One of these rooms is just like the others...
A Holiday Inn outside Trieste, Italy.You know the drill: they're styled in that bland, international cookie cutter decor; they've got a set of guaranteed amenities; and their networks are spreading around the globe.
These are the chain hotels—Hilton, Radisson, Intercontinental, Hyatt Regency, Marriott, Sofitel, Motel 6, Days Inn, Howard Johnson...
Chain hotels by parent group
• Best Western
• Accor (Sofitel, Novotel Mercure, Etap, Ibis, Formule1/F1)
• Marriott (Marriott, Renaissance, Courtyard, Fairfield Inn, Residence Inn, Springhill Suites, TownePlace Suites)
• InterContinental (Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Indigo, Staybridge Suites, Candlewood Suites)
• Starwood (Westin, Sheraton, Four Points by Sheraton, W Hotels, Le Meridien, Aloft, The Luxury Collection, St. Regis)
• Carlson (Radisson, Park Plaza, Country Inns & Suites)
• Wyndham (Super 8, Days Inn, Ramada, Howard Johnson, Knights Inn, Wingate, Travelodge, Microtel, Baymont Inn)
• Choice Hotels (Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, Quality Inn, Clarion, Sleep Inn, Econolodge, MainStay Suites, Rodeway Inn, Cambria Suites, Ascend, Suburban Extended Stay)
Chain hotels by price category
• Inexpensive motels
• Extended-stay/all-suite hotels Wait. Did I just type Motel 6 and HoJo's? Yep, we've exported our low-end chain hotels around the world just like we did our Starbucks and MickeyDs.
(Actually, technically speaking, Motel 6 is now part of the French hotel conglomerate Accor, but the whole standardized cheap-o furnishings, paper-thin walls, and leaving-the-light-on-for you schtick remains the same.)
With a chain you know exactly what you're going to get ahead of time. I've always felt that sucks all the fun out of the spirit of travel, but that's just me. Some folks adore the predictability that a chain property offers them.
Even more importantly, if you have loyalty points from your business travels or an airline or credit card rewards program, you can often spend them at these chains while on vacation and slice out a major portion of your travel budget.
The discussion of chains below divides them up by umbrella brand (so you'll know which loyalty program works across various brands)—but if you're just looking to compare across different brands within a general price range, check out the same info divided into cost categories using the list in the box to the right.
Major hotel chains in Europe and around the world
Best Western (www.bestwestern.com)
A Best Western affiliate overlooking the gondola parking lot of Venice, Italy.Best Western is the one (happy) exception to the cookie-cutter rule that dominates chain hotels. Best Western has followed a somewhat different tack in expanding abroad.
For the most part, rather than building new hotels to mirror their U.S. ones, Best Western has merely partnered up with existing hotels all across Europe—and we're talking four-star properties here, often historic ones to boot.
So you get all the Best Western amenities you'd expect, and on the plus side the building might be a 17th century palazzo in the heart of the historic center, or some grand hotel edifice from the Belle Époque era of Grand Tourists, or overlooking gondolas bobbing in a canal of Venice (as in the picture above to the right). Neat.
Accor Hotels (www.accorhotels.com)
The French company that runs Motel6 in the United States has a chain hotel for every price range in Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, and Africa, as well. They operate 15 hotel brands; here are some of the most wide-spread and useful:
- Starting at the top of the heap, Accor offers Sofitel (www.sofitel.com), a chain of high-end, often four- and five-star hotels around the world. These are luxury hotels that split the balance between business travelers and vacationers who demand a certain level of amenities and services.
- The Novotel (www.novotel.com) brand is Accor's line of solid four-star hotels—geared a bit more toward business travelers, but still used by many leisure travelers for the guaranteed service and comfort they offer. There are 400 Novotels in 58 countries, and they're often a great option for cities, with prime locations and reasonable rates (for a four-star city property at least).
