn out some very reliable winners. In typical Expedia fashion, hotels are easily searchable by region, country and city. Interesting: The #1 hotel in the U.S. is the Drury Inn in Indianapolis (there’s that Drury name again!) Second: Staybridge Suites Minneapolis/Bloomington and third, the EPIC Hotel (Kimpton) in Miami. Numero uno in California is the Avila La Fonda hotel in San Luis Obispo. Second is the Raffles L’Hermitage in Beverly Hills- see photo. (Disclosure: I was editor of Expedia Travel Trendwatch 2005-2009.)

DESPERATELY SEEKING FREE WI-FI. It’s getting easier and easier to find free Wi-Fi at hotels these days as operators are finally tuning in to the fact that business travelers see it as a necessity and expect it to be included in the rate. But every now and then you get a big surprise when you have to pay $15 a day for the convenience. To help avoid that, the good folks over at hotelchatter.com have produced an exhaustive list of hotels with and without free Wi-Fi.

SPEAKING OF FREE WI-FI. Did you know that if you simply join frequent stay programs at Fairmont, Kimpton or Omni hotels you’ll get free Wi-Fi access? All you have to do is sign up. Other full-service brands such as Marriott, W (Starwood) and Hilton only offer free Wi-Fi to top-tier members of their programs.

SUMMER HOTEL BONUSES: The “Big Four” hotel chains have come out with their summer promotions and they are looking pretty good. Here’s a rundown:

  • MARRIOTT: Marriott Rewards members earn a free night for every third stay at any of its 3200 hotels between June 1 and August 31. Marriott will also toss in a certificate for a $10/day discount on Hertz. Free stays are good through December 31 in Category 1-4 hotels only. Register here.
  • STARWOOD: Starwood is offering a free weekend (Fri, Sat or Sun) night after every three stays. However, Starwood’s earning window is earlier than Marriott’s: May 1-July 31. Free nights are good through December 19. What makes this a better offer, though, is that the free nights are good a ALL Starwood hotels in Categories 1-6 which even includes some of the pricey St Regis properties. Register here.
  • PRIORITY CLUB (InterContinental): Members earn double Priority Club points OR airline miles OR up to $500 in gift cards starting with their second stay at any of the chain’s 4400 hotels worldwide. Good for stays from May 14 through August 31. Double points or miles awarded beginning with second qualifying stay. Gift cards are good at Best Buy, Home Depot, Target and others. Register here
  • HILTON: According to a blog post by Hilton’s new CEO Chris Nassetta, all Hilton brands (3.500 hotels) will offer a “up to a 30% discount” plus free breakfast for stays between May 28 and September 6. (Details should be posted on Hilton.com site starting May 10.) Interesting aside: In the post, Nassetta points out that Hilton HHonors “enrollment from January to March 2010 were the highest enrollment levels for the program during those months within the last four years.” Why is that interesting? Because in January, Hilton increased its award redemption levels by about 25 percent, which got it a lambasting by travel media.

24 BRAND NEW HOTELS IN NEW YORK? You betcha. Check out this list and see how many you know of. Interesting to note how many of them are midscale and on the western side of the city.

