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Travel 2006    

Places to stay


Whether a one-night stay or a royal resort, lodging's available at the right time, place and price.

Cheap sleep: Best deals on highway hotels
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To Jones and his family, the "budget chains have their place at 10 p.m.," when a stop for the night is necessary.

But in general, amenities like free breakfast are a must.

"Even at Denny's, breakfast for the four of us is going to be $20 plus the tip. That is the big picture … value added."

With advance planning, Jones says he can typically book beyond-basics chains -- such as Marriott, Hilton, Sheraton, Hyatt, and Westin hotels -- for $75 to $85 per night, including taxes, parking and breakfast.

Trip planning
Flexibility in your travel plans also can play a major role in getting a good hotel deal. Consider, for example:

  • Making that road trip during the off-season.
  • Finding a hotel that also caters to business travelers during the week near the highway you'll be driving. On weekends, these hotels -- perhaps near an airport -- have high vacancy rates and tend to offer lower rates on weekends.
  • Making part or all of your trip during the week and avoiding the weekend rush.

Early bird gets the room
An assured reservation is one reason to book early. After all, no one wants to wind up spending the night in a hotel parking lot. Or, as Borman once did, driving around all night searching for a vacancy.

As for rate shopping, experts say no single search method will assure you of getting the best rate. "Each hotel chain has its own rules," Borman says. "Some guarantee the lowest rate will be found online at their own sites. Others provide inexpensive rates via online reservations booking systems like Hotels.com, Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity."

Sometimes, the chain's toll-free number offers the lowest rate.

"Try each way, and always ask, 'Is this the lowest rate I can possibly get?'" Borman says. Employees at some chains won't offer the lowest rate if not asked directly.

Road-trip warriors might also ask their favorite chains about frequent-stay programs, which Jones says are underutilized by consumers. The programs may offer weekly specials -- and the ability to negotiate.

Jones gives this example: Let's say a frequent guest at "Plush Hotels" sees a special at nearby "Outstanding Hotels," "you might quote that better rate and say something like, 'Since I am a Double Super Duper Aluminum member with you guys and would really prefer staying in my 'home' hotel, could you extend that price to me?'"

Snip and save
Coupons from credit card offers and discount books such as the "Entertainment" book, are also worth checking out.

Just read the fine print. "Many are not what they seem," says Jones. "Even the 'buy one night and get one free' coupons tend to be at rack (rate)" -- that is, the highest rate.

Magnuson agrees. "You're going to have more flexibility as a consumer with the Internet than you'll have with these types of things."

As for hotel type, Magnuson makes this case for considering nonfranchised, independently owned accommodations like his company's member hotels: Without franchise fees, owners are typically able to pass along savings of at least 30 percent.

-- Posted: May 15, 2006
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