The days of travelers booking trips long in advance are quickly retreating.
In 2009 it seems that the best deals come to those who wait.
Case in point, a web search on any number of travel-oriented sites (including Quikbook.com, Fly.com, Kayak.com, Orbitz.com, Travelocity and TripAdvisor.com) will usually yield a cheaper hotel rate or airline fare than you could have obtained months ago.
Booking a hotel at the last minute can easily reap great reward in today’s economy.
Or it could cost you considerably more depending on the circumstances.
On a recent coast-to-coast odyssey from Seattle, Washington to New York City, I tested quite a few options.
I found my best and least-expensive flights for travel during the month of April were obtained when I booked them this past January. These flights included Delta Airlines, AirTran and Alaska/Horizon Airlines.
Since I choose to fly in and out of larger cities with airline hubs I was able to score the least expensive non-stop flights. If I had waited closer to my scheduled departure date I would have incurred more costly airfares.
And while booking airfares are still more expensive the closer you get to your departure date, you can find less expensive fares for future travel by booking now.
The first stop on our trip was at the Red Roof Inn at Seattle’s SeaTac International Airport. One wing of this hotel has recently undergone an extensive renovation and that is where I requested a room.
Our room, at a rate of $55.99 per night, was more than adequate for the short amount of time we were going to spend there, less than seven hours. It was clean and featured a new flat-panel TV, granite counters in a large bathroom and new flooring and bedding.
Most importantly the hotel provided free shuttle in the middle of night from the airport to the hotel.
The next morning as we checked out we were assisted by a lovely front desk attendant who had previously worked in a large resort just miles from our home in Florida.
Our next stop was downtown Seattle at the Hotel Andra. Our rate at this hotel was an already established group rate: nevertheless it was less than the usual rack rate and the price was edging downward at the time we visited.
At its current lower rate the Andra was an excellent hotel with wonderful amenities, a great location and excellent onsite restaurants. It is a member of the Small Luxury Hotel Group.
Another new and usually very expensive property, The Four Seasons Seattle, while not in the $100 category, is still making concessions to the bad economy.
You can currently enjoy some of the wonderful amenities of this sleek and elegant hotel without actually being a guest.
The hotel’s beautiful new restaurant named ART has adjusted its menu to offer delicious, creative fare at more reasonable prices. And while the cost is going down, the quality is still up.
“We have evolved the menus at ART to reflect the market, while focusing on dishes made with the highest quality ingredients,’’ said Kerry Sear, executive chef of the hotel’s restaurant and lounge.
In the center of the restaurant is an interactive 24-seat Counter where chefs slice charcuterie, roll fresh sushi and make inventive salads. The “5 for Five” happy hour menu at the lounge features $5 food and beverage specials from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. Lots of Seattle residents and visitors have already found that they can dine on a five-star menu with less than five-star prices.
These “eat and drink” specials, along with the Counter items have provided a really attractive dining option. Full entrees from the kitchen are served in the dining room and range in price from $18 to $22.
Another way the Four Seasons is reaching out to non-hotel guests is inviting them to sample the hotel’s truly relaxing and enticing 6,000-square-foot-spa, which embodies the natural elements of the coastal Puget Sound area.
There is also a spectacular infinity pool located on the fourth floor that appears to flow into Elliot Bay. It is truly a Kodak Moment. It is for hotel guests.
The 25 percent discount off the usual spa rates makes this especially attractive offer. A massage is a wonderful way to take advantage of this economy-driven special.
Hotel occupancy is down throughout the country. Many hotels, such as the Four Seasons Seattle, had come or were just about to come online as the economy soured.
To fill these hotels with guests, owners are offering many incredible deals.
Such was the case at our luxurious new hotel in Portland, Ore.
I had read about The Nines in the New York Times early in my search and kept reading about it up to two days before our arrival.
Coincidentally, during our stay the hotel was voted one of the best new hotels of the year and featured on the Today Show as being in the top 10.
I originally choose it for its introductory $99 opening rate. Located next to Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square and in the heart of downtown I thought it would be a perfect location for a great price. It was also a member of the Luxury Collection Hotels, a trademark of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.
At the quoted rate I wondered what could be bad.
In fact, nothing was bad; everything was better than I could have imagined.
This hip new hotel occupies the top “nine’’ floors above a five-story Macy’s department store. The building in which the store is housed was once of the largest retail outlets west of the Mississippi River and opened in 1857. Macy’s acquired it in 2005.
You still enter the hotel at the street level and have no idea what is located on those first five floors.
Stepping off the elevator onto the eighth floor you enter a beautifully decorated lobby, which is actually a series of inviting “room settings,’’ surrounded by lots of contemporary art and sculpture.
Local Portland artists were commissioned to create 419 pieces of art for the hotel’s seven-story atrium. Many hotel owners and designers today feel that art is part of the hotel’s identity and therefore they have taken to displaying extensive collections. At The Nines the placement of the art itself makes a bold statement.
The hotel’s beautiful and relaxing Library is another wow ingredient.
But the best ingredients to be found in the hotel are in its Urban Farmer Restaurant.
Local ranchers, farmers and fishermen supply the hotel’s chefs with provisions from which they create simple and straight-forward dishes featuring meats, poultry and seafood. The locals refer to this as Floss: fresh, local organic, sustainable and seasonal.
