New business traveler needs help choosing a hotel chainBack to Forum
Anonymous15 Aug 2011
Thanks in advance for your help. I am a new business traveler, I will be traveling for work every week Monday-Thursday and I am trying to find the best hotel chain for my needs. I will be going all over the US from New York City to cities you never knew existed. I can be in a city anywhere from 2 months to a year.
I like to make my own food, so any hotel room that comes standard with a mini fridge, food prep area, microwave, etc. would be great. I plan on using the points for hotel stays for personal trips, within the US and International.
Can you please give me advice as to which is the best hotel chain for me (with explanation) or point me to an article or well respected blog/site/blogger/author that can give me more information.
If I left out any information please let me know. Thanks!15 Aug 2011
I’m not really up on chains within the US, and I’m not sure what your budget is, but I recently saw an advert for Home2 Suites which I believe is owned by Hilton. Perhaps this would fit your requirements?
Other than that I guess I would look up “Serviced Accommodation” and then research the ones offered. Though in the end trial and error is often the best way. I’ve often read fantastic reviews on sites such as Tripadvisor, only to be bitterly disappointed after checking in.15 Aug 2011
Embassy Suites in the USA are part of the Hilton Group and these have a seperate lounge area/kitchen with fridge and microwave and a dining table too.
Most locations have a happy hour from 5.30pm for a couple of hours with complimentary drinks and cocktails. Their breakfast buffet is signature too.
Never had a bad experience all over the USA.15 Aug 2011
Most of the big brands have suite brands with kitchenettes and sitting rooms. I suspect your ultimte choice will be based on the cities you visit most frequently and the quality of the properties and management in those cities and where the hotels are located (bad or good neighborhoods, close or far from Clients).
The Big International chains are Hyatt, Starwood, Hilton, IHG, Marriott (Carlsson is smaller) then domestic focused you have HoJo , La Quinta and the motel chains.
I would join all the Frequent guest plans and try some out until you find the style and budget that fits you best and have the best properties for you where you spend the most time.
For example, I personally like Starwood and Hyatt but always use Hilton in Chicago as Hilton Ohare is located in the airport so I do not need to mess about with a bus adn worry about missing it at 6.00 am on the morning.15 Aug 2011
Thanks everyone for the input so far.
LuganoPirate: As for budget, I am allowed to spend up to $200 per night, but I think most people spend less as I have heard the Fairfield Inn and Hampton Inn are popular choices among my colleagues (though this is from limited sources).
KeaneJohn: Embassy Suites sounds good. I had been considering Hilton, Mariott, and Starwood just because I have heard a lot about them and it seems to me like they have the most locations worldwide.
RichHI1: It’s nice to know about the kitchenettes, I am a little worried about the “eating out all the time” culture of consulting. As far as I know I won’t have regular cities; from what I hear we are sent all over. I think I will have to try out the hotels to see what I like best, but I feel like the details of the loyalty plans should affect my decision. What do you like about Starwood and Hyatt?15 Aug 2011
Starwood has good management, a good Frequent guest plan, a wide range of brands and good representation in the cities I visit. Hyatt hotels are normally equally well manged and by luck or judgement seem to fit well with Starwood as one has hotels where the other does not. Some Hilton properties are very good but as a rule I feel more at home with Starwood and Hyatt. I think they spend more time developing staff to make you feel at home (little touches like remembering your name and what room prefernces you had last time etc). I normally spend sightly more than your budget but Masterbrand feel and corporate culture tend to be similar across brands. Overall most US chains are competent and attuned to the needs of the business traveller (they have all introduce new brands aimed at this demographic) what they do not do well is originality or specialty. As a frequent business traveller that suits me fine. Last thing I want is surprises after a hard day.
Good luck doing your own cooking, We all start out with good intentions asking the way to the Gym and eating salads but …. a cold beer at the end of a hard day often has a strong call…15 Aug 2011
I had a Hilton Gold Card so got upgrades at Embassy Suites this usually meant better views as rooms are typically the same.
Happy Hour and breakfast at Embassy Suites is one of the things that swings it for me.
My favourite Embassy Suites is New York downtown by WTC and Mandalay Bay, Oxnard CA.15 Aug 2011
Yeah I forgot, Starwood upgrades at Platinum Level particularly if you visit certain properties regualrly are very very good (decent suites etc).
