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Where ‘Budget’ Hotels Aren’t Budget Friendly

Move over, New York! We have a new champion for high hotel prices—Boston, which the online hotel agency Cheaphotels discovered has the country’s highest average nightly rates for budget hotels. Its new report revealed that travelers had to shell out an average of $194/night for a two-star or better hotel. Boston beat longtime rival New York by a comfortable margin of $22/night—no need for instant replay. At the other end of the scale, the best cities for budget hotel prices were Orlando, at $33/night, and Las Vegas, at $36. Of course, in both of these, the locals have other very efficient ways to separate you from your money.

The details of the study: The survey was conducted during April for four three-day periods in May, finding prices for the cheapest available double room in two-star hotels or better, located either within one mile of the city center or very close to the city’s main visitor attractions. The rate figures were developed from searches of leading hotel-booking sites Expedia, Priceline, and Orbitz. Among the findings:

  • Other cities with average budget hotel rates less than $70/night were Anaheim ($45), Myrtle Beach ($51), Atlanta ($52), Salt Lake City ($59), San Antonio ($61), Los Angeles ($63), Portland ($66), and Denver ($68).
  • Other cities with average budget hotel rates more than $100/night were Philadelphia ($154), Washington, D.C. ($145), New Orleans ($117), Chicago ($116), Houston ($108), St. Louis ($104), and Tampa ($102).

As the study notes, you can usually avoid high prices in even expensive cities by heading to the suburbs. But that move entails tradeoffs of lower hotel bills against more time and money to get to the places you really want to see. In any case, not many of you are going to decide where to go strictly on hotel costs: If you’re interested in colonial historical sites, you don’t go to Vegas because it’s cheaper.

In a related question, a reader wanted to know if the big online hotel discounters are “legit, reliable, and trustworthy.” She cited what appear to be misleading “best-rate” claims by the big agencies and wondered if she should instead book with an established agent, such as American Express, AAA, or a local travel agency, and pay higher rates? And she asks, “Are the savings worth the risks?”

Although only she can make a final decision, some conclusions are fairly clear:

The top online agencies, such as Expedia, Hotwire, Orbitz, and Travelocity have shown themselves to be what most people would consider “legit.” You reserve; you get the room.

As to “reliable and trustworthy,” that’s a matter of definition. Yes, they reliably deliver on the specifics of the prices and bookings they make and you can generally trust them to complete the deal you select. But does each always deliver the “best” prices? If they all quote the same price, which they often do, then you can assume it’s as good as you’re going to get—unless, that is, you go through a flash sale or an opaque agency.

You can lower your risks of overpaying by using a price comparison tool such as SmarterTravel’s sister site BookingBuddy or a comparison site such as Kayak. And you can always double-check with the hotel’s own site.

The most frequent complaints I’ve heard about online agencies originate when travelers face a problem. Then, all too often, the agency and hotel will each claim it’s “the other guy’s fault,” and neither will address the problem directly.

And that brings us to the reader’s final question about using a full-service travel agency. My take here is that travel agencies seldom, or never, beat the online discounters’ prices, but they offer more in the way of service. And service, not price, is the reason those travel agencies continue to thrive in the Internet age.

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Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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