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Picking Road Trip Hotels

This photo shows a four star hotel room interior, ready for the guest.

Price is what you pay, but value is what you get.

Hotels are the most expensive thing on a road trip. Here’s how to get more value for your dollar.

Personally, I like to stay in three or four star chain hotels, like the IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group). They represent brand name hotels like Holiday Inn Express and Crown Plaza. All of them are privately owned and operated, but at least there are franchise wide operating standards for cleanliness and hospitality, that they’re supposed to follow.

Another favorite brand is the Best Western. They have basic hotels and upgrade choices like Best Western Plus and the Premier brand. For long term stays my absolute favorite is their Executive Residency. I’ve never been disappointed staying there. And their reward points – unlike other chains – never expire!

I try to avoid the cheaper two star chains. You might need to stay in them though, if you’re on a tight budget, or that’s all the town has to offer.

(The reason why two star hotel mattresses feel 20 years old, is because they often are. Some budget hotels purchase used furniture, including beds, when higher end hotels renovate. So be aware, that you usually get what you pay for.)

One of the benefits of chain hotels is the rewards card. On my first six month road trip across Canada and around USA, I earned enough points to book my sister in law and her husband, into a honeymoon suite for a week as a wedding present.

Plus once you hit diamond, gold, or whatever the hotel chain calls their higher levels of membership, you’ll get better service. When you tell them you’re a gold member, you can almost hear them snap to attention while you’re talking.

If you can’t get a room in your hotel chain of choice, always have a second and third choice of chains as a backup. If none of them are available, which can happen in small towns, you’ll have no choice but to stay at an independent hotel. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it won’t count towards your points.

A good way to judge hotels is through reviews from the public. You’ll find them on travel websites like Yelp, Expedia and TripAdvisor.

You’ll need to discard some of the most favorable reviews. You’ll recognize them as flowery, verbose and puffy. They could have been written by a shill, employee, a social media department, advertiser, or somebody compensated in some way.

The same thing applies to the worst reviews. Most of these people have chips on their shoulder about one thing or another. Perhaps they arrived over tired and every little thing bothered them. So disregard them, unless they are talking about health and safety issues.

The bottom line is that you have to take hotel reviews with a grain of salt. One person’s three star, may be another persons five star, depending on what their expectations were and what they actually got.

If you need internet access – and who doesn’t these days – read the hotel description closely. If it just says in-room internet access, like some expensive hotels, you’ll probably pay around $20 a day for it.

Look for wording like free wifi in the room, or complimentary high speed internet access, to be sure it’s included in the price of the room. If in doubt, call the toll free 800 number for the hotel before booking it.

There is no smoking now in most chain hotels. The trend is to offer their guests a smoke free experience. That means there’s no smoking anywhere on the hotel grounds, including balconies.

A few independent hotels, and most low end motels, still have smoking rooms available. So it’s always a good idea to specify what type of room you want when you book it. Otherwise, you might be unpleasantly surprised when you arrive.

Finally, you must plan ahead. Don’t expect there to be a room available, if you haven’t reserved one weeks in advance, especially during the peak summer months. One tour bus, or convention in town, could wipe out all the available rooms.

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