Hassle-Free Hotel Stay

Today’s busy traveler is looking for higher-quality hotels than in years past, and hoteliers are providing what they want. From luxurious beds draped with rich, velvety linens to designer lobbies, hotels around the country are offering more, not less.

However, quality comes at a price. The average cost of a double room among the 1,011 U.S. hotels surveyed for Zagat’s Top U.S. Hotels, Resorts & Spas 2007 is $361.08 per night. According to the survey, “All of these prices are higher than the room rates charged only two years ago, and unless occupancy rates decline, room prices are likely to stay high.” But is it possible to stay in the best for less? The answer is yes.

If you follow these tips, you’ll enjoy luxury at a discount.

o Research the hotel online, then call. The Internet is a great place to start. Go to Websites such as www.hotels.com, www.travelocity.com, and www.cheap tickets.com, “then buy directly from the hotel, because in some cases you can get a better rate from the hotel,” says Joe McInerney, president of the American Hotel and Lodging Association (www.ahla.com). By calling the hotel directly and speaking with a reservation agent, you can learn about current and upcoming specials, which may include spa packages or complimentary meals.

Inquire about the occupancy rate. Upon arriving at the hotel, ask a reservation agent or the hotel manager if there are rooms available. If there are, inquire about a room upgrade for a minimal or negotiated cost. If you don’t have a reservation and you plan on arriving after the scheduled check-in time, Joel Widzer, author of The Penny Pincher’s Passport to Luxury Travel: The Art of Cultivating Preferred Customer Status (Traveler’s Tales Guides; $14.95) suggests negotiating for a reduced rate, “since it is unlikely the rooms will be filled that night.”

Make the most of frequent guest programs. Many hotel chains are part of a larger conglomerate. Use this to your advantage. For example, by staying at a Courtyard, you can earn points toward stays at a Ritz-Carlton. “Sometimes luxury doesn’t cost more,” adds Widzer. “I’ve stayed at a Four Seasons and it can cost as little as a Marriott or Hilton.”

Traveling during the down season. McInerney also suggests traveling during shoulder months, which are the down season, for additional savings. Keep in mind that down periods can include days or months and vary by location and hotel.