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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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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.

Last-minute welcome
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 walk-in rate.

"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."

What are your summer travel plans? Take our reader poll and see what other Americans will be doing this summer.

Melissa Ezarik is a Connecticut-based freelance writer.

-- Posted: May 15, 2006
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