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Many Similarities - Five nights at Four Different
 Inexpensive Branded Business Hotels

By Ellen Creager, Detroit Free PressMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Aug. 10, 2008 - When you're on the road a lot, hotel rooms tend to blur together, which may be a good thing. It makes you feel as if you're in the same room night after night, even though tonight is Nashville and tomorrow is Pismo Beach.

So when I'm traveling alone on business, I don't really care about a gorgeous setting unless I'm reporting on resorts.

For me, a hotel needs only five things: Night-time quiet and darkness; cleanliness; free Internet, free breakfast and a comfortable bed.

The rest, as they say, is gravy.

So on a recent six-day reporting trip from Atlanta back to Detroit, I did a small experiment.

Certain similarities

For comparison's sake, I stayed five nights at four different inexpensive business hotels. I booked them either that day, or just showed up without a reservation.

All had rooms available. The service was amiable. The condition of the hotels was satisfactory. The free Internet worked without problems. And the amazing thing is, all four of these brands, owned by different companies, have discovered that amenities that appeal to customers are mostly the same.

Best of all, I was pleased with the prices, which averaged with tax $114 per night.

The first night was at the Marriott Courtyard Executive Park/Emory in northeast Atlanta. For $135.99 including tax, this hotel met all my requirements but one -- no free breakfast. That deficiency was slightly made up for by the availability of an outdoor pool. And when the air conditioning in my first room was broken, the staff immediately moved me to another comparable room.

The second and third nights were spent at the Country Inn and Suites by Carlson near the Nashville Airport. I didn't fly in -- I drove -- but I stayed there because it was near downtown and the Grand Ole Opry, and mostly because I found a coupon in a booklet at a gas station offering rooms there for $89.99 per night (after taxes it was $105.71).

I was happy at how nice it was for the money. It had all my requirements, plus free cookies in the afternoon, Pantene hair supplies and a library with free books. The only downside? Ugly bedspreads.

Change for the better

The fourth night was spent at the Hampton Inn in Bardstown, Ky. A bit off the beaten track, this decent hotel met all five requirements, plus it had a nice indoor pool and a small refrigerator. Bonus: It was across the street from a very good authentic Mexican restaurant. It was $105.78, including tax.

The fifth night's stop was the Holiday Inn Express Cincinnati/Richfield in Walton, Ky. Just off I-75, this decent hotel met all my requirements and had the best breakfast, including hot biscuits and bacon. The downside, however, was that it is next to a truck stop with enough all-night lights on it to land a 747. The hotel drapes that probably block light at other Holiday Inn Express properties didn't work there. The room cost $120.99.

My favorite? Hard to say. I was always a Hampton Inn fan, but I'm thinking my new favorite is Country Inn and Suites.

But all of these moderate brands are about a million times better than business hotels used to be.

Remember the saggy beds and musty curtains? They're long gone.

Some things in life, you see, do improve.

Contact ELLEN CREAGER at 313-222-6498 or ecreager@freepress.com.

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Copyright (c) 2008, Detroit Free Press

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