- Mercure (www.mercure.com) is the mid-range entry for the Accor brand. Mercure Hotels are a bit like a high-end Holiday Inn, with plenty of standardized comforts and amenities—think of them as the slightly blander, less classy versions of the Sofitels (but rather less expensive as well).
- Getting down into the bargain basement division, Ibis (www.ibishotel.com) is the Motel 6 of Europe, Africa, and the rest of the world. If you're looking for a clean, comfortable place to spend the night with no fussiness, no fanciness, and a very low price tag, Ibis fits the bill perfectly. What they lack in character they more than make up for in standardized comfort and cheap rates—and locations, with more than 900 Ibis hotels in 40 countries.
- Formule1 (www.hotelformule1.com) is the quirkiest (and cheapest) of the brands, more than 330 inexpensive roadside motels with achingly bland modular rooms, shared baths down the hall, and minimal service—but fantastically low rates (starting at €29—though you get 10% off for reserving 30 days in advance). And when I say minimal service, I mean they're only staffed 6:30–9:30am and 5–9pm.
That's no problem, though, since you can check in and out at an automated machine with a credit card (MasterCard or Visa)—think of it as checking yourself into a vending machine or an ATM for the night. (I loved this feature when I was a kid, and would clamor to stay in a Formule1 just so we could pretend we were living in an Automat—yes, I'm old enough to remember Automats.)
The vast majority of the chain's properties (252) are in France—where they have since been rebranded as Hotel F1 (www.hotelf1.com); same rules and operating style, just a new name and logo—with the other 80 hotels still operating as "Formule1" are in the U.K., Spain, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil, Japan, and Indonesia.
- Etap (www.etaphotel.com) is a baby step up from Formule 1, with the addition of private bathrooms in each guest room so you don't have to share one down the hall (but you can still check yourself into and out of automatically). There are also way more of them: some 360 Etap hotels in France, Germany, Australia, Belgium, Spain, Great Britain, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, and Switzerland.
InterContinental Hotels (www.ichotelsgroup.com)
Intercontinental is another mighty chain consisting of more than 4,400 properties (with a staggering total of 647,000 rooms) in 100 countries on every continent. Still haven't heard of them. They operate under the signs of some very familiar brand names—for example, Holiday Inn. If you earn Priority Club Rewards Promotion points at any one, you can use them at the others.
- Holiday Inn Hotels - The classic affordable hotel, with 1,241 properties—about two thirds in the Americas, the rest in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Consistently voted bed mid-market hotel brand in the world.
- Holiday Inn Express - One of the best, most consistent budget hotel chains in the world. They ain't fancy, but they give you exactly what you need: a clean room, comfy bed, high speed Internet, and a modest, but free, breakfast. There are 2,075 Holiday Inn Express hotels globally—most in the Americas, but about 200 of them in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East and another 30 in Asia and the Pacific.
- InterContinental Hotels and Resorts - The higher end of the family, with 171 hotels and resorts in 60 countries—it was founded in the 1940s by PanAm to build hotels of a certain international standard in all of the cities the airline served. Still mostly large city hotels, many in historic properties, with at least four-star comforts and amenities.
- Crowne Plaza Hotels - Some 388 hotels in 56 countries, voted the No. 1 upscale brand in Business Travel News magazine.
- Hotel Indigo - A new line of 38 designery boutique-styled hotels in the U.S. (plus Canada, the U.K., Costa Rica, Mexico, Shanghai, and Taiwan).
- Staybridge Suites - Nearly 190 all-suite hotels with 24/7 convenience stores. All rooms are 1- or two-bedrooms suites with full kitchen, free broadband WiFi; also free: breakfast buffet, evening cocktails.
- Candlewood Suites - (Nearly 290 all-suite hotels in North America. Rooms are studios or one-bedroom suites with a large work area and 24-hour convenience store in the lobby.)
More than 3,500 hotels around the world—with a focus on the United States, but also in 67 other countries. The group is divided into some 18 hotel brands, mostly in the middle to higher end categories, chief among them:
- Marriott - The flagship brand of full-service hotels, 521 of them around the world.
