Tony Goddard was grumpy as he entered his room at the Beijing Hilton after a tough workday two years ago.
He was alone on his 42nd birthday, and his urgent business trip to China had also made him miss Father’s Day with his family.
The unhappiness disappeared when the executive from Tully, N.Y., noticed a large birthday cake with his name on it and a card. Hotel staff apparently spotted his birth date on his passport.
“That was pretty neat,” recalls Goddard, whose company sells machines to build aircraft. “That was over and above the usual service a hotel provides.”
Many travelers choose a hotel based on location, but it often takes something more — maybe extra service, amenities or luxury — before a hotel becomes a favorite.
USA TODAY interviewed 360 frequent business travelers and asked them for their favorites. The travelers — who occasionally respond to travel questions as part of the newspaper’s Road Warrior Panel — spent nearly 44,000 nights in hotels last year, or an average of 122 nights per person.
Their favorites are located everywhere around the world and range from luxurious lodgings to inexpensive chain hotels.
Freebies, courtesy count
For Goddard, who has stayed at the Beijing Hilton on at least 40 trips, the birthday wishes aren’t the only reason it became a favorite.
On arrival, the hotel routinely upgrades him to a suite and gives him an assortment of freebies, including a bottle of wine, candies, cashews and flowers. Plus, the hotel general manager writes a personal welcome-back letter.
Consultant Steve Miller of Federal Way, Wash., recalls a single incident that helped make the Muse Hotel in New York his favorite. He ran out of toothpaste one morning and made a mental note to buy more.
When he returned hours later to the boutique hotel near Times Square, a new tube of toothpaste was on the bathroom counter. A note from the housekeeper said: ” ‘Dear Mr. Miller, I noticed you ran out of toothpaste, so I took the liberty of replacing it for you,’ ” Miller says.
“I’ve stayed in hotels around the world, including many five-star hotels,” says Miller, who spent 76 nights in hotels last year and at least 100 nights annually in hotels the prior 23 years. “I’ve never had that happen before.”
A more famous New York hotel — the Waldorf-Astoria — and Chicago’s Palmer House were cited most often as favorites by the frequent travelers who were surveyed.
Coy Stout of Moss Beach, Calif., says he likes the Waldorf because it’s an “Art Deco giant” with rooms “bigger than most Manhattan apartments.” He appreciates the hotel’s special reception desk for elite members of Hilton’s frequent-guest program.
“My favorite thing about the Waldorf-Astoria,” says Stout, who works in the biotech industry, “is a leisurely Saturday morning room-service breakfast served off fine china and white linen.”
The Palmer House has “great, Old World charm” and “impeccable service,” says Peter Juhren of Salem, Ore., who works in the construction equipment industry. It also has the “fastest room service of any full-service hotel I have stayed in.”
Dependability of chains
Some business travelers say they travel so frequently that’s it’s all a blur, and they cannot single out a favorite. Others have a favorite chain and say there is little difference between hotels.
Nancy Ilk of Tucson says Marriott’s Courtyard hotels are “great for the business traveler,” with rooms always well maintained and clean. “The desk in the room is substantial, and the Internet connection is dependable and free,” says Ilk, who works in the health care software industry. “Many of the Courtyards are new or recently remodeled, and some are in historic buildings like bank buildings in San Diego and Washington, D.C.”
The Courtyard By Marriott in Kingston, N.Y., is the favorite of Kenn Marash, a horse show announcer from Harford Mills, N.Y., who stays at hotels about 280 nights a year. The rooms are very comfortable and stylish, “with different colors of paint, lots of real wood, curves on the spacious desk and recessed lights above.”
“The back side of the hotel looks out over the edge of the Hudson Valley, offering a spectacular view of the Catskill Mountains,” he says.
Like some travelers, Marash says, “My schedule doesn’t leave any time for leisure travel,” so he cannot recommend a favorite vacation hotel.
Others have plenty of recommendations.
For Chuck Stein, an economic development consultant in Dublin, Ohio, nothing in the USA beats the La Quinta Resort & Club near Palm Springs, Calif. The resort is “somewhat off the beaten path” and has 41 pools, five golf courses and rooms with tile floors and fireplaces.
“The linens are elegant, and the rooms are immaculate,” Stein says. “There’s consistently outstanding service and good value for the price.”
The favorite of frequent traveler Susan Jacobsen of Alexandria, Va., is on one of the world’s most beaten paths, the Las Vegas Strip. She says The Venetian has the best spa in the country and raves about the hotel’s “attention to details, focus on luxury, consistently excellent food and fabulous pool area.” Says Jacobsen, who works for a lawyers trade group, “I always feel like the red carpet is rolled out for me during my stay.”