How To Stay In Nice Hotels Without Paying Top Dollar

I still remember the feeling of slipping into 600 thread count sheets after months of staying in backpacker hostels where the bedding was often akin to vintage potato sacks and the mattress boasted a giant dimple where thousands of other young unwashed explorers had slept before me. Settling onto an ergonomic, body-cradling bed, resting against down pillows, waking up to a buffet breakfast with more types of pastry than one could reasonably taste-test before 10 a.m. – it was glorious. There’s just something about a nice hotel that you can’t put a price on. Yet, of course, they do come with a price, and it’s typically a hefty one.

No matter your travel style, it goes without saying that you want to stretch your dollar as far as possible. That often means compromising on accommodation – staying in a bare bones room with questionable stains in the carpet – so you can spend your money on what really matters, which is of course, exploring your destination. Still, few of us would turn down the chance to stay at a nice hotel, especially if we could do it without forking over a whole lot of extra cash. And the thing is, you can stay in nice hotels without paying top dollar – you just have to know how to go about it.The first step, of course, is to search around for a good deal on your accommodation of choice and you’ll find no shortage of booking websites offering discounts (Expedia, Kayak, Hotwire and, to name just a few). But why limit yourself to what’s advertised to the masses? Here are a few other ways of scoring nice digs on a budget.

Haggle. It certainly depends on where in the world you’re traveling, but in many countries, haggling is an expected part of any transaction. So go ahead and ask the receptionist for their “best price” – you’ll be surprised at the number of times you receive a discount. This tactic works best if you haven’t already made a booking and the hotel risks losing your business. Of course, use some common sense and make sure you’re not being unreasonable in your demands, especially if you’re traveling in a developing country (where the locals need those extra few dollars more than you) and the price is already pretty good.

Ask for an upgrade. There are lots of places where negotiating would be frowned upon. I mean, you don’t exactly walk into The Four Seasons and start haggling over your room rate. But what you can do at these kinds of establishments, is ask for some kind of bonus, whether it be an upgrade to a better room type, being placed on a higher floor in the building, getting a room with a nice view versus one that faces the parking lot, or a free breakfast voucher. A surprising number of hotels will oblige your request if they have room available. Just be polite when inquiring and remember to tip when they come through with the upgrade.

Seek out new, independent hotels. A new establishment – especially one that isn’t associated with a major hotel chain – needs to work at attracting guests and building a name for itself, which means they’ll likely offer lower rates to get people in the door. As an added bonus, everything in the rooms will be sparkly and new, and the service will probably be better than usual because the owners are eager to impress.

Stay in business hotels. Hotels geared towards business travelers typically fill up during the working week, but come the weekend, they empty out. As a result, many of these hotels lower their rates over the weekend, making them ideal for leisure travelers looking to save a few dollars. The further away from the tourist centers the hotel is located, the cheaper it’s likely to be (many are found near conference centers or the local business district).

Look for a hotel away from the tourist haunts. Every city has its established hotspots that tourists generally flock to but if you can hunt down the emerging districts you’ll be able to nab accommodation at a much lower rate. Don’t be afraid to venture a significant distance from the downtown attractions – as long as there’s a good public transit system or affordable taxis, you won’t have a problem. In fact, chances are you’ll have a more authentic experience overall when sleeping, eating and shopping in the same district as the locals.

Have you ever had success negotiating down the rate on a nice hotel? What other tactics have worked for you?

Kimpton Adds 11th Hotel To DC Area Portfolio With New Donovan House Property

Washington, DC‘s only Thompson hotel quietly re-branded under the Kimpton umbrella last week, bringing the total number of the hotel chain’s properties in the DC area to 11, the largest concentration of any geographic area for the boutique lifestyle brand.

Rumor has it that the Thompson name was dropped because the hotel didn’t meet brand standards.

With the takeover, Kimpton has already set their signature amenities into place, including animal print robes, a pet-friendly policy, complimentary wine happy hour and free Wi-Fi.

The ideally located hotel sits between Washington’s downtown and the hip Logan Circle neighborhood. It’s a logical fit for a hotel brand known in DC as much for its signature restaurants as for its hotels – Donovan House already boasts Zentan, an acclaimed Asian restaurant. This will also bring the hotels’ first accessible rooftop and pool to the DC-area portfolio.

A future “light refresh” is in the works for the rooftop and the guest rooms, but firm dates have not been set yet, says Sarah Horner, regional director of hotel public relations.

“Washington, D.C. continues to be one of the most important and thriving markets for Kimpton, and Donovan House – with its metropolitan vibe and ideal location – is a perfect fit for the brand,” said Kimpton CEO Mike Depatie. “With the addition of this fantastic property, which happens to feature one of the liveliest Washington, DC, restaurants and an unrivalled rooftop lounge, we are adding to the variety and diversity of our collection for avid Kimpton fans here.”

We’re excited to see what happens when Kimpton finalizes all changes – the hotel, despite its location and huge potential, always seemed to lack in the buzz we hoped it would have. Under the stronger (in DC, anyway) Kimpton name and more accessible, open brand background, the hotel is well poised for success.

Five Places To Anchor Yourself In Titanic History

“Titanic” 3D hit cinemas this week just in time to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the ship’s fateful voyage. But the box office isn’t the only place you can pay tribute to the ship. Two new Titanic museums are opening up just in time to celebrate the ship’s anniversary, and there are many other places that are keeping the ship and its passengers’ legacy afloat. Below are some places where stories of the Titanic live on.

