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Boutique hotels: A unique way to stay and save

In recent years, boutique hotels have emerged as a presence in the world of guest accommodations. However, it isn’t exactly clear what the term boutique means, or what the benefits of staying at these hotels are.

The good news is that boutique hotels offer guests many benefits that larger chains do not, and are generally a good value. According to Boutique Hotels International, staying at a boutique hotel is typically 20 percent less expensive than staying at a comparable chain hotel. To put this claim to the test, we compared prices between more traditional hotels and boutique hotels in a few cities, and calculated savings percentages for each example. We looked at rates from three-star hotels in central city locations for the same dates:

In three out of four cases, the boutique hotel offered substantial savings over the chain hotel. While this is not always the case, it does illustrate the fact that, once you move into the three-star and above hotel category, boutique hotels are competitive with larger properties. And with a premium on service, amenities, and atmosphere, price is just one way that boutique hotels can add value to a vacation.

City Boutique hotel Rate Chain hotel Rate Savings
Chicago Raphael Hotel $109 Hilton Garden Inn $189 43%
New York Mayfair Hotel $130 Super 8 $158 18%
San Francisco Renoir Hotel $76 Ramada $92 18%
Washington, D.C. Hotel Helix $127 Best Western $101 -30%

Boutique hotel characteristics

Boutique hotels tend to average fewer than 100 rooms, giving the hotels a personal feel. The individual properties are characterized by personalities such as hip, modern, romantic, or whimsical. Some even have theme-oriented rooms. For example, the Hotel Monaco in Denver offers Miles Davis, John Lennon, and Grace Slick suites; the Alexis Hotel in Seattle has a book-themed suite; and the Monticello Inn in San Francisco offers special packages for companion pets. Many boutique hotels have popular restaurants that draw their clientele from the surrounding city as well as from the hotel itself. And, as they tend to be built in refurbished old city buildings, boutique hotels are often centrally located.

Personalized and professional service and an intimate atmosphere are also necessary components for any boutique hotel, according to hospitality consultants Harry Nobles and Cheryl Thompson. This attention to service and detail means many extra amenities, which can add value to any hotel stay. From original artwork in lobbies to designer bath products, complimentary wine, in-room CD collections, and high-speed Internet access, these hotels are geared towards providing a unique experience in addition to a bed.

On the downside, boutique hotels tend not to offer the same programs that larger hotel chains do, such as hotel loyalty points. Nevertheless, having an experience that veers from the anonymity and homogeneity of chain hotels might outweigh the need for these programs. And, you won’t necessarily have to forgo point-earning potential as some, such as those in the Kimpton Group, are starting to partner with airlines to offer frequent flyer miles for stays.

Finding and booking a boutique hotel

Not too long ago, finding a boutique hotel in any given city could be likened to finding a needle in a haystack. You had to know that it existed before booking, or stumble across it accidentally during your hotel search. However, as more boutique hotels are joining online websites such as Boutique Lodging International, finding these hotels and booking them online has become easier. Here are some of the larger boutique hotel networks and groups:

  • Boutique Lodging International: Boutique Lodging International is a network of independently-owned boutique hotels. With well over one hundred properties worldwide, you can navigate by city and then click through to the individual hotel’s website. You can search by specials and packages as well.

  • Kimpton Hotel and Restaurant Group: Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants has 39 hotels around the U.S., and pair hotels that range in size from 81 to 483 rooms with popular restaurants. Unique amenities that certain Kimpton hotels offer include customized rooms for tall guests, complete with extra-long beds and raised showerheads; and goldfish companions that are delivered to your room upon request and cared for by the staff. Some Kimpton hotels also offer pet packages for people who want to travel with their dogs (and, in one case, cats).

  • Boutique Hotels and Resorts International: Boutique Hotels and Resorts divides its affiliated boutique hotels into three categories: Diamond Collection for luxury hotels, Emerald Collection for first class hotels, and Sapphire Collection for mid-priced properties. The site claims that all of its associated properties have been handpicked to ensure that each hotel is unique and meets the high standards of the network.

In addition to these larger networks, there are also groups that focus on just a few hotels, as well as individual boutique hotels not affiliated with a larger group. To find smaller boutique sites, try doing an Internet search using the term “boutique hotel” with the name of the city or region you plan on visiting.

One smaller site that we think is worth mentioning is Joie de Vivre Hospitality. The group has a select number of hotels in the San Francisco area, and offers what is perhaps the most novel booking system around: a hotel matchmaking service. Answer multiple choice questions such as: “What word best describes your outside interests?” and “What kind of environment best suits you?” and the service returns hotel results and nearby activities that match your personality. The search results also include a link to a local expert who offers suggestions for activities, dining, and daytrips.

Booking boutique hotels may take a little more sleuthing than booking through a large chain, but often what you lose in research time you can earn back in money saved and value added. And, while they often aren’t as inexpensive as the lowest-end budget accommodations, boutique hotels can be a smart choice for the savvy traveler who’s looking for a more unique hotel experience.

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