Besides franchise fees, chain hotel owners
have to live with mandated amenities lists. The costs
of free local calls, continental breakfast and wireless
access are always passed on to the consumers, he says.
Booking ahead is ideal, but not always realistic. A
road-trip tool kit consisting of a cell phone and if
possible, a BlackBerry, can help in scoring the best
"You have a better chance of calling
(a chain's toll-free number) than walking in, even if
you're sitting in the parking lot calling," says
Nicole Hockin, a leisure-travel expert for Hotels.com
which offers destination-generating road
trip tools. Mention that you're checking around.
Phoning the customer care center of an
online reservation-booking service can help save some
of that calling. A rep can report, for instance, that
while one hotel in the area is booked, a comparable
nearby one has availability. Just be sure to pull over
or call in advance of arriving at the town you'd like
to stay in -- the toll-free numbers connected with these
Web sites can have long hold times.
As for simply walking into an establishment,
experts advise you to:
- Bargain with hotel managers. Borman points out that
deals are most likely to be made later in the evening.
- Present a AAA, AARP, or government ID card and request
a discount. Even nonmember hotels will often honor
these rates if asked, Magnuson says.
- Ask about discounts and specials for kids or seniors.
Bad night's sleep
Good rate or not, no one appreciates feeling dissatisfied
with a stay.
Experts suggest complaining immediately.
"You're paying for a service. If the room isn't
clean or you're expecting a nonsmoking room and don't
get it, ask for what you expect," Hockin says.
"Most hotels don't want you to have a bad experience."
And never leave the property after a bad
stay without informing the manager. "Know what
type of compensation you want, but be reasonable, too,"
Borman says. "If they offer you a 50-percent discount
on another stay, take it versus losing an hour out of
your trip arguing for a full refund."
Magnuson cautions that, since it's common
for a single manager to oversee three or four properties
of a chain, finding a manager to voice a complaint can
be hit or miss. Managers at independent properties may
be more visible -- plus have more authority to negotiate
with unhappy guests.
If you don't get satisfaction with a chain,
Borman suggests writing the corporate office. Once,
when she booked a nonsmoking room and was given the
opposite, her request to move was met with the explanation
that "there weren't any rooms left at my rate --
I'd have to pay more for a nonsmoking room." The
corporate office, agreeing with her complaint, provided
a future-stay discount.
"Remember that probably the biggest
expense of any trip is the accommodation, not the rental
car, airfare (if you're flying), or even tacky souvenirs.
It's the hotel bill," Borman says. "Spending
the most energy in getting the right place at the right
price is well worth the effort."
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is a Connecticut-based freelance writer.