YOUTH hostels with luxury bedding and free beauty products? Motel-priced rooms with flat-screen TVs? Poolside cocktail bars in the middle of Times Square?
Surprisingly, all are now available, suggesting that penny-pinching travelers finally are being given respect. Outfitting low-cost hotels with smart twists -- a trend some call "trickle-down boutique" and "no-frills chic" -- has been gaining ground for a few years, but because many of the advances have happened abroad, they're news to most Americans.
The international leader in hip, low-cost lodging appears to be the Accor Hotel Group, a French business that's responsible for two modern-design hotel chains, Ibis (www.ibishotel.com, with more than 700 hotels) and Etap (www.etaphotel.com, with more than 300 hotels).
Although neither has made an appearance in the U.S., they're well established in Europe, Asia and Australia, where they attract cost-conscious customers who seek efficiency and streamlined design. Accor's latest cheap-chic venture is Base Backpackers, www.basebackpackers.com, with seven locations in New Zealand and Australia. It offers niceties such as hair dryers and plush beds made with feather pillows and duvets.