The Standard New York (SEE PHOTO BELOW) Full-Service 335 848 Washington Street Greenwich Village Jan 2009
Hilton Garden Inn Tribeca Select-Service 150 6 York Street Tribeca Jan 2009
Hotel Reserve Select-Service 116 20 Maiden Lane Financial District Jan 2009
Ace Hotel New York Full-Service 262 20 West 29th Street Chelsea Mar 2009
Fairfield Inn Manhattan/Times Square Limited-Service 244 330 West 40th Street Midtown West Mar 2009
Hilton Garden Inn - West 35th Street Select-Service 298 63 West 35th Street Garment District Mar 2009
Smyth Tribeca - A Thompson Hotel Boutique 100 85 West Broadway Tribeca Mar 2009
West 57th Street by Hilton Club Timeshare 161 102 West 57th Street Midtown West May 2009
Four Points by Sheraton Midtown Select-Service 244 326 West 40th Street Midtown West Jun 2009
Comfort Inn Manhattan Bridge Limited-Service 60 61-63 Chrystie Street Nolita Jun 2009
Hampton Inn Times Square South Limited-Service 184 337 West 39th Street Garment District Jul 2009
Holiday Inn Express Times Square Limited-Service 210 343 West 39th Street Garment District Jul 2009
Candlewood Suites Times Square Extended Stay 188 339 West 39th Street Garment District Jul 2009
Hotel Indigo Chelsea Select-Service 122 127 West 28th Street Chelsea Jul 2009
Doubletree New York - Chelsea Full-Service 237 128 West 29th Street Chelsea Jul 2009
Comfort Inn Midtown West Limited-Service 70 343 West 44th Street Midtown West Aug 2009
Ink48, a Kimpton Hotel Full-Service 222 653 11th Avenue Midtown West Sep 2009
Crosby Street Hotel Boutique 86 79 Crosby Street SoHo Oct 2009
Club Quarters World Trade Center Full-Service 421 140 Washington Street Financial District Nov 2009
The Strand Hotel Full-Service 177 33 West 37th Street Garment District Dec 2009
Fairfield Inn & Suites Manhattan Limited-Service 92 21 West 37th Street Garment District Dec 2009
Andaz New York - Wall Street Hotel + Condo 253 75 Wall Street Financial District Jan 2010
W NY-Downtown Hotel & Residences Hotel + Condo 217 123 Washington Street Financial District Feb 2010
The Distrikt Hotel - Ascend Collection Select-Service 155 342 West 40th Street Midtown West Feb 2010

Source: Hotelresource.com

The new Standard Hotel on the west side of Chelsea straddles the new High Line Trail (photo: C. McGinnis)

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Higher airfares, but lower hotel rates on the way

Good news for the travel industry is not always good news for bargain hunting frequent travelers.

Growing demand on the part of both leisure and business travelers means . . . you guessed it . . . higher prices. Those dirt-cheap deals the travel industry has used to keep us on the road and in the skies over the last couple years will get tougher to find in coming months.

Here’s why:

>FARES: In February, the average price to fly one mile in the U.S. increased 5 percent says the Air Transport Association. Fares are rising because airlines have been able to reduce their supply of seats by parking planes in the desert. Now that competition among travelers for the remaining seats is heating up, fares will rise accordingly.

>FEES: In addition to higher fares, airlines will continue to tack on extra fees to help firm up their mushy bottom lines. In January alone, airlines pulled in half a billion dollars in “ancillary revenue,” a term used to describe just about any airline charge other than fare [such as fees for baggage, ticket changes, upgrades, food, etc.],” said Kevin Chrissey, an airline analyst with UBS who was speaking at the Strategic Travel Symposium, a recent conference to which I was invited by the National Business Travel Association.

>AIRLINE GROWTH: Delta Air Lines, now the largest airline in the world, had to adjust its profit forecast for this quarter based on a 30+ percent jump in corporate travel volume and revenue in February. Also, Delta just announced that it’s jumping back into the hyper-competitive California Corridor with four daily round trips between SFO and LAX using both B737 and regional jets. Last week, Virgin America announced new flights from SFO to Toronto and Orlando starting later this year (but it’s dumping service to Orange County).

>SUMMER: It’s going to be a busy summer. Remember last summer nearly every flight was full and/or oversold? UBS’s Chrissey warned it could happen again this summer now that demand is rising along with the economic outlook. If you’ve got plans to fly on peak days (Memorial Day, July 4, most of August and Labor Day) you should start looking at fares now and go ahead and book.

>HOTEL GLUT: For hotels, it’s a bit of a different story. There’s been a huge boom in hotel construction over the last five years. For example, United’s Hemispheres magazine this month includes a colorful article about a handful of the snazziest of the 59 (yes, 59!) new hotels that have opened in NYC in the last 18 months. So, with a lot of extra supply out there, and only a slow return in demand, hotel rates should remain relatively flat over the next year.

>BOOKINGS UP: With all the great hotel deals out there, demand is starting to pop. For example, advance bookings at the Best Western chain were up 16.4 percent during the second week in March compared to the same time last year. (They were up over 6 percent for the month of February.) That’s significant considering Best Western’s the largest hotel chain in the world. Disclosure: I write a blog for Best Western.

