Barnett on Business Travel



December 1, 1991 -- If a weary Santa is looking for a warm room at a bargain price during his rounds this year, he's in luck. Knowing that only the hard- core business travelers are on the road during the holidays, hotels are cutting prices sharply - across the United States and worldwide.

Is Greece beckoning? The Athens Inter-Continental hotel in the heart of the city's business district is offering a large room, full breakfast for two, a free English newspaper, tax and service charge for a scant $99 a night. The room alone normally fetches $210 a night. It's about a $275 value for one-third the price. The rate is good through Jan. 31.

This is a luxury hotel, too. It boasts the only fully equipped health club in Athens and a popular rooftop restaurant and bar called Premier that's known for great food and its view.

Inter-Continental seems to be having a winter sale at all its European Hotels. The 497-room Le Grand in Paris, opposite the opera house and the Inter-Continental Paris, facing the Tuileries Gardens, are selling $400-a-night rooms for $200 a night, and that includes a full breakfast at the Le Grand.

If Paris is a bit of a stretch and you have meetings to attend or relatives to see in Cleveland, the 220- room Cleveland Harley West Hotel, a 10-minute ride from the airport (free shuttle) also has a half-price sale through December. Its $78 rooms are $39 a night. Again, this is no bare-bones bunkhouse. It has an indoor pool, whirlpool, sauna, chocolates on the pillow and nightly turndown service. Families are welcomed at no extra cost. A staffer says a family of five can fit comfortably into a $39-a-night room.

Since travelers seem to prefer the Caribbean's St. Martin to Missouri's St. Louis during winter, the Midwest is chockablock with great hotel rates this recessionary season. Savvy travelers avoid crowds, so check out this historic city and stay in a rather elegant suite for $89 a night. The hotel is the Frontenac, a 307-roomer 15 miles west of downtown.

"When you walk in the front door, you feel like a king or a queen," enthuses Michele Bartlow, reservations manager. Well, at least you're pampered like one. The health club has Stairmasters, the fine dining restaurant, Provinces, is famed for its steak and fresh salmon. Airport transportation is free. Rooms on the Concierge Floor are just $89 during the holidays, and that includes breakfast, cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, cordials and cookies and milk. Even the single rooms, which normally command $116 a night, are almost half-price in December at $69. And that's not just a weekend rate.

Like spacious rooms at a savings? Homewood Suites, with separate parlor and bedroom, has $49 a night holiday specials at its Los Colinas (suburb of Dallas), Texas, hotel and in Cumberland, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta. The suites usually rent for $79 a night. And in Dayton, Ohio, guests who bring an unwrapped toy will get $10 a night off a suite for a total price of $69 as part of Homewood's Babes in Toyland promotion.

The message is clear: Shop hard this holiday season if you're going to travel. And don't take the first rate quoted because some deals aren't what they're cracked up to be.

For example, the Radisson Empire Hotel in New York City, on the West Side near Lincoln Center, is promoting a two-night New Year's package at $358, which includes a Sunday buffet brunch, taxes and tips. However, rooms normally start at $120 a night and even figuring in the buffet and New York City's outrageously stiff room taxes, where is the big savings?

Instead, look for real value. The beautiful Highlands Inn, fronting the Pacific in Carmel, Calif., has a superb restaurant and what it calls a Holiday Enchantment package. The deal includes a room for $125 and 10 percent discounts off merchandise at the nearby Barnyard, a collection of re-created historical California barns that now houses smart shops, boutiques and galleries. A free shuttle transports guests for shopping.

Indeed, even favored destinations - such as San Francisco, recently voted No. 1 city in the world by readers of Condé-Nast Traveler magazine - are awash in holiday bargains, thanks to intense competition among hotels.

The stately Westin St. Francis, with its recently restored lobby (don't miss the towering murals) is offering rooms at up to 50 percent off - starting at $97.50 - and tossing in free cable car passes, gifts from various Union Square department stores, free gift wrapping and delivery.

The bargains are coast-to-coast this year. In the nation's capital, where hotel competition is also fierce, the 834-room Hyatt Regency Washington has a $79 "everyday" rate - including free parking - through Jan. 15. Normally, Hyatt levies $200 a night for its luxe accommodations, and that doesn't include parking.

Up for a little sightseeing? Hyatt Regency Washington has its famed "See D.C." package. For $99 a night, you get adult and children's tickets for the Old Town Trolley Tour, which passes by the National Christmas Tree in front of the White House. Then take five and check out the Capital View Club, an open-to- everyone rooftop restaurant with Washington's only "birds-eye view" of the Capitol.

This column originally appeared in the Albany Times Union.

Copyright © 1990-2009 by Chris Barnett. All rights reserved.