The lobby bar adjoining the restaurant was filled nightly with young Portlandians and visitors enjoying the setting, food and wine.
Needless to say, this $99 rate was a great rate for a fabulous hotel. Note: The rate currently being quoted is $119 for weekend stays.
According to a New York Times feature Smith Travel Research recorded in February 2009, that occupancy rate for hotels in San Francisco was only at 57.7 percent compared with the 69.9 percent in February of 2008. And “Likewise the average price paid for a hotel room was down from a year earlier.’’
2009 is definitely turning out to be the year of the promotional rates in the City by the Bay.
In San Francisco we found the hip new Good Hotel to be just that: totally hip, really cool and extremely reasonable. This hotel is part of the “joie de vivre” chain which includes many well-recognized California inns and located in an emerging gentrified neighborhood in the vibrant South of Market district.
The Good is in walking distance of many of the city’s great museums and neighborhoods and it also provides easy to access public transportation. The hotel offers onsite parking and permits bike riders to bring their bicycles. A large bike trail map is mounted in the lobby .And large city maps are offered to promote public transit.
This eco-friendly hotel features “green décor,’’ such as reclaimed, recycled, converted and found objects. One coffee table in the lobby incorporated a skate board in its design. Another table was created from wool remnants used in blankets. Old bedspreads were converted into throw pillows.
Located in the lobby was a passport booth, the old time snapshot booth that Jay Leno showcases occasionally on his late night show. This one, while not talking back to you does encourage you to step in and have your picture taken and then these snapshots are put up on the lobby wall as wallpaper.
Etched on the walls and mirrors of the guest rooms were “happy” messages. Some even glow in the dark. Photographs of local San Francisco neighborhoods printed on both sides of vertical blinds allow guests to change the image with a pull of a string.
All these “good things” show that hoteliers are thinking further outside of out-of-the-box.
The ages of guests at The Good seemed across the board, though younger travelers did seem to abound. This hotel offers everything the traveler needs for the very reasonable (and current rate) of $119 per night.
Most of the guests reported that they found the hotel on the Internet.
Another find in San Francisco is the elegant and historic Queen Anne Bed and Breakfast in the Pacific Heights area of the city. Once again this hotel, whose daily tariff includes afternoon tea, breakfast and free Internet access, had rates of less than $150.00 per night for beautiful accommodations.
The Queen opened in 1981 as a luxury guesthouse. But, this exceptionally large Victorian building was originally an expensive private girl’s school.
Our room on the fourth floor (elevators are provided) was very large, comfortable and included a modern bathroom. The guest room also had an additional sink and a small refrigerator.
The hotel offers parking in a lot across the street for an extra charge. But, just like at the Good Hotel, we parked the car during our visit and used city transportation, which is located conveniently nearby.
At breakfast the next morning we met people from all over the United States. Everyone seemed pleased with the Queen Anne.
Across the country in New York City (The Big Apple) hotels are “on sale” but actually reserving a big name or “famed” hotel is still hard to find.
We did easily reserve a block of rooms this past January at a brand new property, The Ace Hotel New York, which was slated to (originally) open in March and was advertising $99 room rates.
The reservation, via Quikbook.com, was easy; the stay was not without problems. Most importantly when we arrived in late April we found the hotel not quite ready for “Prime Time.” In fact, it was still under construction in several aspects.
Nevertheless, the extra-friendly staff (many from the hotel's West Coast properties, the Aces in Seattle and Portland) made us more than welcome. The entire staff went above and beyond to make sure our family's special gathering was a success.
This trendy new hotel is focused, like its sister properties, on making a statement about how hotels of the future will focus their look and feel.
For example, like the Good Hotel, mirrors and walls convey printed upbeat phrases. Wall-size canvases, painted by mostly local street artists (similar to happenings in San Francisco) hang in the rooms; most without frames, some wheat-pasted directly on the walls.
Our room at the Ace featured images of New York's tall buildings painted on a wall-hung canvas. The room decor took on a nostalgic ambience with an old-fashioned Smeg refrigerator painted black.
The color scheme throughout the hotel is dark, with black, grey and cream colors predominating. The Ace is also featuring the Passport Booth in their lobby as well.
When the hotel is totally completed (slated for May) we are sure it will deliver and live up to the standards and popularity of its siblings. Meanwhile the $99 rate for certain rooms still remains.
The most important thing you should remember that when booking any hotel besides receiving a good rate that you leave with a memorable experience. We certainly did at all these hotels.
This is the year to find a good hotel room at a good price. Happy hunting!
For your information:
Red Roof Inn. 16838 International Blvd. SeaTac International Airport. Seattle, Washington. (800) 466-8356. (206) 248-0901. www.redroof.com
Hotel Andra. 2000 Fourth Avenue, Seattle. (206) 448-8600. www.hotelandra.com
The Four Seasons Seattle. 99 Union Street, (800) 819-5053. www.fourseasons.com
The Nines Hotel. 525 Southwest Morrison Street, Portland, Oregon. (877) 229-9995.
The Good Hotel. 112 Seventh Street, San Francisco, California. (415) 621-7001.
Queen Anne Hotel. 1590 Sutter Street, San Francisco. (415) 441-2828.
The Ace Hotel New York. 20 West 29th Street (at Broadway). (212) 679-2222.
(Diane Siskin is a former Chattanoogan now living in Florida with her husband, Charles Siskin. An award-winning travel writer and editor, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)