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Avoiding chain hotels

Avoiding chain hotels

Old Feb 10, 18, 9:32 am
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Avoiding chain hotels

Many here will probably not be old enough to remember back to the beginning of Holiday Inns. They arose from a niche in the market that someone saw as an alternative to the then ubiquitous Mom and Pop Motels where the quality varied a great deal. The basic premise of Holiday Inn was that from the East to West coast of N. America, if you stayed in a Holiday Inn anywhere, the room would be nearly identical to a room in every other Holiday Inn. In other words, you were assured of a certain level of quality and ammenities. That spelled the death of independent motels and today if you do a road trip across the USA, you would be hard pressed to find many independent hotels along the Interstates. A handful of chains dominate the market almost completely.

I use them in N. America but try to avoid them in other places like Europe where a great many equal but independent hotels still exist. No Holiday Inn, Marriott or Hilton, etc. has the same ambiance as some of the independent hotels in the same price ranges. For example, here is a 3 star boutique hotel in Switzerland where you can get a double room for $90 US per night with breakfast in June.
https://bellevuewiesen.com/hotelbellevuewiesen/ The hotel dates back to 1873 but is fully modernized and has an award winning restaurant. Europe is full of such hotels which are unique rather than 'cookie cutter' copies. You will not find that price by the way on any third party booking sites, but that's another topic.

I understand people who want to collect 'Loyalty Points' but wonder if they ever consider that it limits them and keeps them from experiencing more interesting hotels. At the higher end of the market, you will not get a room with your Hilton, Marriott, etc. points at this hotel. Sitting high above the lake with a waterfall to one side and reached by funicular from their own ferry dock, compare this to the hotels in Interlaken where the majority of tourists stay. https://www.giessbach.ch/en/grandhotel-giessbach.html

So what about you, do you avoid chains and look for unique independent hotels when you can find them? Or do you let 'points' dominate your thinking?
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Old Feb 10, 18, 11:59 am
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Originally Posted by dulciusexasperis View Post
Many here will probably not be old enough to remember back to the beginning of Holiday Inns. They arose from a niche in the market that someone saw as an alternative to the then ubiquitous Mom and Pop Motels where the quality varied a great deal. The basic premise of Holiday Inn was that from the East to West coast of N. America, if you stayed in a Holiday Inn anywhere, the room would be nearly identical to a room in every other Holiday Inn. In other words, you were assured of a certain level of quality and ammenities. That spelled the death of independent motels and today if you do a road trip across the USA, you would be hard pressed to find many independent hotels along the Interstates. A handful of chains dominate the market almost completely.

I use them in N. America but try to avoid them in other places like Europe where a great many equal but independent hotels still exist. No Holiday Inn, Marriott or Hilton, etc. has the same ambiance as some of the independent hotels in the same price ranges. For example, here is a 3 star boutique hotel in Switzerland where you can get a double room for $90 US per night with breakfast in June.
https://bellevuewiesen.com/hotelbellevuewiesen/ The hotel dates back to 1873 but is fully modernized and has an award winning restaurant. Europe is full of such hotels which are unique rather than 'cookie cutter' copies. You will not find that price by the way on any third party booking sites, but that's another topic.

I understand people who want to collect 'Loyalty Points' but wonder if they ever consider that it limits them and keeps them from experiencing more interesting hotels. At the higher end of the market, you will not get a room with your Hilton, Marriott, etc. points at this hotel. Sitting high above the lake with a waterfall to one side and reached by funicular from their own ferry dock, compare this to the hotels in Interlaken where the majority of tourists stay. https://www.giessbach.ch/en/grandhotel-giessbach.html