Titanic Museum Attraction
Branson, Missouri
You can’t miss the Titanic Museum Attraction in Branson, Missouri mostly because of its massive size and shape (even among all of Branson’s other over-the-top attractions). The exterior is designed to replicate the ocean liner, complete with an iceberg at the museum entrance. Inside, guests receive a “passenger boarding ticket” with the name and story of an actual Titanic passenger (the idea is to find out if you survived or perished through the course of your stay). The museum also has displays about what each class looked like, as well as plenty of authentic Titanic memorabilia including lifejackets, deck chairs and letters. The museum will hold a special musical tribute to the Titanic on Saturday, April 14, the 100th anniversary of the night the ship fatally struck an iceberg. Descendants of actual Titanic passengers are expected to attend and there will be a lighting of an eternal flame during the tribute. The attraction also has a sister museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.Maritime Museum, Southampton
Southampton, England
The goal of this soon-to-be-debuted museum is to tell Southampton’s side of the Titanic story. One of England’s largest passenger ports, the Titanic left from Southampton on its maiden voyage and the city lost 500 residents when the ship sank. The museum will explore the lives of the working-class crew as well as the impact their tragedy had on families back home in Southampton. Visitors follow the careers of cooks, stewards and watchmen, and the tour culminates in a teary-eyed video featuring recordings from survivors.

Titanic Belfast
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Another newbie to the crop of museums is the Titanic Belfast Visitor Center opened last Saturday to celebrate the birthplace of the Titanic. The museum is located in the heart of Belfast on one of the slipways where the ship was built. Now the world’s largest museum dedicated to the Titanic, the $160-million center looks similar to the Sydney Opera House with four prows of the ship jutting out in different directions. The museum houses exhibits where visitors can learn about the construction of the ship as well as the rich story of Northern Ireland’s maritime heritage. At the time of writing, tickets were already sold out through April 16.

Titanic Historical Society Museum
Indian Orchard, Massachusetts
The oldest Titanic museum in the U.S. is the Titanic Historical Society Museum in Massachusetts. At the entrance of the museum visitors are greeted with a 9-foot model of the ship. Inside, Titanic fanatics will find artifacts from the ship and its passengers, many of which were donated by survivors. Highlights include the lifejacket of the wealthy John Jacob Astors, original blueprints of the ship, a rivet from the ship’s hull, a carved oak chair from the ship’s dining room and even the wireless message received by the Titanic that stated the location of the fatal iceberg (it never made it to the bridge of the ship).

The Jane Hotel
New York, New York
For a little slice of Titanic history that is closer to home for many of our readers, stop by the ballroom of the Jane Hotel. Known for small, ship cabin-esque rooms and discount prices, the hotel is actually anchored to the ship’s past. Back when it was known as the American Seaman’s Friend Society Sailors’ Home and Institute, the hotel put up surviving crew members after disaster struck. A private memorial was held in the hotel on April 19, 1912. Today it remains a respite for weary travelers. The hotel will be offering two signature cocktails that commemorate the Titanic anniversary in its ballroom: the Bourbon-based “Unsinkable Molly Brown,” in honor of the only woman to row a boat to safety after the tragedy, and the Champagne-based “ST-705,” named as such for the 705 passengers that survived.

Images (top to bottom) courtesy the Titanic Museum Attraction, Titanic Belfast and The Jane Hotel.

Sofitel traveling exhibition features sexpot Brigitte Bardot

Sofitel Luxury Hotels just launched a traveling photography exhibition that chronicles the rise to fame of Brigitte Bardot, a legendary French actress, singer, and model. The retrospective, which is the first in North America to feature the international icon and sex symbol, will showcase 30 exclusive photographs of Bardot. Called “BB Forever – Brigitte Bardot, The Legend,” the exhibition starts a yearlong run at Sofitel Los Angeles before it continues to Chicago, Washington D.C., and New York.

It comes as no surprise that the chic chain of boutique hotels chose Bardot for the exhibition. The starlet not only popularized the bikini swimsuit, but also famously vacationed to both St. Tropez in France and Armação dos Búzios in Brazil, a town she is said to have “discovered” with her Brazilian boyfriend during the 1960s. The townspeople credit Bardot with skyrocketing Búzios to fame and have erected a statue in her honor that makes for a very popular stop for tourist photos (especially among males).

Dates for the traveling exhibition are as follows:

  • Sofitel Los Angeles: Through March 26, 2012
  • Sofitel Chicago Water Tower: April 19 through June 7, 2012
  • Sofitel Washington D.C. Lafayette Square: June 21 through September 13, 2012
  • Sofitel New York: September 26 through December 31, 2012

Image: Fight by Jacques Héripret (Courtesy Sofitel Luxury Hotels)

Kimpton helps foster boutique hotel expansion in midwest with planned Cleveland entry

Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants is adding to its existing portfolio of 50+ hotels across with plans to expand into Cleveland, Ohio. The brand announced their plans to launch a 161-room hotel in the city’s historic downtown Schofield Building. The hotel will open in 2013.

“For us, it’s especially exciting to see the demand for the boutique concept in general spreading to more mainstream cities in the Midwest and other areas of the country outside the urban centers of New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco,” said Kimpton CEO Michael Depatie.

The brand currently has one hotel each in the Midwestern cities of Minneapolis and Chicago.

The hotel will be part of a mixed-use development that will include 25 luxury apartments on the building’s top four floors and ground floor retail.

[Flickr via ifmuth]