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The rough economy has taken its toll on the hospitality industry and Consumer Reports Hotel Survey finds there are good hotel choices for every budget. Readers found The Ritz-Carlton, Homewood Suites, Renaissance, Drury Inn & Suites, and Microtel Inn & Suites were among the most satisfying of 48 chains in their respective categories.

Consumer Reports hotel ratings are broken into five categories: Fanciest, Luxury, Upscale, Moderate and Budget. Travelers’ expectations differ by category, but some moderate hotels pleased readers almost as much as the epitome of ritz, the Ritz-Carlton. Even the budget category had one winner: Microtel Inn & Suites which topped its category again.  Microtel was top of its class in CR’s last hotel survey.

The Consumer Reports National Research Center surveyed 27,506 subscribers who spent a collective 124,000 nights at 48 chains across all five categories from January 2008 to April 2009.  Here’s what Consumer Reports found:

  • It pays to haggle. Only 35 percent of respondents tried to negotiate for a better deal, but those who did were rewarded with a lower rate or room upgrade 80 percent of the time. That’s a slightly higher success rate than readers experienced in Consumer Reports 2006 survey. Those who called ahead to do their haggling were even more successful than those who tried to negotiate in person.
  • Booking method doesn’t affect satisfaction. There was no correlation between respondents’ happiness with their hotel stay and how they booked it. Satisfaction was similar whether they called the hotel directly, used the hotel’s Web site, phoned the chain’s toll-free number, used an independent travel site, or walked in off the street without a reservation.
  • Suites have advantages. For approximately the same price as a regular room, the lodgings in an all-suite hotel give a more spacious, homey feeling. Respondents singled out Homewood Suites and Drury Inn & Suites as well-maintained and exceptional values. Suite hotels come in different price levels, and suites are sometimes an option at standard chains.
  • Some beds are better than others. Many high-end chains boast about their plush mattresses and lush linens. Survey respondents cited the Ritz-Carlton, Renaissance and Westin as having the best beds and bedding. Conversely, at least 11 percent of guests (three times the average) at Howard Johnson, Travelodge, and Americas Best Value Inn complained that their beds were so uncomfortable that they couldn’t get a good night’s sleep.
  • Most “bargain” hotels aren’t. Respondents who stayed at a budget hotel said they were drawn by cheap rates. But except for Microtel, budget hotels continue to earn the lowest scores for value, upkeep, and ease of checking in and out. They also generate a disproportionate percentage of complaints about bedding, lighting, décor, and heating and air conditioning. Travelodge, Econo Lodge, and the misnamed Americas Best Value Inn, a newcomer to CR’s Ratings, were consistently among the most trouble-prone.

Tips to Find a Great Rate

Changing supply and demand makes prices a moving target, so it still takes a savvy shopper to unearth the best bargains. Consumer Reports June issue offers 10 tips to finding a better hotel rate and saving some cash. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Wing it. Respondents who appeared unannounced paid about $20 less per night for comparable accommodations, on average, than those who made a reservation ahead of time. Travelers who really want to play “chicken,” ask the desk clerk for the lowest possible rate, then say you’re taking your business elsewhere. If occupancy is exceptionally low, the clerk might invoke the “fade” rate, an option coming into play more often. It’s the bare minimum the chain will accept for a room, as an alternative to leaving it unoccupied. If you’re willing to roll the dice and show up late in the day without a reservation, you could hit the jackpot—or end up sleeping in your car.
  • Become a fan. More chains are becoming involved in social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Fans or followers of a chain will be notified of upcoming promotions and specials as soon as they’re available.
  • Look for specials. Given the poor economy hotel Web sites are loaded with limited-time offers. Among those that caught CR’s eye: a $100 Amazon.com gift card for every two nights’ stay at a Westin; an additional night at half-price for every night you stay at a Sheraton Four Points; and a 15 percent discount when you book at least eight days in advance at Super 8.