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The seven best hotel sites you’ve never heard of

SmarterTravel

When it comes to searching for a good hotel deal, everyone’s heard of the majors: Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity; as well as their competitors, Hotels.com, Hotwire, and Priceline. But there are some smaller sites out there that offer an enticing combination of hand-picked properties, budget-oriented selections, and value-focused options, all just a few clicks away.

Select Registry

Distinguished Inns of North America: The Select Registry has more than 400 member inns throughout the United States and Canada, with each inn carefully screened and vetted by an independent hospitality expert. Inspectors look for owner-operated inns that offer “pleasant dining experiences,” a minimum of six guest rooms, and touches of “personal hospitality,” along with a stringent quality assurance inspection that ensures an overall high-value travel experience.

The site offers many features to help you plan a great trip. In addition to providing easy-to-search listings of the member hotels, Select Registry also offers a trip planning tool that includes both pre-planned and build-your-own itineraries. And, if you’re undecided about where you want to go, simply check out the site’s availability search function. Enter your travel dates, select a state or province that interests you, and the site will provide a listing of properties that have vacancies when you want to visit. It’s a great resource for weekend travelers or those without a specific destination in mind.

Favorite feature: Availability/vacancy searches by state or province
Could improve: No sales or promotion listings

EuroCheapo

“The world is out there, and it’s less expensive than you think,” says the editorial team at EuroCheapo, which offers unabashedly enthusiastic reviews of European hotels that cater to budget travelers. The site spotlights blockbuster destinations such as London, Paris, and Rome, as well as less-visited cities like Bratislava, Copenhagen, and Krakow.

EuroCheapo’s local correspondents check an exhaustive list of budget properties such as hostels, pensions, and cheap hotels and report back on those that go beyond the minimum. Benchmarks include properties that offer more than just a bed, with an emphasis on local color, a welcoming atmosphere, and cleanliness.

In addition to detailed property listings organized by city, the site provides a wealth of travel extras, including photo galleries, property comparisons by rates and neighborhoods, online booking, city guides, and maps. They also provide budget transportation information so once you’ve arrived you can get around on the cheap.

Favorite feature: Personal reviews, like friends’ recommendations
Could improve: Site has a somewhat cluttered look

Historic Hotels of America

Like Select Registry, the Historic Hotels of America (HHA) is a membership-based association, with strict criteria for inclusion. Properties that make the cut must be at least 50 years old, be listed in or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, or be designated locally as having historical significance. Currently, the HHA (a division of the National Trust of Historic Preservation) has more than 200 member properties across 40 states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C.

The HHA provides a one-stop shop for those wanting to find a historic property for their travels. Additionally, visitors can find special promotions, package offers, and event-planning resources. And if you’re planning on visiting Europe or Mexico, the HHA provides links to partner sites with historic hotel information in those regions.

Favorite feature: Easy-to-find specialty areas (spa, food and fun, etc.)
Could improve: Search capabilities allow you to sort by airport, alphabetically, amenities, or location, but not by price

Chic Retreats

Exclusivity, posh settings, and personalized attention are what the editors of Chic Retreats look for. The team partners with carefully selected hotels around the world to provide recommendations for travelers seeking a unique luxury experience. Anyone can browse the listings and inquire about availability, but member travelers can enjoy extra perks including discounts and value-added amenities such as complimentary breakfast, in-room wine, and more.

Becoming a Chic Retreats member costs £20 per year and automatically includes 10 percent off room rates, varying benefits on arrival, and a member directory listing more than 100 hotels and villas around the world. It’s up to you to determine if the cost of membership makes the benefits worthwhile.

The site also posts an “offers” section listing the latest promotions at member properties worldwide. Promotions include packages for honeymooners, low-season rates, and free-night offers.

Favorite feature: In-depth property information, including neighborhood details, that goes beyond standard descriptions
Could improve: The membership price tag may not be so attractive when compared to competitors offering similar information for free

Concierge.com

Concierge.com, a division of Condé Nast Traveler, offers an array of travel resources with lots of hotel goodies. Among the many options are a hotel finder tool, searchable by destination, provider, and price range; hotel deals around the world; and a “hot list,” updated yearly.

Concierge also has a store-and-share tool, Suitcase, that enables travelers to save trip information from a variety of sources and then share that information with friends and family. If you’re in the information-gathering portion of researching a trip, this may be a good one-stop shop for compiling links, itineraries, deals, and more.

Favorite feature: The hotel finder is an easy-to-use tool
Could improve: With so much content on this site, it’s easy to get sidetracked on the photo galleries, blogs, quizzes, and magazine articles

Karen Brown’s Guides

Innkeeper and travel expert Karen Brown has assembled a team of consultants, editors, and writers to work on her self-titled hotel guides, focusing on properties in the United States, Europe, and Mexico. While members get special privileges such as book discounts and a newsletter subscription, anyone can browse member properties, search for current deals and discounts, or scan previews of new member properties.

Brown’s team goes beyond the basics, and focuses on personal recommendations for each included property. On this site, you’re as likely to find a referral for a farm stay, castle, or villa rental as you are a standard hotel. Additionally, the properties here span simple to luxury, and each listing includes a rate range so you’ll have a ballpark estimate of what you might pay.

Favorite feature: The property search feature allows visitors to search both by location and price for optimal customization
Could improve: While all chosen properties are included in the printed guides, not every hotel chooses to have a full listing on the site

Individual hotel websites

A few years ago, hotel companies realized they were missing out by not catering to online travel consumers, and beefed up their web presence to compete with the major travel providers. As such, you can often find the best deals by visiting a specific hotel website.

For example, Expedia listed a spring night’s stay at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel & Towers for $159, and charged an additional $26 in taxes and fees, for a total of $185. After seeing this, I checked the same date at the Park Plaza website, and was also quoted $159, but just $20 in taxes (no fees). By visiting an individual property site, you may find equal or cheaper rates than the agencies offer, no fees (since you’ve gone straight to the source), and property- or brand-wide promotional offers.

And, if you’ve found a better rate on a different website, call the hotel directly. Use the local number, not the central reservations line. Once you get the front desk, ask to speak to the manager. You may be able to snag that low price and maybe even an extra perk or two.

Favorite feature: Transactions won’t have third-party fees
Could improve: Some smaller properties may have cluttered, out-of-date, or hard-to-use websites

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