I travel a good bit. Some for business, some for personal. Though the first six months of the year, I'll have spent a total of 63 nights in hotels. While I'm not a guru, I thought I'd share my system for selecting the best hotel in any given place. I've already written one post on the use of AirBnB, but this will build on that by including a more holistic examination of how to best achieve your dreams of staying in a perfect place.
With the exception of people who travel for business extensively (and who are, in effect, not paying for their lodging), so-called "luxury" chain hotels are by far the worst deals. I don't need to tell you that a place that costs $350 a night that still charges you $13 a day for internet is a poor proposition, right? That means that rewards points should be completely secondary for the average joe.
Frankly, there seems to be very little practical information on effective hotel selection. People on vacation often act like people getting married, where emotion takes a backseat to practicality. For example, people will pay literally double to stay at a sleek-looking hotel that is virtually identical to the plain-looking (but just as nice on the inside) building next door. Same location, same amenities, twice the dough. In the spirit of this, I recommend a hotel selection system of my own making, one based on the 3 C's system. In no particular order, these are: comfort, conveyance and convenience.
Comfort: Not much to say on this one. It's the quality of the place. How many/which amenities are offered, and the rating of the hotel.
Conveyance: How are you planning on getting around? Public transit or rental car? A more expensive hotel might be warranted after considering the costs of a rental car. Likewise, a cheaper-but-more-distant place could be a viable option in towns with poor public transportation where things are strung out.
Convenience: The sliding scale of how "easy" things are versus how much time, effort and money it costs to use (or pass on) a particular place. One example is an overnight layover where you arrive at 10 PM and leave at 7 AM. Do you stay at the expensive airport hotel where you can walk to the terminal, the cheaper city hotel where you'll only get five hours sleep and have to get up at 4 AM, or do you rough it and sleep in the terminal for free? Depending on your circumstances and place in life, the answer could be very different.
The first task is to determine a particular order of importance for each category. Weighting the three C's is very personal, and the weighting can change over time. For example, when I was younger, cost was the prime factor, but these days I'm willing (and able) to fork out when the situation calls for it. Currently, I'd rate each category with about equal importance. If you're dirt poor, cost has to be the top priority, with the best deal eschewed only when it would bring about calamitous consequences (like picking a hotel with no transportation options that could lead to you missing a flight that would cost more money than you'd save).
The important thing is to take your 3C preferences and apply them to a given locale. To do this, you have to be familiar with your market and the situation. This calls for knowing some basic information: the relative cost of lodging (and how painful these rates are to your budget; this is easily found on Kayak), where you're needing to go during your trip (one place versus all over, as well as locations you'll be traveling to repeatedly, like a music festival), and also how you'll be getting around (public transit, arriving from the airport/train station, etc.). I always start with cost - I look at what my dollar gets me, determine a pain point (this can vary - New York's is higher than Nebraska's) and then seek to maximize comfort and conveyance around that limiter. By limiting your choices, one is almost guided down a path to the "correct" neighborhood, and then establishment.
To illustrate the three C system, let's review a couple trips.
Trip #1: Work Conference in Boston. Four nights.
Cost: My corporate overlords are footing the bill. Who cares how much I spend?
Comfort: Since I'm not footing the bill, this is the rare exception where a comfy hotel in a pricey spot is allowed.
Conveyance: Boston is a dense, metropolitan hub with a very good network of public transportation. It's also hard to park in Boston. A car is not necessary. I can take Ubers from the airport and get around just fine. However, most of my time will be spent at the convention, so proximity is highly desirable.
Final result: I booked an overpriced Marriott property 5 minutes away from the convention center. It's located on a train line, so I have the flexibility to explore the city. It's also not too far from the airport. This was important, as my return flight left at 7:15 AM, and I crave those extra precious minutes of sleep. As a final bonus, I can keep the points for later use.
If I was footing the bill, it would have been totally different. I would have stayed at the end of the metro line in a less expensive hotel, using public transit to get to the city. I would also work AirBnB, hoping to find a cheaper place in Back Bay or Cambridge. Less desirable, but preferable to a $300+ room I'll barely see.
Trip #2: US National Track and Field Championships in Sacramento, CA. 4 nights.
Cost: This is a trip I'm taking with my dad. As a father's day gift, I'm paying the bill. Cost needs to be taken into account. A survey of the local market reveals hotels near the venue to be fairly pricey and not so great. Hotels further out are cheaper.
Comfort: We need at least two beds. This, combined with a late arrival, makes AirBnB something of a crapshoot. I decide to focus on traditional hotels.
Conveyance: The event is three days, taking place in the same spot. Sacramento requires a car to get around unless we're staying within walking distance of the event. Parking is not a challenge. This shading towards renting a vehicle is further confirmed when I consider the cost of Ubering in and out from the airport versus the price of a rental. Renting a car will also open up more distant hotels that are a greater value.
Final result: I booked a La Quinta Inn with good reviews on the northern edge of Sacramento. I know exactly what I'm getting. The room has a fridge, allowing me to save on things like sodas and snacks. We rented a car. The money we spend on it will be offset by the fact that we can leave directly following the event, saving me another night and a precious, precious vacation day. Staying nearer the event wouldn't make our lives much easier and would have doubled costs, while any savings obtained by going to the bottom of the hotel market would be relatively trivial.
I've gone all over the world using this system and have been very comfortable doing so. The only times I'll deviate from this paradigm is when one of the factors is painfully out of wack (e.g., it's dangerous to stay in a particular place, or when hotels are so expensive that cost/value becomes the overwhelming proposition (looking at you Norway!)).
Give it a shot and let me know what you think.
Noah's Inner Monologue
Scribblings of a man who can barely operate an idiotproof website.