Only Embassy Suites I have stayed at was in Mexico City. Location was not great (ironically very close to 4 seasons and St Regis) but property was first class. Excellent accomodation, lots of complimentary gifts (bottles of wine, fruit etc), lots of Enlgish TV channels o good widescreen tv, very clean and very responsive service inculding telephone operators who answer quickly.15 Aug 2011
Some excellent responses so far. There are a few things to consider here when choosing accommodation – two c’s, two m’s, as you well know, Rich! 😉
If you’re new to travelling, it might be a good idea to see what your company travel policy is; some may have special rates with a hotel group, or even mandate you stay with that chain. So make sure you’re inside policy if there is one.
You may well find your company travel provider can comp you higher tier elite status with the hotel group; not a huge a mount of value at many of these roadside chains, but from the get-go it will ensure a smooth pre-prepared check in, a room/suite on the quieter side of the hotel and sometimes ‘net access if that is not already included.
Various credit card offerings also can bump you up a tier, but if US based (and increasingly if UK based) be careful of over-applying for travel related credit cards as this can harm your credit rating; you should at least do some research and see what’s on offer – paying using the credit card offered by your favourite chain can have a dramatic effect on the points you earn, often doubling them; once you’ve decided which chain to start with you should apply for their branded CC.
It sounds like you’ll be doing quite a bit of travel, so like me you’ll probably be able to qualify for top tier status in two or more schemes (currently I’m Platinum with Sofitel, Marriott, Priority Club and Starwood (the latter comped via Amex) – believe me, none of these are accolades!). That level of stay mitigates against becoming overly committed to one chain.
I haven’t yet been accused on here of being George Clooney, but it can’t be too far off 😉
I would therefore recommend you primarily choose your initial loyalty based on the quality of the available properties at the locations you’ll most frequently visit (assuming there is some sort of pattern to your trips); once you stay often in hotels, a good location and a decent night’s sleep becomes the overriding priority!
You’ll probably be better off in the long stay offerings, which sometimes include kitchenettes as standard. I don’t often stay in these, but it would be very helpful if someone who does could post the brands within each of the main categories.
To take the Marriott chain as an example, I haven’t a clue what the difference between a Marriott Courtyard vs. Marriott Fairfield Inn, but I think you’d probably be looking for a Marriott Residence Inn-type property to best suit your needs. Hilton seems to be a Homewood Suites.
Second, I would look to explore the hotels at which you would like to redeem all these loyalty points. You’ll obviously want to seek out the top end hotels in each group and decide which ones you want to aim for.
You really want to sleep in the most comfortable hotels for work, without spending a fortune on behalf of your firm, and then redeem in the most luxurious properties for leisure trips.
There are probably four major “food groups”, slightly confusing as some have different names for their loyalty schemes:
1. Starwood Preferred Guest includes (not exhaustive) the Sheraton, Four Points, Westin, W, and Luxury Collection brands; something of a smorgasbord, and some excellent higher end properties; really good at recognising loyalty, but it is less easy to earn bonus points with few promos as far as my experience goes (limited earning oppos in the UK make this one of my less preferred, though valued, schemes). http://www.spg.com
2. Marriott Rewards requires 75 nights per year for Platinum which challenges even me, but might be easily achievable for you. In the US the Fairfield Inn and Courtyard chains are generally tolerable as far as I recall; they have a quarterly “bonus” offer which can be quite lucrative (e.g. double points, or two free stays after four nights), just make sure you’ve signed up beforehand! Assuming you can make top tier, you can never really tell whether they’ll honour your status; it can be hit or miss. With the addition of the properly integrated Autograph and Ritz-Carlton properties into the portfolio, this becomes a much more attractive option for redemptions, especially if you can extract maximum value with an R-C redemption stay of five nights as you get the fifth night free for 200,000 points at most locations. R-C has some terrific properties around the world. http://www.marriottrewards.com
3. Hilton Hhonors is my least favourite scheme; they recently increased the cost of redemptions, points continually fail to post, the website and booking interface is clunky, and their only decent properties are in Asia (mainly “Conrad” properties), and even then are nothing to write home about. Hilton Rome is an honourable exception, and was impressed by last year’s visit to Hilton Wanfujing in Beijing which seemed spanking new with terrific huge modular rooms. Their lower end Hilton hotels can be pretty rough, although recently I’ve only stayed a night in airport Hiltons, so that may negatively inform my experience. Oh, I’m top tier with Hilton as well, via Amex. Forgot that one. http://www.hhonors.com
4. ICHG Priority Club covers Holiday Inn and Intercontinental Hotels. I really like most high-end Intercontinental hotels; points earning is easy-peasy and they are excellent at recognising loyalty; it’s also quick to earn Platinum status as you only need 75,000 points per year; ensure you sign up for their promos which really help increase points accrual, and enrol in their Ambassador programme if staying regularly in ICs; well worth it. Though I’ve only stayed once, their boutique offering, Indigo, is very good indeed, for the price offered. Downside is dreadful new website, which is beginning to put me off. http://www.priorityclub.com
I wouldn’t recommend Sofitel; only any use if you live in Europe, wildly overpriced hotels and a loyalty scheme which doesn’t really allow you extract much value.
