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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