The Brancatelli File



September 22, 1993 -- When you travel on business, do you stay in a hotel or a motel?

Sorry, that's the wrong answer.

In fairness, that's a trick question because it has been years since business travelers had so stark and simple a choice. The days when there were just two clearly defined lodging options--the traditional, full-service hotel or the humble, roadside motel--are long gone.

Nowadays, business travelers must sift through a myriad of lodging options: all-suite hotels, extended-stay accommodations, limited-service hotels, boutique and luxury properties and several flavors of "economy" lodgings. Each type of hotel offers a dramatically different roster of services and amenities and it's impossible to judge the value of a particular property based solely on the price of a guest room.

From the hotel industry's point of view, this so-called "segmentation" of lodging options was supposed to result in a more cost-effective and profitable approach to housing business travelers. In reality, however, segmentation has been a financial nightmare.

As an industry, hotels lost about $5 billion last year or $1,500 for each existing guest room in the United States. That's because segmentation resulted in an unprecedented building spree and an huge oversupply of hotel rooms. On an average night in America, in fact, about four of every ten guest rooms go unoccupied and unrented.

From the business traveler's perspective, hotel segmentation requires you to pay a little more attention before booking a room. That's because there are services you can't have in exchange for every desirable special amenity offered by a hotel in a particular lodging segment.

Here's a snapshot of some of the newer lodging options available, what they usually offer, what you're likely to sacrifice and when they are best to book.

What they offer: a well-appointed suite, free breakfast and evening cocktails for about the same price traditional hotels charge for a standard guest room.

What you sacrifice: room service, on-site restaurants and bars, banquet and meeting space, and concierge services.

Best to book: when you're spending several consecutive nights in a hotel and want more space and comfort than traditional guest rooms offer.

Best-known chains: Embassy Suites, Guest Quarters and Crown Sterling Suites.

What they offer: fully equipped apartments in townhouse-style developments, complete with on-site pools, washers and dryers, barbecues, sports courts and other "at-home" comforts.

What you sacrifice: on-site restaurants and bars, most full-service hotel amenities and a traditional hotel lobby.

Best to book: for long stays in one city when you'd like to live as close to a "normal" life as possible.

Best-known chains: Residence Inn and Summerfield Suites.

What they offer: oversized guest rooms with large work desks and other business-related services at prices about a third below traditional hotel rates.

What you sacrifice: around-the-clock attention from the front desk, fancy dining, entertaining and meeting facilities and elegant public rooms.

Best to book: when you want all the services, but need to cut corners while doing it.

Best-known chain: Courtyard by Marriott.

What they offer: good beds, pleasant surroundings, decent television sets and a free continental breakfast at about half the price of the nightly rate at a traditional hotel.

What you sacrifice: all the special services and amenities of a traditional hotel and on-site restaurants and bars.

Best to book: on an overnight stay when all you need is a comfortable place to sleep and a shower the next morning.

Best-known chains: Hampton Inn, LaQuinta, Holiday Inn Express and Fairfield Inn.

What they offer: a place to sleep and free local calls at rock-bottom rates.

What you sacrifice: everything else.

Best to book: when it's stay on the cheap or cancel the trip.

Best-known chains: Motel 6 and Super 8.

All of which brings us back to traditional, full-service hotels like Westin and Hyatt or luxury properties such as the Four Seasons or Ritz-Carlton. For all their drawbacks--much higher prices for smallish guest rooms--they still have their place in the segmented hotel firmament.

After all, full-service hotels are still the only places where you can order a club sandwich from room service at 2 a.m. or get a pair of slacks pressed in 20 minutes.

This column originally appeared in The Los Angeles Times business section.

Copyright 1993-2007 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.