>BUYER’S MARKET: The buyer’s market for hotel rooms should continue over the next year, said hotel analyst Bjorn Hanson at the symposium in New York. “For many years, I’ve advised consumers to call the hotel directly and ask for a lower rate, and they’d get one about 20 percent of the time. These days, they are getting a lower rate 50 percent of the time,” he said.

>RATES: To further illustrate his point, Hanson said that rates at luxury hotels in New York City were down a whopping 40 percent in 2009 compared to a high in 2006. And he referred to three different forecasts showing nationwide rate declines of 2-3 percent for 2010.

So folks, I’m eager to hear about your observations and plans for travel this year. Have you noticed that prices are increasing? Are you planning to travel more this year than last year? When do you plan to firm up your summer travel plans?

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Four brand new hotels (NY, Chicago, LA) BAT readers should know about

Even though the hotel biz is having a tough time, new properties are still opening and there are deals to be had. So here are four hip brand-spankin’ new hostelries that BAT readers should know about:

NEW YORK: I had an outstanding stay earlier this winter at the brand new Hotel Indigo on W. 28th St near the Fashion Institute of Technology. The hotel is located in Chelsea on a block full of commercial florists which makes for a beautiful walk to or from the hotel. While the hotel is out of the bustle of midtown, there’s a subway stop a block from the hotel on 7th Ave where trains can get you up or downtown in a flash. What do I really like about this hotel? It’s brand new from the ground up—something you don’t see a lot of in NYC. There’s free wi-fi. Only downside: Rooms on lower floors have poor views. Lowest rates in late March range from $175 to $200.

CHICAGO: We’ve not actually visited the brand new, ultra-glam Elysian hotel, but we’ve been hearing about it from BAT readers and colleagues at Leading Hotels of the World. It’s all-new from the ground up which is nice in a town with a lot of old hotel stock. While it’s new and has all the latest techie bells and whistles (flat screen TVs, free wi-fi, built in stereo speakers) it’s got old world touches like a cobblestone driveway, marble bathrooms, fireplaces, outdoor terraces and windows that open. In late March, rooms range from $300 to $600, putting it in competition with the likes of the Peninsula and Four Seasons. If nothing else, you must see it’s gorgeous website. (PS: When in Chicago last week, my frequent-traveling mother Julia checked out the Elysian and gives it a big thumbs up.)

photo: Erik Oginski


LOS ANGELES PT 1: The brand new glitzy and glamorous W Hollywood Hotel opened last month in a new mixed use development in the heart of Tinseltown at the corner of Hollywood and Vine. Guests are given star-studded treatment in true Hollywood fashion as they walk the plush “red carpet” to check in. As usual at any W Hotel, there’ll be a party in the lobby— here’s what an opening press release says: “Guests, residents and LA insiders can sip and socialize on the adjoining outdoor terrace and ground-floor lounge, featuring black tufted leather sofas, lounge chairs and a decadent backlit lobby bar crafted of glowing Onice Fantastico onyx.” Rates in late March start at about $220.

LOS ANGELES PT 2: The JW Marriott Hotel Los Angeles at L.A. LIVE officially opened Feb 17. The long-awaited hotel is a cornerstone of the $2.5 billion L.A. LIVE sports, residential and entertainment district, located in downtown Los Angeles, across the street from the LA Convention Center and Staples Center. (Photo below) The 878-room property, which plans to be LEED-certified, shares space with the much smaller 123-room Ritz-Carlton Los Angeles (with a 4000 sq foot spa) in a unique 54-story tower. This is one of several new developments in the once-blighted downtown area that should help it shed some of its grittiness. Rates in late March at the J.W. start at $229. At the Ritz (opening next month), lowest rates are closer to $350.

photo: Marriott International

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Your BAT Editor on CNN Talking Holiday Travel

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It’s almost Halloween and that always means one thing to me: Time for smart travelers to get a jump on the holidays! Check out BAT editor Chris McGinnis’ tips for holiday travel on CNN. (See full Q&A script below)


BAT editor Chris McGinnis on CNN with Holiday Travel Outlook

Here’s the full Q&A script for this segment for those of you who don’t want to or can’t watch the video. It includes much more info that what’s included in this one-minute segment.

TOPIC: Holiday Outlook

Q: Give me a general overview of what the holiday travel outlook looks like:

A: Holiday travel will be cheaper this year than last year.