- Renaissance Hotels & Resorts - 154 high-end resorts, boutique inns, and historic hotels.
- Courtyard by Marriott - Aimed at business travelers, with 800 Courtyards in 28 countries.
Fairfield Inn & Suites The affordable Marriott; 650 properties in the US. Canada, and Mexico with free breakfast and Internet.
All-suite residence hotels:
- Residence Inn - The top end of Marriott's all-suites line; 580 around the world, with with studios and 1- or 2-bedroom suites, full kitchens, grocery delivery, pool, 24/7 minimart, free WiFi, on-site laundry, and free breakfast and evening cocktail parties.
- SpringHill Suites - Marriott's affordable all-suite hotel brand; 230 properties in the U.S./Canada, free breakfast and Internet, microwave and minifridge, separate working and sleeping areas, pool)
- TownePlace Suites The all-suites hotel for the do-it-yourselfer; 190 in the United States with full kitchen, free WiFi and breakfast, pools, 24/7 convenience store, and laundry facilities.
The Wyndham Hotel Group (www.roadtraveler.com)
Wyndham is the parent company for a gaggle of some 6,500 hotels of many major, familiar and popular brands spread over all price ranges—though they tend to the affordable end. Some of the most popular motel and inexpensive hotel brand chains are here, and you can use Wyndam Rewards Points interchangeably at any of them:
- Super8 - 2,000+ budget motels in North America with free breakfast and internet.
- Days Inn - 1,800+ mid-scale motels in 20 countries.
- Ramada - 900 hotels at the higher end of mid-scale in 45 countries.
- Howard Johnson - A family favorite for generations, this mid-scale roadside hotel chain has 450 locations in 16 countries.
- Knights Inn - Doesn't pretend to be more than it is: a cheap place to crash by the highway exit, with 250 locations across North America.
- Wingate by Wyndham - Top-end motels with WiFi, a 24-hour business center, hot breakfasts, fitness room, and more—view it as sort of an inexpensive, entry-level version of a full-service hotel, with 165 locations in North America.
- Travelodge - Another cheerfully honest roadside motel chain that doesn't promise anything beyond "the best of the basics"—and, really, what more do you need?—in 436 locations in the U.S. and Canada.
- Microtel Inns & Suites - Some 300 economy hotels in six countries with free WiFi and breakfasts.
- Baymont Inn & Suites - 260 mid-scale economy hotels across the U.S., with free WiFi. (You also might recognize them as the old AmeriHost Inns, which is that they were called until a 2006 rebranding.)
And, yes, many hotels in those famed chains are also found in Europe. There are Ramadas in Bologna, Italy and Paris, France; Days Inns in London, England and Belfast, Ireland; and (believe it or not) not one but TWO HoJos on the Mediterranean isle of Malta.
Starwood is better known by its brand names—Sheraton, Westin, W, etc.—a collection of some 1,041 (largely) upscale hotels, roughly half in the Americas and the rest in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. You can earn and spend Starwood Preferred Guest points at any property.
- Westin - A high-end luxury chain, famous among certain travelers for their Heavenly Beds (which, I gotta say, are actually pretty nice). About 214 hotels on six continents.
- Sheraton - An iconic hotel brand for 70 years, with 461 properties from big city high-rise hotels to all-inclusive beach resorts on six continents.
- Four Points by Sheraton - A slightly more down-market version of a Sheraton for self-sufficient travelers who would rather save a few bucks by shaving a few services and amenities (though these are still firmly at the high end of the mid-scale hotel market). More than 150 hotels in nearly 30 countries.
- W Hotels - Luxury and upscale full-service hotels, retreat, and residences, with 42 properties from city centers to beach resorts and more opening up each year. Done in a corporate-stylish mode with an emphasis on being trendy (their in-house restaurants and bars often draw a discerning local crowd of upwardly mobile professionals).
- Le Meridien - The European/French-styled version of a luxury and upscale full-service hotel, with 150 hotels in more than 50 countries.
