Tuesday 21 February 2012

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Hunting for a Hotel in Washington D.C.

I've been working on getting a hotel booked for our Washington, D.C. trip, and believe me it's not going so smoothly. It's always hard to figure out where to stay in a city that you know nothing about, but apparently Washington makes it even harder by driving rates sky high during the week. Are these seriously the kind of rates that politicians and lobbyists are paying to stay in this town? There's definitely not going to be a call to bail out the Four Seasons any time soon that's for sure. Still, I need to find a place for us to sleep, so I'm going through the listings of what's available to us and applying our family's criteria to the options. What's our family's criteria you ask (and thank you for asking to help move this post along)? We have four things we look for when choosing a hotel. They are:

Location - How close is the hotel to where we want to go? This is important because truthfully, I'm lazy, and barring somebody mistaking me for a presidential candidate (sadly, Newt Gingrich seems like the most likely) there will be no limousine chauffeuring us around town. There's very few conveniences as nice as being able to stroll down the street from your hotel to wherever it is you're going in the morning. More importantly, it's extremely handy to have a short walk back at the end of the day. I'm not sure how it happens, but I always leave with lots of energy and empty hands, then come back completely drained with 7 or 8 shopping bags weighing me down. Trust me, you don't want to be carrying bags of heavily discounted clothing too far at the end of the day.

Price - Remember when I said I was lazy? Well I'm cheap too. It's a good thing I'm not single anymore because my E-Harmony profile would just suck (Everybody congratulate Lori on her great catch!). I'm pretty sure that price is a major consideration for anybody when booking a room though, and we're no different. What I do is choose the hotel I'd like to stay at, then find options that are cheaper and try to justify the difference. For example, a $25 a night difference is significant only if I'm staying a week or longer. At that small a difference I'll probably just take the hotel that looks prettiest online. For a $50/night difference I'm looking for something substantial to justify the higher priced hotel. Something like a suite upgrade or letting my kids re-enact the "I'm just a Bill" song from Schoolhouse Rock. At $100/night difference, I'd better be hearing the words "Good night Barack." as I'm drifting off to sleep.

Kids in Regency Club...before the smackdown.
Hyatt/Fairmont - Status is still king when it comes to choosing a hotel, so if there's a Hyatt or Fairmont in the area, they automatically get first look, especially if there's a Regency Club or Gold Floor available. Having a kitchen full of free goodies is incredibly helpful in keeping my budget in line. Just supplying five of us with free pop and cookies can probably justify most price differentials, never mind the breakfast, light dinner, or desserts. Most importantly, since we haven't visited D.C. before, none of the Regency Clubs have had to deal with my children yet so unless our reputation precedes us, we're still welcome there.

Promotions - If all else is equal, the scales can be tipped by adding a little something extra via a promotion. We've quite often booked a deal that included a food credit or tickets to an attraction that we'd like to see. Early or preferred access to places is also a good way to swing our business. It might take a little more creativity than that in Washington though. I'm thinking something along the lines of dropping a water balloon twenty stories onto the guy who introduced the SOPA bill in the Senate. That would almost guarantee our booking (and I suspect a lot of other people's as well).

So far the only hotel that's been eliminated is the Fairmont whose rates came in at over $800 a night. I'm thinking business must be pretty good for them in Washington right now, but that's too rich for my tastes. If anybody wants to recommend a good hotel in the D.C. area, I'd love to hear about it. Is commuting from the outlying areas a bad idea? Obviously it's much cheaper out near the airports than right by the White House. How is parking in the city? Can I travel in by transit without needing too much brainpower (and remember, we're talking about a pretty low bar here)? Any help you guys can give me would be appreciated. In return, I promise not to mention your name at the hotel (believe me, that's a good thing), not contact you on E-Harmony (an even better thing), and I won't miss with the water balloon when the SOPA guy walks by.