Unless you only plan on sleeping at your hotel when you’re on vacation, the lowest rate shouldn’t be the sole criteria you use when choosing accommodations. Atmosphere, location, service, and overall value should weigh in on your lodging decision. After all, where you stay can make or break a vacation. There are plenty of ways to save money and maximize value on hotels, but they require a little research, a bit of patience, and the courage to veer slightly off the beaten path.
Staying at B&Bs is one way to maximize value on your vacation. A comfortable place to stay that’s run by a knowledgeable staff can enrich and add value to your limited and precious vacation time. Since they are independently run, they can’t lower rates as drastically as large hotel chains sometimes do. But often, regular rates at B&Bs wind up being comparable or even better than at hotels.
According to the Professional Association of Innkeepers International (PAII), there are three main types of B&Bs. The first and most traditional is the converted single-family dwelling that offers four or five rooms, and whose spaces are for mixed use between guests and the owner’s family. Slightly larger is the bed and breakfast inn, with between four and 20 rooms, whose spaces are primarily used for guests. The third type of B&B is the bed and breakfast hotel, larger historic structures that contain 30 or more rooms for guests. Of all the types, this last one feels most like a hotel, although personal service and the full breakfast still keep it squarely in B&B territory.
People tend to stay at B&Bs for two main reasons. In cities and towns, many people use B&Bs as an alternative to hotels, which can often provide a significant savings over larger or trendier hotels. In smaller towns and rural areas, people seek B&Bs as destinations, often hopping from one to the next in the context of a road trip, or settling into one to enjoy charming and relaxing surroundings. Although sometimes pricey during high seasons, if you know where to look, you can certainly find a great B&B that won’t break the bank. And, if you think B&Bs are only for couples looking for a romantic getaway, bear in mind that many cater to business travelers and families as well.
True to the name, the breakfast part of B&B is included in the price. A full breakfast is definitely a more satisfying way to start the day than with the typical hotel continental breakfast. Not to mention that going out for breakfast, even at a diner, can easily top $20 a day for two people. Plus, since the B&B innkeeper is often the cook as well, it’s easy to request that special diets be accommodated.
While hotels will charge you for every amenity, phone call, and parking space, B&Bs often offer these key elements for free. Most of the time, local phone calls are free. While the 50 cents or one dollar per local call that traditional hotels charge doesn’t seem like much, add up a few calls to local sites for entrance hours, a dinner reservation or two, calls about the rental car, and a flight confirmation, and you’ve racked up $15 in extra charges that are tacked onto your hotel bill upon check-out. Also, you can save on parking, which at hotels can easily cost $20 a day, but tends to be free at B&Bs.
There are also ways in which staying at a B&B can add extra subjective value to your holiday. For example, the kind of personalized service that you would have to pay big bucks for at an upscale boutique hotel comes with a lower price tag at B&Bs, since most inkeepers don’t have more than a dozen rooms to worry about. And, since you’re staying with people who know the area well, and who have a personal investment in your happiness, recommendations for sights, restaurants, picnic spots, and more are at your disposal. Some innkeepers will even make theater and restaurant reservations for you.
Also, because the innkeeper often lives at the property, you’ll be treated like part of the family, with access to the kitchen; common living spaces where you can borrow books, watch movies, or listen to music; and the grounds. Plus, where else can you find perks like complimentary Ben and Jerry’s ice cream in the afternoon, canoes and fishing poles for guest use, individually named rooms, three-course breakfasts, and fresh flowers by your bed?
Added value aside, B&Bs’ rates are often similar or even better than hotel rates. To compare prices between B&Bs and hotels, we chose three summer city and three summer town and country vacation destinations and found rates for weekends in July. In most cases, we found out that B&Bs came out ahead.
- Boston: The Nolan House Bed & Breakfast has rates from $100 per night. Rooms at the Radisson Hotel Boston start at $149 per night.
- New York City: The Eden House rates start at $85 per night. Rooms at the Courtyard New York Manhattan start at $179 per night.
- Santa Fe, NM: Spencer House Bed & Breakfast Inn offers rooms from $132 per night. The Radisson Santa Fe has prices from $149 per night.
- Town and Country
- St. Helena, California: In the heart of the Napa Valley, St. Helena’s Ink House Bed and Breakfast has rates starting at $117 per night. Courtyard by Marriott, situated 14 miles from the town center, offers rates from $139 per night.
- Stowe, Vermont: Rooms at the Three Bears at the Fountain Bed & Breakfast start at $115 per night. Best Western Waterbury/Stowe has rates $117 per night.
- Bozeman, MT (Yellowstone): The Cottonwood Inn Bed & Breakfast has rates from $85 per night. Rates at The Holiday Inn Bozeman start at $93 per night.
How to find a B&B
Finding the right B&B does take a little research, and luckily, looking for and booking B&Bs online has gotten easier with the creation of sites that display information on hundreds and often thousands of B&Bs in one place, as well as opportunities for special packages and discounts. We’ve reviewed many sites and narrowed the choice down to a few with plenty of B&Bs to choose from, extensive property information and photos, and other helpful details. Our list includes:
- BedandBreakfast.com: With more than 27,000 participating B&Bs worldwide, this is one of the largest B&B sites. You can sign up for a weekly specials e-mail, with savings of up to 20 percent off stays. Search by amenity, location, the ability to book online, and last-minute availability. Listings are detailed and link to the B&B’s own website, when applicable.
- bbonline.com: Browse more than 4,000 B&Bs in the U.S., Canada, and smaller selections elsewhere around the world. Search listings by location and choose your B&B based on photos, descriptions, and activity listings.
- TheInnkeeper.com: Search 25,000 listings by region, amenity, or keyword. The ‘Specials’ section is full of discounted packages. A well organized and easy to navigate site. Once you choose an area, you can browse lists with photos and prices before clicking through to learn more about an individual B&B.
- BetterBedandBreakfast.com: With many properties around the U.S. to choose from, this site also features some user reviews for the inside scoop. The site links directly to the B&B’s own site when available.
Keep in mind though, that during some seasons, B&Bs tend to be a novelty and can be pricey as well as difficult to book. New England during fall foliage, Napa Valley in the summer and fall, and Hawaii during the winter holidays often have higher prices and more limited availability. If you plan on staying in a popular area, be sure to shop around and book well ahead.