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PHX: SUNNY WITH A CHANCE OF DEALS
By Chris Barnett
February 11, 2010 -- In days of yore, scoring a hotel room in Phoenix in February took some pull and entailed a very hefty hit on your plastic. The Phoenix/Scottsdale area has long been a pricy winter hot spot for sun-starved resort and spa addicts, conventioneers, golfers and naturalists who prefer their lodgings carved out of mountainsides.

Not this February, however. "We've lowered room rates and we offer special prices and deals on amenities," says one veteran Phoenix hotel-marketing executive. "This was unheard of two to three years ago."

Hotels and resorts in Phoenix and Scottsdale and Arizona destinations as far away as Sedona and Tucson are wheeling and dealing as the region enters its high season. Still, the red carpet isn't all that fluffy for business travelers working with the growing "call center" and high-technology assembly firms in what is now the nation's fifth-largest city.

The Boulders, a 160-room luxury hideaway in Carefree, Arizona, has rates starting at $259 a night through April. Several years ago, the same rooms fetched as much as $499 a night in the high season, says a resort spokeswoman. A diligent Internet search can even find a $229-a-night rate for midweek stays. Vacationers fill up the rooms on the weekends, she adds.

Time for play? The resort has also sliced the greens fees for golfers. Guests can play the Boulders' two 18-hole courses for a single $250 green fee. Play four rounds and three of them will be on the private courses not previously open to resort guests. Spa-package prices have shrunk, too. A massage, scrub, facial and lunch now costs $325, a 35 percent discount off last year's tariff.

The universally loathed "resort fee"--$30 here--is imposed, but here it covers more than a towel and a poolside chaise. The daily tab also includes the cost of Internet access, tipping, parking and the daily newspapers.

As The Boulders' 2010 prices show, Phoenix-area hotel and resort rates, no surprise, are subject to the ancient law of supply and demand. Supply is up: about 6,000 rooms were under construction or just completed when the economic meltdown hit, bringing the area's total to 60,000, says Kevin Kamenzind, marketing chief for the Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau. And demand is down, no thanks to the lousy economy, the move to regional rather than national gatherings and the pressure to scale back or eliminate lavish corporate bacchanals to reward heavy hitters.

Of course, not all luxurious lodgings in the area feel pressured to prune their prices. The opulent, 643-room Phoenician recently quoted me $435 a night for a king-sized deluxe. The $143 in taxes and fees drove the nightly rate to $578. That was through an online luxury hotel booking service called the Five Star Alliance. Room rates on the hotel's proprietary Web site are about the same, although a prepaid "hot rate" starts at $415 plus taxes and fees. And the good news: no daily resort fee.

The Phoenician, however, is a member Starwood's Luxury Collection so there's a chance to earn and burn Starwood Preferred Guest points--if you can get a reservation. Despite its steep rates and the price competition elsewhere, the resort claims that even many midweek dates this month are sold out.

The city's newest all-business hotel, the 13-month-old, 1,000-room Sheraton Phoenix Downtown attached to the Phoenix Convention Center, may be the best value in town. That's if you can get in and carry an AAA card. Amazingly, the hotel is sold out midweek during the last two weeks in February.

Rack rates are stiff. On a Monday, I was quoted $326 a night for a club-floor room and $269 for standard accommodations. However, the AAA discount, normally 5-10 percent, pays huge dividends this month. For AAA members, a Club-floor room with a continental breakfast was quoted at $246 nightly. The basic king-bedded room was $201 a night.

The AAA discount is a good reminder that there are more advertised and unadvertised promotions than ever before. You may have to check a few Web sites and even ask a human what's the absolute best deal in the house and who's offering what promotions. The AAA discount, for example, wasn't shown on Sheraton's tough-to-read Web site. (Tip: the older Sheraton Crescent, also in downtown Phoenix, was quoting $152 a night while I was shopping for accommodation at its new sibling.)

This month is a good time to try a classic Phoenix hideout at a terrific rate.

Built in 1929, the Arizona Biltmore has rooms starting at $179 nightly plus taxes. The $28 daily resort fee pays for the Internet, spa and fitness center access and unlimited local calls. Managed by Hilton, the Biltmore also has a hotel within a hotel--the posh Ocatilla--which has undergone an $8 million makeover. Ocatilla rates now start at $329 nightly versus $400 a night a few years ago.

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ABOUT CHRIS BARNETT Chris Barnett writes about business-travel tactics and strategies that save time and money and help minimize hassles. He is based in San Francisco and has written for a wide variety of major newspapers and national magazines. Barnett on Business Travel is syndicated by Creators Syndicate.

THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Chris Barnett in the spirit of free speech and to help encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Barnett. This material may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Chris Barnett.

This column is Copyright © 2010 by Chris Barnett. JoeSentMe is Copyright © 2010 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.