Travel Trends 2006: Smart Sleeping With Hotel Discounts - My Family Travels

Savvy travelers can learn from hospitality industry experts how to locate and take advantage of un-publicized hotel and resort discounts.

After a steady decline in profits from 2001 until 2004, the good times are back in the U. S. lodging industry. According to Smith Travel Research conducted in June, 2006, the past year has seen an increase in average occupancy rates to 70.8%, an increase of 7.5% in room rates to $97.22 per night, and an increase of 8.3% in REVPAR, or revenue per available room, the metric that the hospitality industry uses to gauge its health. And most troubling to the business and leisure traveler, while things are looking good, hotels have continued to inch up in price.

In an effort to help travelers save money, let's revisit the study done by Consumer Reports magazine in which the staff tabulated an exhaustive survey of hotel chain prices, online booking rates, and the quality-for-price feedback of 35,000 readers, to offer great tips on where to stay and how to get the most value from your hotel stay.

(Although this data is from the most recent research, July 2004, their website continues to study individual hotel chains and offer valuable savings tips.)

Hotel Quality Survey

As you might expect, Consumer Reports readers ranked the five-star luxury chains ($90-$500/N) as tops: Four Seasons and Ritz Carlton peaked here. Interestingly, some of the perks expected by their high-end guests, such as free toiletries, a pool and Jacuzzi, highspeed Internet access and room service, also trickled down to the lower-priced four-star, three-star and all-suites chains.

In the upscale category ($80-$150/N) Embassy Suites, the Walt Disney resorts and Harrah's casino properties were tops.

In the family-friendly moderate price range ($60-$100/N), Springhill Suites by Marriott, Homewood Suites by Hilton and Wingate Inn ranked highest. In the years since this survey was done, this has become the fastest growing category for all the major hotel chains.

Road trip families valued the Sleep Inn, Extended Stay America and Microtel Inn/Suites nights they spent, where $40-$70 per room brought comfort, good lighting, better service and acceptable decor.

Finding Hotel & Resort Discounts

Since hotel prices in all price categories have gone up, it's worth reviewing Consumer Reports' suggestions on maximizing your travel dollars with these tips:

1) Be flexible. Skip the holidays or lengthen your stay and you'll have more negotiating power.

2) Compare distributors. The same hotel will distribute, or sell rooms, through travel websites, hotel-only sites, its own website, a toll-free reservation system and a direct call to the front desk–price all of them. Although many hotels now offer a "best price guarantee" on their own branded website, in fact they are still selling discounted rooms to other sites who might choose to discount them even further.

3) Asking doesn't hurt. Consumer Reports found the best rates by bargaining with a reservations clerk by phone.

4) Book early or late. Reservations agents like far-off bookings as much as they like last-minute arrivals.

5) Walk, Drive, Run away. If you don't get a price you like, try a competitor. Buyers win.

Alternatively, the Mobil Travel Guide rates up to 9,000 hotels across North America to assist a nation devoted to road trips. This is the organization that invented the "star" system for ratings, and sends out teams of inspectors each year to validate each establishment's past rating. Would you believe that after nearly 50 years, only 37 hotels and 16 restaurants warranted their five-star honor in 2007?

Still, Mobil ratings inspectors are the front line of the lodging wars and they tell us that active consumers get the most value from a hotel stay. The experts at the "Mobil Travel Guide" share the following savings tips with road tripping families:

1) Asking more doesn't hurt. At check-in, request an upgrade or an empty suite.

2) Confirm what's included in fees. You may be paying a "resort fee" for facilities or staff gratuities without being aware of it.

3) Package it. Hotel packages that include meals, spa treatments, sports or other activities will probably save money for the active family.

As smart shoppers, you can see the overlap in the hotel booking strategies recommended by the experts at Consumer Reports and the "Mobil Travel Guide."

Bottom line: Trying a variety of strategies will yield the best rates.

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