So what about you, do you avoid chains and look for unique independent hotels when you can find them? Or do you let 'points' dominate your thinking?
I collect points and have a traveling strategy built on earning points when convenient, but I try to avoid letting points dictate my destinations. I see posts around here frequently where people are asking for suggestions about where they can stay in London or Paris or Dublin, and it becomes obvious that the question is phrased the way it is because the poster wants to use accumulated points at a US chain hotel. I won't criticize that out of hand because six or seven years ago, extremely cheap Choice Hotels point redemptions in effect at the time made me jump on a short trip to London when airfares suddenly dropped. Although that trip made me want to return to London, since then, I've used airbnb, a similar service called holidaybookings.co.uk, or stayed in independent hotels in London. In addition, in Europe and other parts of the world, chains don't exist outside of the major cities, yet many of the interesting parts of the country are located in small towns or completely rural areas. I count Ireland as one of those places--yes, Dublin is in Ireland and has tons of point redemption options, but life outside Dublin is fantastic, and I couldn't imagine never wanting to travel to those Irish small towns because they don't have a Carlson, IHG, Hilton, SPG, etc. And from my experiences in Northern Ireland, I would generally avoid Belfast with its multiple chain options to journey through the Glens of Antrim or the Causeway Coast where chains are few and far between. I'm very happy that I don't limit my travels to locales where I could use my hotel points.

And I definitely have little to no interest in the "aspirational" properties so often pushed by the bloggers. The Maldives? Not my cup of tea.

I view point collection for hotels as part of a bigger travel strategy. With airbnb and similar services, the hotel industry is facing challenges. I'm figuring one of the ways hotel chains can those challenges is to keep hotel loyalty programs reasonably rewarding so if I'm traveling to NYC or Florida or California, it may be worth my while to earn or redeem in one of those places. But it's now also worth my while to see what other options may be available.
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Old Feb 10, 18, 12:54 pm
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I rented an apartment on VRBO as well as stayed in a couple of Marriott hotels in the UK late last year and I definitely preferred the former for several reasons:
  1. The apartment was in Vauxhall, which is much closer to the tourist stuff in Central London than the Marriott property by LCY that I stayed at the couple of days before leaving the UK.
  2. The apartment ended up working out to be not much more than the London Marriott property, making it a pretty good value.
  3. The "living like a local" experience, which I didn't realize I was that much into. (Though thinking about it more, I guess it's a natural extension to my usual "no chain restaurant" rule.)
The apartment was such a nice experience that it actually makes me wonder if I should try for re-upping Marriott status this year. Of course, renting an apartment isn't ideal for every trip; hotels still have their uses for shorter trips. Not to mention that the Airbnb/VRBO route has pitfalls of its own.
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Old Feb 10, 18, 1:49 pm
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I don't want to collect loyalty points as it restricts where you might stay. I find someone posting... where can I stay in Hong Kong with accor points weird rather than where is the best place that suits my needs and location. I don't want to be tied down to a few options. I too like locally run hotels and want the hotel to feel like the country I am in rather than it be a generic hotel that could be in any place.
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Old Feb 10, 18, 2:00 pm
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Originally Posted by dulciusexasperis View Post
So what about you, do you avoid chains and look for unique independent hotels when you can find them? Or do you let 'points' dominate your thinking?
I'm one of those quite focused on points and didn't really go in that direction until about 10 years ago. Prior to that I was doing a combination of single rooms in hostels, hotels, B&Bs and pensiones, depending where I was and on pricing, with points not in play. I would typically be out of the U.S. about 12 weeks a year so had lots of paid nights.

What changed my mind was meeting FTers at various events around the world who convinced me I was leaving a lot of free hotel nights on the table by not accruing points and taking advantage of credit card signup bonuses for the various hotel programs. My biggest score was 10 award nights in London during the 2012 Olympics at an Indigo hotel near the Tower of London, a property that was $1,000 a night a year out until dropping down to $600 a few days before opening ceremonies. Both IHG and Hyatt had award stays available during the Olympics if you were able to book 11 months out. Most of the paid rates I had looked at during the Olympics were prepaid, nonrefundable, which they can do with special events. The points really saved me a fortune here.

