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Help Nominate the State's Best Moderate-Cost Lodgings : Survey: It's easy to crown top hotels that charge over $200 a night. But where are the gems for under $100? We're looking to list your favorites.

December 17, 1995|CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS | TIMES TRAVEL WRITER

Comfort doesn't usually come cheap. And a rude reminder of that lies between the lines of those favorite-hotel polls that Conde Nast Traveler magazine and Zagat survey announce every year.

Conde Nast weighed in last month with its well-heeled readers' choices. Drawing on about 30,000 responses, the magazine listed winners in various categories, including 25 top foreign hotels (beginning with the first-place Regent of Hong Kong, at $284 a night and up), 50 top U.S. resorts (No. 1 was the $255-a-night-and-up Inn at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach) and 25 top U.S. hotels (starting with the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans, $250-plus). In the hotel category, readers evaluated hotels' rooms, restaurants and other facilities, and location/atmosphere. Rates were not a factor.

In the world occupied by most of us, of course, rates are a factor. The California Hotel-Motel Assn. reports that hotel guests in California this year spent an average of $72.67 per night.

Looking to make trouble, I enlisted the aid of a travel agent and checked the lowest available mid-December rates at Conde Nast's top-rated U.S. hotels. Since there was a tie for 25th place, there were 26 hotels in all.

Their average bottom-end nightly rate was $274--that is, enough to buy the average tourist three nights in California and a $50 dinner.

The Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans was a relative bargain. The costliest rooms in the top 25 U.S. hotels belonged to the Peninsula New York ($420 a night). The least costly were at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead in Atlanta ($165 and up). The top-rated chain--Four Seasons, which manages nine of the top 25--had a bottom-end average of $283 a night.

On the whole, Conde Nast's readers tend to agree with the volunteer correspondents (about 11,670 in 1995) who contribute to the well-known Zagat hotel and restaurant ratings. Fourteen of the Conde Nast top 25 U.S. hotels were also in the top 25 hotels list released by Zagat last April, and all but one of Conde Nast's top 25 fell within Zagat's top 64 hotels.

For the record, 19 California lodgings made it onto the Conde Nast favorites lists: the Peninsula Beverly Hills, the Hotel Bel-Air, the Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey, the Four Seasons Los Angeles, Two Bunch Palms in Desert Hot Springs, La Costa in Carlsbad, The Palms at Palm Springs, The Oaks in Ojai, the Ritz-Carlton Rancho Mirage, the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel, Ventana Inn in Big Sur, Meadowood Resort in St. Helena, the Four Seasons Biltmore in Santa Barbara, Auberge du Soleil in the Napa Valley, Quail Lodge in Carmel, San Ysidro Ranch in Santa Barbara, Le Meridien in Coronado, the Highlands Inn in Carmel and Carmel Valley Ranch nearby.

Now, can I tell you how to get rooms at these places for $72 a night? No.

Instead, I'm going to suggest a counter-poll.

In which rates are a factor.

And we're giving away a little money.

Recognizing that most Californians do most of their vacation travel within this state and within a budget, I'm asking readers to nominate their favorite under-$100 California lodging, and write a few words explaining why. Hotels, inns, resorts, spas, and bed-and-breakfasts all qualify. But nominations are limited to lodgings in which: A) you have spent at least one night during the last three years, and B) you paid less than $100 per night, excluding taxes, meals and other charges. (If a hotel's normal rate is $115 nightly, and you paid $89 because of a seasonal discount, an AAA membership rate or another discount program available to consumers who don't work within the travel industry, that's OK.)

Campgrounds don't qualify. Nor do apartments or the homes of your relatives. Lodging company employees or their contractors and Times-Mirror Co. employees are not eligible to vote.

We reserve the right to exclude nominations by travel industry professionals.

To be considered, all nominations must be postmarked or faxed no later than Jan. 31, 1996.

Here's the incentive: On Feb. 8, we'll have a drawing and select one nomination form. If it's filled out properly and we can reach the sender, we'll give him or her $100 (the hotel the winner nominates is not a factor). We'll publish the poll results and the winner's name in February.

*

Reynolds travels anonymously at the newspaper's expense, accepting no special discounts or subsidized trips. To reach him, write Travel Insider, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

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