Skip the hotels on your next business trip and stay at a local inn

Once upon a time, I was addicted to travel reward programs. I see it now and laugh, but until seven years ago, I was hooked. I couldn’t let go of my HHonors card, and I lamented that, at the end of 2001, I was one night away from Diamond on Hilton and two away from Platinum on Starwood. Looking back, I see how ludicrous the whole thing is. And it has taken until this week to see how much more attractive the alternative is.

A decade ago, I had a great alternative to traditional hotel stays dropped in my lap, but I was too consumed by points-lust to realize it. I was on a project in central New Jersey and was in Bernardsville for a team dinner. On the street, we ran into a person from another project team on the sidewalk as she was walking into a small inn. She explained to us that she was happy to give up the points – the experience she had at that property was worth it.

We all laughed about her unicorns-and-rainbows perspective as we finished our walk to the restaurant, and for a few years, I found the notion so absurd that it became burned in my memory. That’s why it came back to me Tuesday, as I checked into the Cowpers Inn in Palo Alto.The small bed and breakfast, a few blocks from the conference I was attending, isn’t luxurious, but it’s comfortable and charming. I had plenty of space, a sufficient bed and free internet access. The room didn’t have a desk, which was the only flaw I could find for a frequent business traveler. That didn’t matter much anyway, as I spent little time in the room while in town. Looking back on the stay, I see the cost savings for your company, the charming accommodations and the pleasant management as having enhanced my stay, and I’ll book next year when I attend the same conference.

The greater lesson, however, is that business travelers have options. Rather than become a slave to the loyalty programs, you can assert your independence while enjoying your business trip more. Get out of the chains and into a small B&B the next time you go out on the road, or if you’re in a city, stay at a small independent hotel. They’ll get to know you, and the treatment you receive will be far superior to anything a large hotel can provide.

And if you hit the same destination regularly, that small inn will start to feel like a true home away from home.