I tend to use my hotel points when the rates are too high - for me, typically something over $150 a night. I find a get a pretty good return, and the hotels I am paying to stay at, and accrue points at, are competitively priced. My points are split between four different programs.
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Old Feb 10, 18, 4:12 pm
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I'm quite loyal when it comes to air travel. At least within an alliance.

To put another way, I'm a captive at the mercy of the FFP.

Because the airports are generally the same, the experience is generally the same, so the marginal differences from FF recognition (e.g. priority access) becomes magnified.

When it comes to hotel, anything goes. There is huge variability in location, individual property qualities, etc. I assess them all on property by property basis. If most things are equal I'll stick with the brand to get points, lounge access, etc. But things are almost never equal.
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Old Feb 10, 18, 5:18 pm
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We'll collect "points" if they happen to be given when we stay at a property that we *already* prefer, for whatever reason.

But we won't select a property just so we can "get more points".
We also won't select a property just because it has certain perks (e.g., with Amex Plat "fine hotels"), although we'll certainly use them if they exist where we prefer to stay.

At this stage in our lives, ALL aspects of travel are "part of the experience", including both air travel and hotel, so we choose what gives us the most pleasure. (Or, in some cases, the least aggravation )

We'll select a "chain" if we are in some distant USA-based town and there are not any obvious "nicer hotels", for the reasons given. We might miss out on something nicer, but how would we have found it, if it isn't obvious from assorted listings? And we'd prefer to know that we are minimizing the chance of some horror story...

But if there is a hotel of some known charm, large or small, we'll also go out of our way to stay there, especially in non-USA destinations. That's part of why we travel to non-USA places, after all.

We don't want a "Holiday Inn" in London, and we also don't want some high rise "once you walk in the door, that lobby and the rooms could be in AnyCity".
We were actually once booked into a London Holiday Inn (by someone else), and all we did there was to phone Amex Plat Travel collect (nice to find out back then that it really works!), and about an hour later, we were checking into Claridges. We had such a great time, we extended our trip for a second week.

Even when we were younger and on a more limited budget, we'd select B&B's in the USA (or "pensions" overseas), using those old green Michelin guidebooks, and selecting something at least one category up from the lowest. But not anything like a chain.
We've got some wonderful memories of those along the French countryside for a couple of weeks.

GC
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Old Feb 10, 18, 7:26 pm
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OK - I'll say it...I like chain hotels. I like consistency and knowing what I'm going to get. Sure, I like to explore a new city and try new food, but at the end of the day, there is something comforting about returning to something familiar. I once did a 2 week vacation throughout the UK staying mostly at "quaint" B&Bs. Some were nice, some were weird (carpet in the bathroom kind of weird), and a couple were dreadful (i.e. someone walking into the room in the middle of the night). I was very excited near the end to find a boring chain hotel with a normal shower, a good lock on the door and clean bedding. I've never stayed in a B&B again.

However, I don't let the points dictate. I collect points and have status in several programs and will use them for free nights when I can, but if there is a better hotel in a certain city, I'll pay for that and save my points for another time.
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Old Feb 10, 18, 9:50 pm
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Originally Posted by Low Roller View Post
OK - I'll say it...I like chain hotels. I like consistency and knowing what I'm going to get.
You're not alone in that. I have little interest in the "aspirational" properties that are always being pushed. I hated my one stay at a very nice B&B -- didn't like the proximity of strangers or the forced-extroversion of shared breakfast. Most of my stays are one-night, work- or leisure-related, often alone but occasionally with spouse or a road-trip friend. I focus on Honors properties and secondarily IHG Holiday Inn Expresses (which are much more consistent than Holiday Inns). I like knowing exactly what I am getting at the Hampton or Hilton Garden Inn, or the occasional Doubletree, and the Diamond status at the latter two has saved me lots of money on breakfasts over the years. You see, I **like** hotel rooms, if I were alone in the world, I'd probably look into living in a Hampton Inn

