Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Oh the Places You’ll Go – Part 3

And how to get there without going nuts

This week, I’m trying to document some of the lessons I learned over several years of (sometimes very frequent) business travel. Some of it I learned from friends and co-workers, some I figured out on my own. All of it’s been personally battle-tested, though your experiences may certainly vary (particularly since my last business trip was a couple of years ago).

Topic 2: Hotel

Like choosing your airline, choosing where to stay on business has various factors to consider. Location is important, as are cost, overall convenience, amenities, and brand loyalty (if any). Let’s break those down.

Location – you want to stay somewhere that’s not going to be a hassle to get to and from. BUT, it’s just as important that the hotel be in a suitable area. Not too many major hotels are in run-down parts of town, but noise can be a big issue. Lots of hotels are near airports, for instance, but that can be really loud as jets are taking off and landing from early morning until late at night. Likewise, I once stayed at a hotel that seemed okay until I’d  been there for about half an hour. Then a train roared past my room, literally shaking the walls, the bed, the entire building. I had just climbed into bed and was stunned by the sound and the sensation. I flicked on the light and called the front desk to ask whether the train would be going past again. “Oh yes,” they replied. “About every forty minutes.” I told them I was leaving. Then ended up moving me to a room at the far side of the hotel and I was insulated from the train, but had there not been somewhere else for me to go, I would have been a wreck the next morning. Google maps and Mapquest are great friends to the business traveler who wants to be sure that their hotel isn’t as far away from the airport AND their destination as possible, while ensuring that there isn’t a bullet train running across the property.

Cost – hotel rooms have a huge swing in price from double-digits up to $400+ per night for a regular business-traveler’s room. Be aware that you can not only get deals on hotel rooms through the travel websites like Travelocity, but also through organizations like the American Automobile Association.

Overall convenience – there are lots of factors that can make a hotel stay more or less pleasurable. They can include the presence of a hotel restaurant (and the cost – if it’s a 5-star joint that exceeds your per diem, it’s useless to you). They can include how near or far your room is to the elevator. Some prefer it close so they don’t have to walk too far, while some like to be farther away where it tends to be quieter. And how’s the parking? The hotel’s job is to facilitate your life, comfort and work while you’re away from home. The more all of the pieces fit neatly together, the less stressful your trip will be.

Amenities – it’s not just about the little shampoo bottles in your room. It’s about the ability to get a high-speed internet connection. It’s about the placement of the TV and the available channels. It’s about whether the bed is a medieval torture device or a cloud that lulls you to sleep. It’s about whether there’s a decent, working alarm clock. Is there a business center where you can fax or print something if needed? Is there a fitness center? Is there room service if you want it? For a lot of people, getting a decent cup of coffee (or three or five) in the morning is a huge deal – how well does the hotel accommodate them? Is there a fridge? A stove? A microwave? These little things can all add up to the difference between an OK stay and a great experience.

Corporate loyalty – as with the airlines, you can choose to spend most of your time within the auspices of one hotel corporation and its various sub-brands, or you can stay wherever suits you best on a given trip. One difference is that sticking with one set of brands adds up in reward points (that can add amenities to your stay as well as being redeemed for free stays once you’ve accrued enough). Another, less obvious difference, is familiarity. For me, I tended to stay at Hilton Garden Inn hotels, Doubletree hotels and Homewood Suites – all of which were Hilton properties. And while there wasn’t much similarity between the brands, the hotels within each brand were nearly identical. Once I got familiar with the Hilton Garden Inn property, I knew exactly what to expect at all of them. This was really comforting when I was cruising in late after a long flight and I just wanted to get into bed as quickly as possible. Knowing the ropes was a huge help in relieving the stress at the end of that hard day. The same was true of every Homewood Suites and every Doubletree hotel I stayed at – if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. When I’m traveling for pleasure, I might like to see new places and try new things. But when I’m on business, familiarity and comfort are important to me. Marriotts were nice too, for the most part, but once I decided to go Hilton, I made a point of selecting them whenever possible. I ended up accruing well over 100,000 Hilton points that I’ve since used multiple times when taking my family on vacation. This has personally saved me hundreds of dollars. That’s value.

So when you’re trying to pick a place to stay, there’s a lot more to the decision than whether to get a king bed or two doubles. Choose wisely!

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