If you’re staying at a hotel this summer, you might find that the welcome mat is out. Chains are catching up on long-delayed improvements, freshening rooms, replacing worn mattresses and tattered wallpaper, and updating furnishings. Groceries delivered to your door? Try an upscale Residence Inn. An indoor pool? Even the budget-level Red Roof Inn has them. A butler to draw your bath? OK, that’s over the top, but you’ll find one at the Ritz-Carlton (and the tub is marble). At more and more hotels, lobbies look a bit like cozy living rooms, wireless Internet is in public areas, and hot breakfasts and evening munchies are on offer. Most hotels even say you can stay free if you have a problem they can’t resolve.
But the wooing of guests stops at the price tag. This year, an overnight stay is expected to cost an average of $107, up 5 percent from 2011, according to lodging analyst PricewaterhouseCoopers. You’ll probably have to work harder to land a deal; asking the desk clerk for the best available rate no longer does the trick. That’s where we can help. Through reporting, dickering with clerks, and visiting hotels, we’ve identified techniques that stretch your lodging dollar. And through our survey of 22,481 subscribers who spent a collective 94,981 nights at 44 chains, we’ve identified America’s best and worst hotels. Among our findings: