Hotels are hot. They've been glamorized by star designers like Philippe Starck and modelized by chic hoteliers like Ian Schraeger. The latest trend in hotel-hipness is living there, as many hotels are beginning to "condo-ize" a set of their rooms. Such trends can make the market tight for travelers in many business destinations, especially for those seeking to book a room at the last minute.
What's a road warrior to do? Here are some tips for getting the room you want when booking for business.
Consider Your Destination
You're just not going to get the same rates in downtown Chicago that you will in Dubuque, Des Moines, or Omaha. That said, don't get stuck on the idea that you have to stay in the center of the city. For example, if you have appointments in Manhattan you'll often find much more reasonable accommodations in the outlying boroughs, across the river in New Jersey, in Westchester County, or even in Connecticut, since all are served by regular service on the local commuter railroad. On the other hand, if your finance manager tells you to rent a car for an overnight in Parsippany, that may be too distant to ensure you can navigate traffic well enough to be on time for meetings.
Know What You Want
Ask yourself, what do you really want in a hotel room? What about the other services the hotel has to offer? Where does the hotel's proximity fit it for you? Does your hotel have free wireless Internet access? How about complimentary breakfast? Valet parking? Some properties have a concierge floor that offers many perks. Even if you don't book a room on that floor, your concierge is perhaps your hotel's biggest moneysaving resource, with advice on restaurants, car services, shopping, sightseeing, shows -- and frequently will have coupons to many of those destinations.
Surf the Web, A Lot
Harness your natural curiosity by visiting key discount travel websites to find the best deals. Of course, if your company has a managed travel plan you may already be reaping the rewards of negotiated rates, which generally drop in cost the more you use them; in such cases it doesn't pay to circumvent company policies. But if you don't have that option, go surfing. Remember, when you book it yourself you should always confirm at the front desk that the rate they are charging is what you had booked.
Get Some Advice
You often can unearth a pearl by doing a little digging online. For example, TripAdvisor.com lists other travelers' advice based on their own personal observations. Of course, you also can be your own trip advisor the next time you visit a city where you regularly do business by checking several hotels you'd been wondering about. See if the location is what you want and ask at the desk to see some guest rooms. Most hotels -- especially those brands you are loyal to -- will let you take a peek.
Call for Better Rates
Even if your company doesn't have a negotiated rate, some secondary hotels will give you a break. Talk to them. If you're a loyal customer, they won't want to lose you. Finally, talk to your colleagues and friends. Often word of mouth will turn up bargains -- and disclose problems -- that you otherwise wouldn't hear about.
Compare and Contrast
Calculate all the features that count to you and see how that compares to the other hotels' prices. How about your hotel's business center? Is it a valuable resource with a knowledgeable and handy staff that can help you get those last-minute tasks done on time, or is it merely an unstaffed space with a phone and a couple of obsolescent PCs? Along with the hotel's "inside" costs/savings, don't forget the outside costs/savings. For example, if you are staying at some distance from your meeting site to save money, you ought to factor in your commuting costs to come and go from that site.
Always Ask for More
Once you've arrived at your hotel, the first thing to do is to see if an upgrade is available. If you're a repeat customer, you'll often get better accommodations, sometimes at a lower price. But you have to ask. Once you check in, be sure to check out your room, but do it before you unpack. In fact, before you do anything run a quick room checklist. I like to make sure the a/c (or heat) actually works. And are the linens clean? What about the bathroom? Is the room near the ice machine or a noisy elevator? Did they put me next to the bar when I as planning an early snooze? Maybe I specified nonsmoking and they put me in a room that smells of nicotine. Whatever the reason for dissatisfaction, if you're like me, you won't hesitate to demand a different room.
Lastly, if you find you're going to arrive late, make sure you guarantee the room to your credit card. Whatever happens, you know you'll have a place to sleep when you get there.