Originally Posted by dulciusexasperis View Post
Many here will probably not be old enough to remember back to the beginning of Holiday Inns. They arose from a niche in the market that someone saw as an alternative to the then ubiquitous Mom and Pop Motels where the quality varied a great deal. The basic premise of Holiday Inn was that from the East to West coast of N. America, if you stayed in a Holiday Inn anywhere, the room would be nearly identical to a room in every other Holiday Inn. In other words, you were assured of a certain level of quality and ammenities....
Fun fact: the original Holiday Inns also all had a tie-in with the Gulf Oil Company with the arrangement that a Gulf gas station would be on or adjacent the property. This was a HUGE reason for their success (along with the standardization and minimum expected quality that was a godsend to parents traveling with children) -- not because of the gas station itself, but because you could charge your room at the Holiday Inn to your Gulf Oil credit card. And in the 1960s, pre-Visa/MC, this allowed families to take vacations that they could pay off over the next several months.
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Old Feb 11, 18, 12:38 am
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Yup. I'll say it too - I like chains. I want to go to a branded hotel where they have some sort of corporate checklist for everything.

I'm a fan of independent restaurants but when it comes to a hotel room...thanks but no thanks.
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Old Feb 11, 18, 2:00 am
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Just a quick night somehere unknown while on a business trip -> chain. Longer stays/Leisure/.. if time allows, look out for "Mom+Pop" places, almost every time this was a good choice and experience.
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Old Feb 11, 18, 3:08 am
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I believe the days of chain hotels being more consistent and reliable than independent hotels are long gone. These days, with online review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, a hotel that doesn't provide a good experience will get called out and lose customers very quickly. I have stayed at many independent and chain hotels, and I can't say that chains have been any better on average. I suppose that with a chain, you have another avenue to complain if there are problems, but that's about it.

Ironically, if TripAdvisor had existed back in the day, maybe Holiday Inn and other chain hotels would not have emerged.

I do believe that it is important to support small businesses, so I sometimes choose an independent hotel/restaurant/shop if all other factors are equal. But it all depends on the type of travel. For a longer leisure trip, I might look for a boutique hotel or B&B, but for a night's stay on a business trip, it will probably be the closest hotel.

To answer OP's question about points, I use the loyalty program run by an OTA (hotels.com). That way, I can get free nights without being tied down to a particular chain. No elite benefits, but those aren't a big deal and I can get some of them from a credit card.
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Old Feb 11, 18, 7:26 am
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Independent hotels are off my list unless recommended by someone I know who has stayed there. Anonymous on-line reviews are too easy to manipulate. I've stayed at places with horribly reviews that weren't bad and vice versa.

Holiday Inn used to have a motto, "No Surprises" which continues to apply to most chains. No surprises either pleasant or unpleasant is acceptable. I know what to expect and generally get something close to it.
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Old Feb 11, 18, 8:04 am
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Originally Posted by cbn42 View Post
I do believe that it is important to support small businesses, so I sometimes choose an independent hotel/restaurant/shop if all other factors are equal.
Many chain hotels are in fact owned or by local folks, or at least they are franchisees, so staying at their chains does support local business.
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Old Feb 11, 18, 9:36 am
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When I travel with my family, the hotel is the place we want to spend the least amount of time. We will get breakfast (free) at my "chain" hotel, then hit the city/town/slopes/beach/etc of the destination to experience the culture and offerings of the place we have chosen.

We stayed last summer at Palacio del Inka, an historic building with plenty of amenities, historic artifacts, etc., etc. We basically saw our room, the breakfast room, and the hallways in between. We were out exploring Cusco and the surrounding areas to meet the people, see the parades, explore the museums, etc., etc. all day.

So when a hotel is just a place to sleep, I'll get the free breakfast, welcome amenities, and collect points for my next (free) stay at another location.

I know folks who go to Maui and stay at a 5* resort, lounging at the pool, beach, etc., for an entire week. We prefer to head off at 7a to Hana and the Pipiwai trail, returning in the dark. YMMV.

We did stay at an "independent" hotel at Machu Picchu, but we were out at 7a and back after dark there too. So anything special about an independent property was missed.
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