HOTEL

A few hotel changes to expect

With airline turmoil taking headlines, it’s easy to overlook the fact that you’ll likely spend more on hotels than air tickets in your travels this year. And the main expectations in hotel travel will probably be no surprise: continued inflation, reduced service and more new “brands” from the giant chains. The main saving grace in facing hotel prices is that trading down a bit is easier and less painful than it is with airlines. If your main need is simply a place to get a good sleep, today’s economy hotels o ffer a pretty good value.

That fact is likely behind Hilton’s announcement that it is launching a premium economy brand, the company’s first foray into a marketplace currently dominated by Choice, Wyndham and Best Western. “Spark” will open its first properties this year, priced below Hilton’s former lower-end Hampton brand. As far as I can tell, most initial locations will be conversions of properties previously operating as other brands rather than new builds.

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If you can’t keep all the different hotel “brands” separate in your mind, you’re not alone. Hilton’s new brand brings its total to 19; Choice is up to 13 brands with its new Radisson combination, IHG has 18, Hyatt has 16, and Marriott boasts 30. Some classifications are easy to understand, such as “economy,” “midscale,” “suite” and “extended stay,” but the more recent innovation is “lifestyle” hotels, which, as far as I can tell, are conventional hotels with a thick application of nonsense.

In Europe, giant Accor is focusing on its popular Ibis brand, now divided into at least three price sub-brands. And in the U.K., both midprice giants, Premier Inn and Travelodge, have segmented their offerings into different price levels.

On the price-comparison front, I’m not sure about the outlook for deceptive “resort fee” charges. The Federal Trade Commission is — finally — looking at the problem, but that agency’s track record for quick, decisive action is dismal. There’s no question that exclusion of mandatory fees from promoted rates is deceptive; consumer deception, in fact, is the primary reason hotels do it. Even if the FTC punts on the issue, individual states may come to the rescue. But don’t count on relief in 2023; for now, if you want honest, full-cost hotel price comparisons, your best bet remains searching on Kayak with its full-price filter.

Another distressing hotel trend is the attempt by many hotels to move what should be full-pay employees into a tip-income category and cut them down to minimum wage. Tipping is already out of control in the U.S., and asking guests to pay big bucks for a room and then tip everyone in sight is a borderline scam or deception.

Sorry to say, I don’t see an easy way to avoid this problem. Hotels try to shame you into excessive tipping by placing envelopes in the rooms, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see “tip jars” show up on registration desks. This problem isn’t going away anytime soon.

Similarly, you can expect more and more hotels to skip daily housekeeping, often with the excuse that less laundry is good for the environment. Personally, I don’t mind having my bed made every other day rather than daily, but I can understand folks who want their room tidied up every day. That’s going away in a lot of hotels.

Overall, when you reserve rooms, most hotels will continue to offer lower prices if you pay in full, nonrefundable, in advance. My take, so far, has been that the difference between the best nonrefundable rate and the best no-advance rate isn’t enough to cover the risk that I might have to change the itinerary. But sometimes that nonrefundable will look enticing. Just make sure to weigh the risks carefully before you commit.

Otherwise, getting the best deal remains as it has been. Look for promotions, and revert to standard AAA or AARP rates when you can’t find a better deal.

Email Ed Perkins at [email protected]. Also, check out Ed’s new rail travel website at www.rail-guru.com.

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