The fancier the hotel, the fewer freebies.
Wednesday, 6th June 2007
Source : Consumer Reports
CR's investigation finds high fees and guest gouging on the rise, five tips to save money.

The opulent Ritz-Carlton scored high in overall satisfaction while Homewood Suites and SpringHill Suites proved to also be excellent values. These are the results ofthe Consumer Reports' latest survey that rates the best hotels for any budget.

In its latest report, Consumer Reports finds the hotel room market is changing, and not necessarily for the better for those in search of a great deal. With business and leisure travel on the rise, vacancies are down and rates are up. Fewer empty rooms could possibly mean less big bargains for consumers.

"When we last looked in 2004, hotel chains were only starting to offer best rate guarantees. It was easier to find deeply discounted rooms then, but now hotels are less willing to strike deals with travel sites that sell rooms at fire-sale prices," said Tod Marks, Senior Editor at Consumer Reports. "It's still wise to shop around, but you've got to work harder to find a standout deal."

Making matters worse, some hotels are tacking on fees for everything from maid service ($5 to $18 a day) to the "chance" to use a tennis court, hiking trail, golf course and other resort amenities ($12 and up). That's right- guests will pay even if they don't play.

With fewer bargains available, it becomes more important that consumers are satisfied with their stay. To help, Consumer Reports National Research Center's 2006 Annual Questionnaire heard from almost 35,000 subscribers who spent more than 139,000 nights at 48 hotel chains. Among the survey findings:

  • The fanciest hotels doled out fewer freebies. Sixty percent of high-end hotels charged for Internet connection, compared to 10 percent of budget hotels.
  • Most budget hotels aren't a bargain; the least expensive generally scored the lowest. Their guests were more likely to report getting a poor night's sleep because of noise or a bad bed.
  • More than 70 percent of readers who haggled scored a rate reduction or a room upgrade, especially if they negotiated face-to-face. While the safer choice would be to call ahead, survey respondents who arrived without reservations actually paid less than those who booked in advance.
  • Although readers were generally satisfied with their hotel stays, at least 33 percent encountered at least one problem. Some chains drew far more complaints than others. Fifty-five percent of readers that stayed at Howard Johnson had one or more problems -- compared to 16 percent at Homewood Suites.
  • Among the five top complaints-and the chief culprits overall: (In Alphabetical Order):
    Unattractive Decor: Days Inn, Econo Lodge, Howard Johnson, Ramada, Travelodge
    Poor Room Lighting: Clarion, Days Inn, Econo Lodge, Howard Johnson, Travelodge
    Excessive Phone Charges: Hilton, Omni, Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton, Westin Heating or A/C issues: Clarion, Days Inn, Howard Johnson, Red Roof Inn
    Uncomfortable Bed: Days Inn, Econo Lodge, Howard Johnson, Ramada, Travelodge

Consumer Reports rated hotels based on five categories: Fanciest, Luxury, Upscale, Moderate, and Budget, as well as the typical nightly rate readers paid. Per category, the highest-rated choices are:

  • Fanciest: Price between $130 and $350. Simply the best according to readers, the opulent Ritz-Carlton, which earned top marks for value, service, upkeep, and low reported problems.
  • Luxury: Price between $89 and $218. Scores were consistently good with slight differences separating the best from the pack. Among the best:
    Renaissance, Embassy Suites, Westin, Marriott, Omni, and Hyatt. Upkeep and service scored generally high for this group.
  • Upscale: Price between $70 and $235. CR readers found this group to provide the best bang for the buck. Homewood Suites and SpringHill Suites were among the best. Residence Inn by Marriott, an all-suite chain also scored well. Walt Disney Resorts in Orlando and in California offered stellar service.
  • Moderate: Price between $58 and $100. Drury Inn/Suites, Hampton Inn and Wingate Inn were top choices in this category. The Drury Inn and Wingate Inn showed much better than average scores for value.
  • Budget: Priced between $40 and $85. Microtel was the star of the budget bunch, scoring as well or better than more well-appointed chains. It typically builds new hotels rather than converting older properties from other brands.

With a little work, consumers may land a better rate. Among some tactics the experts at Consumer Reports recommend:

1. Join a loyalty program: Frequent guests earn free nights, future discounts, room upgrades and airline miles.

2. Be flexible: Bypassing a holiday, lengthening your stay, or switching arrival or departure dates as little as one day, may give you far more negotiating clout.

3. Book early, check later: When dealing with a hotel directly, the reservations clerk might be willing to give you a good rate far ahead of time (to lock in your business). Then call back 24 to 72 hours before you arrive. If the rate has dropped you can usually rebook.

4. Speak up: Bargaining with a reservations clerk face-to-face was the most effective technique.

5. If you call, ask for the lowest price. It may sound obvious, but you'll make sure you're getting a good quote. The corporate rate is often the lowest the clerk is authorized to offer. You don't have to be on business to qualify.

Consumer Reports' best hotels report including complete ratings for all 48 hotel chains and more advice for finding a great rate can be found in the July issue, available on newsstands June 5, 2007 or by visiting www.consumerreports.org .

The material above is intended for legitimate news entities only; it may not be used for commercial or promotional purposes. Consumer Reports(R) is published by Consumers Union, an expert, independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves. To achieve this mission, we test, inform, and protect. To maintain our independence and impartiality, Consumers Union accepts no outside advertising, no free test samples, and has no agenda other than the interests of consumers. Consumers Union supports itself through the sale of our information products and services, individual contributions, and a few noncommercial grants.
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