There is no hard and fast prescription, especially as everyone’s circumstances, geographical location, requirements and redemption aspirations differ.
However, if your just starting out you really can’t go far wrong with Priority Club and I would say that should be your first port of call as you’ll make platinum fastest in that scheme, and then I’d consider Marriott and Starwood as your back up schemes.
Do explore booking through cashback websites like http://www.quidco.com in the UK.
You should also not be afraid to negotiate aggressively with the hotel you plan on staying in; even for midweek only stays of a month or two I have negotiated 30%-40% discounts, including things like free breakfast (very little marginal cost to the hotel), free internet, preferred rooms (e.g high floor/view), access to Club (free drinnks) and/or dry cleaning and even in one property a voucher for a free glass of champagne (proper champers, too!) on check in.
In practice a hotel at which you stay often will automatically start treating you as well as most top tier elites once you become a recognised return guest; attending the dreadful Ambassador’s reception at higher end properties can be painful but worth it as you’ll get a hotline to the property’s General Manager (GM), though this is of less value in Residence Inn style properties as there’s not much service differentiation available.
It’s as well to note that many of these schemes have calendar year cut offs, so it’s best to focus on getting status in one scheme before New Year; it would be annoying if you almost made it and then were foiled at the last!
Oh, and buy a decent pair of eyeshades; hotel rooms light up like airports at night with LEDs for TV, fire alarm, air conditioning and other as yet unidentified devices…15 Aug 2011
“huge a mount of value”? surely “huge amount of value”? 😉
I would agree with almost all of this . Only differ on branded Credit Cards. Be very careful with these as they often have prohibitve interest rates and as VK says in excess they can affect your credit rating.
My preference is my American Express as many hotels and Car rental agencies apply security deposits. These can take a week or two to clear off the card, so if you do a long trip doing a number of cities back to back, you can find a credit card declined if substantial security deposits for hotels and rental cars are applied in each city. On Am Ex charge card this is not an issue.15 Aug 2011
Indeed, that’s a great point about the “hold/security deposit” some properties will put on your credit card; this can especially be an issue if you’re just starting out, but your firm should also sponsor you a corporate card or directly bill back hotel costs to the firm.
NEVER borrow on a credit card, and only start using your own for corporate expenses if you’re certain you have both the means to ride out slow repayment of expenses and the wherewithal to juggle personal and work spend effectively.15 Aug 2011
Thanks for all of the elaborate responses everyone, I really appreciate it.
I haven’t chosen a card yet, but I have a financial adviser friend who loves playing the credit card points game and has said he will speak with me about it soon.
VK: As far as I know there will not be a pattern to my trips and my company neither has a mandate nor special rates for any hotel groups. I also appreciate the HHonors feedback, if this is really the case (corroboration anyone?) I won’t bother trying out any Hilton hotels.
To your statement about staying at luxury hotels for my personal stays, is it more bang for my buck saving up points (and miles) for an exotic vacation or using my points for weekend trips? I am very used to taking weekend trips and “bumming it” in cheap hotels, so I have no problem spending money on cheaper hotels for these weekend trips and saving my points for a luxurious vacation, if that is the best use of the points I earn.
Finally, how do I go about negotiating with a hotel? What do I say when I call in, I have never done that before.
Thanks!15 Aug 2011
1. Though that’s my personal impression of Hilton (as a UK based international traveller, primarily Europe, Middle East, Australia and US) it’s as well to take a broader range of opinion; I do have UK based friends and colleagues who are hugely loyal to Hilton, so it can’t be all bad.