For example, Expedia data show that average airfares around Thanksgiving are down about 17%.

Q: Why will there be lower fares?

A: Two reasons: less demand due to the ailing economy, and lower fuel costs for airlines, which helps keep fares low.

Q: What will be a good price for a domestic flight to a major city?

A: It depends on when and where you are flying.

Flights on the most popular days around Thanksgiving, such as the Tuesday or Wednesday before or the Sunday and Monday after are always more expensive.

If you must travel on those days, you should expect to pay at least 25% more than if you travel on less popular days.

Flights between major cities where there is low fare competition will be much cheaper than flights to smaller towns dominated by one or two airlines.

Q: What’s a price point travelers should keep in mind?

A: It depends on when and where you are flying and varies greatly, so it’s impossible to state.

Keep in mind that holiday travel is peak season travel, so while prices are lower than previous years, they are still going to be higher than any other time of year.

Q: What will be a good price for rental cars?

A: It depends on when and where you are renting a car.

Since business travel demand for rental cars is down during the holidays, rates tend to be lower than at other times of year.

Q: When should travelers book by in order to get deals?

A: The best time to book Christmas holiday trips is in mid-October—no later.

Q: Why will there be fewer delays?

A: Now that the airlines are flying fewer planes, airport congestion is less of a problem overall.

However, big hub airports like Atlanta and New York still have serious congestion issues.

Weather is always the wild card for delays during the holidays. If a snowstorm hits a major airline hub, delays are unavoidable.

Q: What’s the downside of this travel season?

A: Holiday season is peak season, and flights will be much fuller this year.

This means that if you miss your flight or your connection, the likelihood of getting on the next flight out is slim. You may end up having to wait a day or two.

Q: How can travelers avoid getting caught with no back up?

A: Pad your schedule and don’t be late for your flight this year.

If you miss your flight, you could end up waiting a day or two for the next available seat, which could ruin your holiday.

Q: What’s the bottom line for this holiday travel season?

A: Holiday travel will be cheaper than last year if you book your trips well ahead of time.

Airport congestion and flight delays will remain a problem at some big hub airports, but overall, airline on-time performance is improving.

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90-Second Video Review: Hotel Maya, Long Beach, CA

Joie de Vivre hotels invited THE BAT down to Long Beach, CA for the grand opening of the Hotel Maya located right there on the waterfront between the Queen Mary and downtown. They’ve done a great job! Here is my video review. Below you’ll find the voice over script to the video in case you can’t watch it.

Video Review of the Hotel Maya

In typical fashion, designers from the mod San Francisco based Joie de Vivre hotel chain have gone to Long Beach, California…

…where they found the UN-gracefully aging  Coast Hotel …

…and transformed it into a Latin lover called the Hotel Maya to the tune of about $20 million dollars

The property is set in a forest of 400 palm trees on the Long Beach waterfront.

Rooms are decorated with unusual touches like river stone headboards…

Bathrooms are brand new… I love that brown granite and burnt orange wallpaper!

Every room’s got a big desk area, flat screen TV, mini bar— and thankfully free and fast wi-fi

There’s a dramatic pool area with Vegas style cabanas good for play, and for work….

Plus an ample gym and meeting space for business travelers.

The airy Fuego Restaurant specializes in three things: seafood, tequila, and a stunning view of the city AND the Queen Mary docked nearby.

All in all this a great redo— like a stodgy old aunt going in for a makeover and coming out a flamenco dancer!

The Hotel Maya is located about 30 mins south of LAX on the border of LA and Orange county.

Rates start at around $140 for garden views. Water views are closer to $200.

www.hotelmayalongbeach.com

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Summer Hotel News (and a review: Palomar Atlanta)

RATES CRASHING. Hotel rates are WAY down, too. That’s because hotels can’t just go park excess hotel rooms in the desert like airlines can park planes. This means there are a LOT of unsold hotel rooms going at bargain basement prices—- and we are talking some of the most popular destinations in the country like Las Vegas, New York, San Francisco and Hawaii. European rates have tanked, too!

