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Budget Motels Save Family Cents

June 02, 1991|CLAIRE WALTER | Walter is a free-lance writer living in Boulder, Colo.

The voice of Tom Bodett, Motel 6's folksy ad spokesman, wafts over the airwaves, imploring us to check into a clean, comfortable room at a rate so low that it seems straight from the '60s. The suggestion is that we put the savings toward a good restaurant meal or some other luxury. "We'll leave the light on for you," he pledges.

Bodett's promise also holds for thousands of other economy motels around the country. From 20,000 rooms in chain-affiliated motels 20 years ago, this segment of the lodging business has mushroomed to over 700,000 rooms plus uncounted thousands of independent, mom-and-pop motels across the country. The hospitality industry's criterion for "budget" is a single-room rate of under $50 per night.

Though some have added a few frills, budget motels are synonymous with functional decor, unprepossessing lobbies, simple (or no) food service, limited (or no) meeting facilities and minimal (or no) recreational facilities that pare family vacation costs.

We get the most pillows for the fewest dollars in rooms known as double-doubles (two double beds), which easily accommodate a family of four. Cribs and rollaways are normally available, too. A color television (usually cable, often with free in-room movies), a telephone (often with free local calls), a coffee shop on-site or a family restaurant nearby, and perhaps a swimming pool, mean the stay won't be totally Spartan.

A call to the reservations number of a major chain saves time and trouble when you travel, and you can even request a directory of locations to help plot your itinerary and forecast your expenses. A chain may include franchises--company-owned-and-operated motels or a combination of the two. The motels may be of custom construction or "conversions" from Holiday Inns, Ramada Inns or other mid-priced chains (usually older locations).

In any case, a chain guarantees minimum standards and periodic visits by corporate inspectors to check facilities, housekeeping and maintenance.

Here are some chains to be found in the United States:

Best Western, the world's largest association of independently owned hotels and motels with more than 3,200 properties in 35 countries, including 1,759 in the United States, has established minimum standards for room, bathroom and lobby size and furnishings. Design criteria were set in 1986 for all new construction and renovations. Each must have a coffee shop or provide continental breakfast, and most have swimming pools. The average double-room rate is $54 (this includes numerous pricey resort locations), and children 12 and under are usually free.

The Gold Crown Club provides special services and awards for frequent guests. Best Western's comprehensive directory features a good road atlas plus a color photograph of each property and often Mobil and AAA ratings, extremely useful due to the wide differences from place to place.

Choice Hotels International operates seven budget and economy hotel and suite chains (Comfort Inns and Suites, Sleep Inns, Econo Lodge, Friendship Inns, Rodeway Inns, Quality Inns, Quality Suites), as well as the pricier Clarion Hotels. All 2,500 properties offer a minimum of 15% no-smoking rooms, and allow children 18 and under to stay free in their parents' room. All also have a fixed weekend rate of $29 to $59 per night, and a 30% across-the-board discount for seniors 60 and over with advance reservations.

Comfort Inns, which calls itself a "luxury budget" chain, has nearly 800 properties in the United States and abroad. The rate is $35-$45 for double-double, king or queen-bedded rooms. All inns have swimming pools and some kind of fitness facility, and serve a complimentary continental breakfast. Some have restaurants, coffee shops or lounges. There are also about 80 Comfort Suites with nightly rates of $40-$65 for a unit consisting of a sleeping area partitioned from the living area furnished with a sofa bed.

Fifty Sleep Inns are now open or in some stage of development, with 200 projected by the end of 1992. All Sleep Inns are alike with rooms, usually about $35 double, featuring queen-size bed, desk and remote-control color TV with built-in VCR. A high-tech security system uses personal credit cards for room entry.

Econo Lodge's 652 motor hotels in 47 states and Canada are most prevalent in the Southeast and Middle Atlantic, with an additional 140 under development. Rooms are about $35 single or double.

The 104 Friendship Inns offer rooms in the $20-$30 range. Many Econo Lodges offer restaurants, lounges, swimming pools, meeting facilities, in-room coffee and cable television, while Friendship Inns do not have meeting rooms or restaurants.

Rodeway Inns consist of 140 limited-service hotels in 33 states and Canada, and 100 more are anticipated by the end of 1991, with rooms in the $40 range, single or double. Some offer complimentary breakfast, meeting rooms or recreational facilities.

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