2. As to whether you should redeem for weekends or resort stays, that depends; some city centre hotels are expensive and worth it if you’ll get value from the great location, comfortable rooms and facilities (e.g. meeting up with friends while there). If you don’t value those things, or hardly will spend any time in the hotel, then it’s pointless paying or redeeming for it.
A resort on the other hand is the focus of your vacation, and so you WILL use most of the facilities etc. – the only downside here is that *generally* you won’t get a suite on a redemption stay (except some chains, such as I think Starwood, who recently started allowing you to pay extra for a suite).
3. For negotiations, I would scout out a few local properties, possibly stay in one or two to get the lay of the land and scour their own websites and others (e.g. priceline/travelzoo) for their lowest rates. If you have friends who work for big corporates, see if you can get to know the corp rate offered by that hotel, and see if you can aim for that.
Often you can just call up, but best to go in person. Ask for one of the sales team. Read tripadvisor and be prepared to offer an honest appraisal of their property vs. others in the area. Sit down, explain your requirements, the likely nights (e.g. 70 nights over three months). Set out your budget. Work out what might be the driver for the sales guy (e.g. does this hotel get pricey at weekends, or is it a ghosttown, so he would happily give you a Sunday night stay for free, for instance).
New hotels will be anxious to build up a customer base fast, so might discount heavily. Or if it’s somewhere which has conventions/festivals or a “high season” you’ll want to avoid demanding too much over the busiest periods. Some hotels simply don’t need to reduce rates.
Aim for a very low nightly rate – at least 30% off the regular midweek rate. They will come back with a higher rate, and only concede on price if in exchange they can offer you useful services (brekky, ‘net, Club Floor, dry cleaning, free water, parking, gym access) which don’t cost the hotel much but are charged at a high rate to guests. Make sure you get an agreement in writing, or confirm back via email. Things like waiving the room service delivery fee can be valuable in some circumstances.
Only worth it if you have a significant spend with a property over a period of time, but savings can be substantial, and might even allow you to stay in a higher end property, even for $200/night.
Oh, and I wouldn’t get hung up about food too much; most properties can cater to long term guests’ needs (within reason).15 Aug 2011
I much prefer staying in places where I can cook my own food so I’m a bit of an expert. All of these have full kitchens in every suite
Marriott has two brands: Residence Inn is the upmarket one (mostly meaning that they offer breakfast, receptions and daily servicing) while the more basic Marriott brand is Towneplace Suites. The big advantage is that you’ll find RIs in pretty central locations as well as out of town. The downsides: Marriott rewards aren’t very generous and their elite benefits aren’t worth having at these “long-stay”properties (the Internet is free anyway but very slow and they don’t have anything much to upgrade you too as they really only offer two room types each). A personal dislike is that RIs offer duvets but no duvet covers — they put them between sheets. This is obviously unhygienic so if I’m staying at one, I take a duvet cover (sad, I know)
Intercontinental have a big network of Candlewood Suites, their basic brand, mostly in suburban locations. The offering is really good but basic — weekly service of the apartments, a convenience store onsite, no restaurant. They have fewer of their Residence Inn equivalent, Staybridge Suites but they are like RIs — breakfast, daily service and relentlessly brown and green carpets and wallpaper. IC rewards are, as VK says, generous but I find their recognition spottier (especially dodgy at their Crowne Plaza and Indigo brands) and they have a very confusing system of separate recognition for those who pay $100 a year to belong to the Intercontinental Ambassador programme (or who, like me, get it free). It confuses their own staff too.
Hilton is a late entrant with its Homewood Suites brand and — very recently — its Home2Suites. The Homewood brand is equivalent to RIs but the hotels tend to be newer and fresher. I disagree with VK about their loyalty programme. The rewards are really good although the recognition can be patchy (they’re working hard on it and it seems to be better). Unlike Marriott (but like IC), you can qualify with points based on spending, not just the number of nights you stay so progress is quicker. You also get miles with an airline for every stay although I’d guess they’re planning to phase this out as they’re stressing it less in their promotions.
Hyatt is a really late entrant to this field and you’ll have to look hard to find any of their Summerfield Suites (like RI). I haven’t stayed in one yet.
Embassy Suites, Fairfield Inn, etc… only offer “kitchenettes” — often with tiny mini fridges, no dishes and no cutlery. A last resort if you’re serious about eating in and avoiding ready meals
Hope this helps!15 Aug 2011