B&Bs used to rely on word-of-mouth, stellar brochures, and CVB marketing efforts to make their presence known. Nowadays, however, most innkeepers have websites, Internet-directory listings, and online ads to reach travelers. A ton of information and listings are out there, and starting a search can be overwhelming. We can help with tips for finding the perfect B&B.
What exactly is a B&B?
BedandBreakfast.com defines a B&B as an owner-occupied property, typically with one to 15 guest rooms. Breakfast is included each day, and guests usually have access to common areas such as libraries, parlors, and gardens. B&Bs exist in virtually all destinations throughout the world, from bustling major cities to quiet country towns.
Is a B&B right for you?
B&Bs can offer each guest an experience customized to personal preferences, whether it be a romantic getaway, an outdoor adventure, or a spa excursion. Innkeepers typically get a sense of what their guests are looking for and can make recommendations based on thorough knowledge of the area.
Many travelers shy away from B&Bs because of the possibility of sharing a bathroom, communal dining, or because they simply want a more anonymous travel experience. Sandy Soule, editor of BedandBreakfast.com, emphasized, however, such travelers need not rule out B&Bs entirely. “If you are traveling with family or another couple, a shared bath with those you know can be less impersonal. If you hate eating with strangers, look online to see if there are pictures of what the breakfast area is like—you may find there are private areas to eat, or a private breakfast [in your room] may also be available.”
What should I be looking for online?
A B&B website, be it an individual property site or a directory, should be used for two main functions: to see if the B&B fits with your travel tastes and to determine if the property is reputable.
Teresa Blagg, innkeeper and co-owner of the Gryphon House B&B in Boston, emphasized travelers should check out photographs carefully. “Look for photos that might indicate the size of the room, and what physical properties are involved. Can you see a fireplace, a door leading to a bathroom? Then, focus on the smaller details, such as bedside lamps and where you’d put your things,” she recommended.
Soule agreed, and also suggested checking out any photos of the exterior. “Does it look trimmed, nicely planted, and maintained? How an inn’s exterior looks can say a lot about the interior.”
Be sure to check for interactive features such as an availability calendar, e-mail reservation request forms, or even direct online booking. While many B&Bs are small and typically don’t offer direct bookings, many directories are gradually building this feature so travelers can inquire about availability and book online with just a few clicks.
You can also determine if a property is reputable by checking professional membership seals and endorsements. “Look for professional affiliations that you recognize, links, and/or references to any kind of guidebook that lists the property,” Blagg stated.
“Does the website show the owners are members of the Professional Association of Innkeepers?” Soule recommended asking. “Call and chat with the innkeeper if you have doubts or questions. A phone conversation and how the reception speaks to you will tell you what you need to know.”
Additionally, Soule also suggested using Google. “Google the name of the inn that interests you and see how it comes up in the rankings. If it comes up well in the search engine—both its own site and in directories—it shows an investment and seriousness on the part of the innkeepers and good traveler interest.”
Finally, determine reputability by reading reviews of guests who previously stayed at the inn. TripAdvisor, a partner site of SmarterTravel.com, has guest reviews for B&Bs around the globe, and individual property websites will typically have guestbooks where previous guests can post a comment. Make sure to read a variety of sources to see if reviews are consistent. If you see any inconsistencies or have general questions, call the innkeeper with your concerns to get answers first-hand.
How can I get the best value for my money?
If you’ve decided to stay at a B&B, there are plenty of ways to save.
- Sign up for a directory e-mail list. Online B&B directories, such as BBonline.com and BedandBreakfast.com, send out e-mails with special offers and discounts from their member inns on a regular basis. Individual properties may also offer e-mail promotions through their websites, notifying travelers of last-minute cancellations, seasonal specials, and discounted getaway packages.
- Go smaller at a nicer property. If deciding between two inns of varying prices, Soule recommends “booking the least expensive room at the most expensive inn, rather than the highest- or medium-rate room at a more moderate inn. The higher-quality inn will have a better overall experience, whether it’s a better breakfast, nicer linens, or stellar grounds. You may have a smaller room, but if you’re out and about exploring, who cares?”
- Search the website for promotions. “Check for any specials or discounts offered, which may only be available to those who find them,” noted Blagg. At the Gryphon House, for example, guests with Red Sox ticket stubs get $10 off, “but obviously, we are not going to ask everyone who comes here if they have tickets! But if you mention it, you get the discount.” Doing a bit of extra legwork online may find hidden savings you can take advantage of for a discounted bill, dining specials, or other perks.
- Look in outlying areas. “Always look outside the branded destination,” Soule stated. “For example, if you’re going to Newport, RI, check Bristol or Middleton [less expensive locations] just a short drive away. And if you’re visiting a region and driving about, it may not matter what town you stay in.”
- Buy in bulk. If you’re traveling with a group, such as a bachelorette party or several family members, inquire if a discount is available when renting multiple rooms or the entire inn. Oftentimes innkeepers are willing to offer discounts when a guaranteed number of rooms will be rented.
- Visit the local CVB website. The CVB’s staff can tell you the best times of year to visit for the lowest prices and/or best weather. They can offer seasonal information for when promotions are typically available, and conversely when the highest prices will be seasonally—e.g. New England in autumn, Florida in winter, college towns during football weekends—to help you plan accordingly. Additionally, many CVBs partner with area B&Bs for savings that may not be offered anywhere else.
- Don’t be afraid to ask! If you don’t see any specials advertised on the website, call the inn directly and ask if any are available. Explain what you’d like to do during your getaway to see if the innkeepers can help with your itinerary in any way (e.g.: setting up restaurant reservations, suggesting hiking spots, adding a romance package to your stay). If nothing is available, ask for a referral. Many innkeepers know each other and the area well and are happy to pass along recommendations.
In conclusion, be discerning and assertive. Study photographs and traveler reviews to make sure you’re getting a property aligned with what you like, and call the innkeeper for answers to any questions and to ask for discounts. With a good knowledge of the property and area, you won’t have any unpleasant surprises when you finally arrive at your chosen inn.