Examples of average hotel rate declines this summer
In US:
•    Las Vegas: -25%
•    New York: -25%
•    San Francisco: -23%
•    Honolulu: -18%

In Europe:
•    Barcelona: -35%
•    London: -25%
•    Rome: -23%
(Source: Expedia.com)

TOUGH TIMES. The first half of 2009 was brutal for the hotel industry. According to Smith Travel Research, occupancy fell 11% in the first six months of 2009. The average daily rate dipped below the bellwether $100 mark to $98.66. Revenue per available room slipped 19%. Ouch. However, the outlook for hotels is improving as the economy seems to be warming up.

CANDLEWOOD SUITES HITS NYC. We always love a NEW hotel in NYC and here’s the latest from InterContinental: “Candlewood Suites is bringing a full-scale apartment experience at a midscale hotel price to business and leisure travelers at a prime location just one block from Times Square. Guestrooms are all-studio suites with wide rooms, including a full kitchen with full-size refrigerator, stove top, dishwasher and microwave, and stocked with pots, pans, plates, glassware and utensils; comfortable recliner; large workspace with desk chair; and deluxe bedding.  Unlike most New York City midscale hotels, the Candlewood Suites offers amenities typically found in apartment buildings, including a complimentary 24-hour fitness center, complete with cardio and weight machines, and complimentary onsite laundry for guests. Location: 339 West 39th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues—over near the Port Authority. Rates in August start at about $220 per night. When we checked rates for Sept and Oct, the hotel was already sold out most nights! www.candlewoodsuites.com

AN ALTERNATIVE TO TRIPADVISOR. Check out this very helpful new hotel review site where hotel guests post their own VIDEOS of hotel stays. Very revealing!

MORE FREE INTERNET. So here’s a positive trend that we are hearing about more frequently: Many full-service hotel brands are FINALLY getting the message that guests are tired of paying for wi-fi when they can get it free at most limited service brands. For example, Hyatt now offers free wi-fi in all hotels to platinum and diamond members of its Gold Passport program. InterContinental Ambassors get it free, too. We are hearing that many west coast luxury properties, such as Ritz-Carltons are also offering it for free. Let’s hope the trend continues!

DISINTEREST IN LOYALTY PROGRAMS? Membership in hotel, airline and car rental loyalty programs has declined 31.2 percent since 2007, according to a new study from the loyalty research company Colloquy. The results, based on interviews with 2,152 U.S. consumers, indicate there still is interest in loyalty programs, but travelers are picking fewer carriers and hoteliers with which to invest their time and money.

Between our business trips, press trips and personal travel, we stay at a LOT of hotels. We’d like to share our experiences with BAT readers here in the Hotel Category. 

HOTEL PALOMAR-ATLANTA. A few months ago, the new Hotel Palomar in Midtown Atlanta hosted us for one night. The 21-story, 304 room hotel is just off I-75/85 which runs north/south through the center of downtown. It’s a brand new-from-the-ground-up hotel at 12th and West Peachtree. Rates generally run in the $150 range, but we’ve seen specials as low as $99 per night.

We stayed there on a Saturday night in late May. Having had many positive experiences at other Kimpton Group hotels scattered around the country, we had high expectations, and we are pleased to report those expectations were met this time around.

For a hotel that had only been open a few short months, we did not detect the slightest bit of just-opened jitters. All the staff, from the bellhops who greeted us on the street, the front desk staff, housekeepers…everyone was completely on their game. We are used to giving a wide berth to the staff at brand new hotels as they work through opening kinks, but that was definitely not necessary at the Palomar.

We really liked the modern, yet comfortable design of our room. Lots of ambers, browns, grays and tans in both wood and stone with a splash of red and orange here and there. Nice desk with an Aeron-like chair. Wi-fi is free for members of Kimpton’s In-Touch loyalty program. Flat screen TV. A nice bright and modern bathroom with a big tub-less shower.

Overall, it had the mod feel of a W Hotel without the disco-y dark corridors throbbing to a deep beat which always strain us when traveling on business.  We had an outstanding meal in the hotel restaurant called Pacci and then spent several hours on the rooftop deck, complete with its own screened in porch (nice southern touch amidst all the steel and glass towers of Midtown).

The only downside was the enforced valet parking @$30 per night (plus tip). There’s no self-park option, which is too bad considering that the hotel parking lot is located right next to the hotel…and about 100 feet from the valet stand. Next time we’ll ditch the car and take MARTA!


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