- Aloft - Starwood's foray into the roadside hotel market—a cut-rate, hip version of a W hotel, with über-mod styling, and live music some nights. Started in 2008 and now at 50 properties—mostly in the U.S., but a handful in China, India, the UAE, and Europe, with more on the way.
- The Luxury Collection - The name really says it all: Sumptuous and gorgeous luxury full-service hotels and resorts around the world. This isn't so much a brand as a mark of distinction within the Starwood family and one that encompasses many of its non-Sheraton-branded high end properties, like the Hotel Danieli in Venice or the Hotel Imperial in Vienna.
- St. Regis - Several dozen bespoke luxury, full-service hotels, resorts, and residences. A major hotel pedigree for 100 years (the original St. Regis, in New York, was opened by the Astor family.) Seriously stylish properties in major world cities and top-flight dream vacation destinations (Bora Bora, Florence, Bali, Aspen, Mallorca).
Choice Hotels (www.choicehotels.com)
Another mega-congolmerate of instantly recognizable budget motels, economy brand hotels, and all-suite extended stay properties. Among the brands:
- Comfort Inn - Quality and service at affordable prices at over 2,000 locations worldwide.
- Comfort Suites - For business and leisure travelers looking for oversized rooms and mid-priced rates.
- Quality Inn (TK)
- Sleep Inn - Motels with a dash of style and unexpected amenities at an affordable price.
- Clarion (TK)
- Cambria Suites - TK [where style, sophisticated technology and function meet].
- MainStay Suites - An affordable hotel that offers amenities designed for extended-stay travelers.
- Suburban Extended Stay - [Travelers will feel at home while on the road at any Suburban Extended Stay Hotel].
- Econo Lodge - Clean, comfortable and affordable rooms perfect for those traveling on a budget.
- Rodeway Inn ()
- Ascend Collection - A network of historic, boutique and unique hotels.
Hotel chains in the U.K. and Ireland
Premier Travel Inn (www.premiertravelinn.com)
Combined site of Travel Inn and Premiere Lodges, which are a bit like a Motel 6, but clean, decent (thin walls, though), and the price is usually excellent for expensive spot like Great Britain. I particularly like the London Southwark, which is attached the the venerable Thameside Anchor pub.
279 budget hotels throughout Great Britain priced from just £26 per room per night.
Thistle Hotels (www.thistle.com)
33 hotels across the U.K. starting at £39 per night (and a handful in Asia), with 11 in London alone (those start at £69).
Jurys Doyle (Ireland, elsewhere; www.jurys.com)
Some 35 inns across Ireland, from three-star moderate hotels to four- and five-star properties in Dublin and elsewhere.
Other European budegt chain hotels
Motel one (Germany, Austria, Belgium, Scotland) - www.motel-one.com
An inexpensive chain (from €49 to €69 per person) of retro-chic hotels, with an early 60-style mod look in tones of chocloate, gold, and turquoise. Currently 39 hotels spread over in 16 major cities across Germany (Berlin, Munich, Cologne, Hamburg, Leipzig, SDusseldorf, Essen, Weisbaden, Saabrucken, Stuttgart, Nurnberg, Dresden, Magdeburg, Kassel)—plus Austria (Salzburg, Vienna), Belgium (Brussels), and Scotland (Edinburgh, from £69).
chic&basic (Spain, Netherlands) - www.chicandbasic.com
Just what the name says: stylishly modern but inexpensive hotels (from €92 for a double), more basic hostales (from €54), and apartments (from €85) in Barcelona, with a few also in Madrid and Amsterdam.
Room Mate Hotels (Spain, plus USA, Argentina, Mexico) - www.room-matehotels.com
Contemproary and designer-y yet inexpensive rooms (from €75 double) in Spain—Madrid, Barcelona, Granada, Málaga, Salamanca, and Oviedo—plus Miami Beach, New York, Buenos Aires, and Valntina, Mexico.
Country Inns & Suites (UK)
Park Plaza (UK, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Hungary)