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Dives vs. Chain Hotels
Old 07-20-2014, 04:31 PM   #1
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Dives vs. Chain Hotels

As I posted in a different thread, I'm on a road trip where I've been staying in some low-rent hotels ($50 and under) and some mid-chain hotels (ca. $100).

A few comparisons:

Lobby Atmosphere - The dives have always spared me the "high-energy environment" that all mid-level chains seem to have introduced. I much prefer silence to the musical choices that the corporate entities have introduced. In addition, I have yet to enjoy the wonderful smell of curry in a chain hotel lobby. The chains generally don't have bullet-proof glass visible anywhere in the lobby, however.

Advantage - Dives

Breakfast - Few dives offer free breakfast, many chains do. The chains generally provide more than cereal and, although mediocre, it gives you a chance to fill your stomach without making a separate stop.

Advantage - Chains

Cleanliness - Chains generally provide a consistent level of cleanliness and functionality. However, their responsiveness to problems varies. There seems to be a consistent "musty" odor to dives and who knows if the AC will be working and how loud it will be.

Advantage - Chains

Clientele - Chains - retirees, families with children, businessmen. Dives - the same, but lower income and the businesses may be interesting.

Advantage - Chains

Room Access - Many dives are set up so you can back your car up to within a few feet of the door to your room. Chains will almost always require you to traipse through the lobby on your way to the elevator.

Advantage - Dives

All in all, chains are predictable, safe and boring. Dives are inconsistent and may provide an interesting story or two to tell. Which do you prefer and why?

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Old 07-20-2014, 04:40 PM   #2
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I stay out about 150+ nights per year - chains only. On the few occassions when problems arise the chain 800 number will correct the situation or at least give a refund. Also within the chain category I make great efforts to only stay at the newest properties. My rule of thumb is that I will not stay in a place that isn't as nice as home.

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Old 07-20-2014, 04:47 PM   #3
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Chains only for me. I broke that rule once (well, it was also a chain but a well-known "dive" chain) because it was a last minute decision and could not get another room nearby.
I had to decline the first two rooms for being too gross, and the third room was merely....gross. Never again.
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Old 07-20-2014, 04:52 PM   #4
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A dive rarely becomes a chain whereas a chain can easily become a dive. The more chains I stay at the more I like my tent and air mattress.
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Old 07-20-2014, 04:52 PM   #5
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Although we stay in hotels rarely, it'll be chains all the way. I might be a bit more adventuresome than DW in that regard but when we're tired and hungry we have little patience with incompetence or sloppiness. And we definitely do not like surprises, unless it's a comped meal or some such.

And given that we do travel so rarely we're willing to spend up a bit to assure a positive experience.
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Old 07-20-2014, 05:00 PM   #6
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Being retired I have the luxury to chose the dates I travel, so I in general get the 4 star rooms at 2 star prices by letting the hotels dictate when I go. I'm getting pretty good at Hotwire and know when the nearby Westin and Hyatt are being offered for $50 a night. It's great for a weekend getaway with GF.

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Old 07-20-2014, 05:02 PM   #7
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I'm even more specific: Marriott hotels only. I use the Marriott credit card (Chip and signature). It has an annual fee, but it's less that the cost of a room - and you are awarded one free night every year after you've paid that fee. Couple that with lots of offers and the points you earn on the card (1% of spend) and I get lots of "free" rooms each year.
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Old 07-20-2014, 05:16 PM   #8
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I generally go with chains, but if I have time to research in advance, I'll try to find a locally-owned place at a similar price to the chains but with more ambiance.
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Old 07-20-2014, 05:16 PM   #9
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Dive or Chain? How about dive AND chain. I stay almost exclusively at Motel 6. Kind of a dive but is pretty dependable as a chain. They serve the same purpose as a Comfort Inn or Holiday Inn at a more reasonable price. Anything above a Holiday Inn is for very special occasions-maybe just a couple times a decade.
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Old 07-20-2014, 05:45 PM   #10
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There are plenty of divey chains. Easy8 comes to mind immediately... Even some of the "mid range" chains have their share of dives... I stayed at a La Quinta once that had water stains (I hope) on the carpet, leaky faucets in the bathroom, and was just, in general, pretty divey. I've also stayed in very nice, inexpensive, independent motels.

If it's a vacation that I have the option to plan ahead - I research on trip adviser and try to find the nicest for the least money. If it's a road trip... I usually have a tent and sleeping bag in the car, just in case.

For vacations, we tend to rent apartments through VRBO.
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Old 07-20-2014, 05:50 PM   #11
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If we're paying for it, we'll tend toward the lower end chains (Super 8, America's Best Value Inn) but check the reviews for the specific property first, since YMMV big time. DW's the main one concerned about cleanliness - I'm fine as long as I don't contract a disease or have to lay in visible bodily fluids from previous guests. I like the budget chains because they tend to have a free breakfast and free wifi - helpful if you're traveling with kids.

We just completed a 2300 mile road trip to Canada and back with a stop for a few nights in New York City. We actually found an awesome Super 8 (well, as awesome as Super 8's get) in NJ just west of Manhattan that was under 10 minutes bus ride into Midtown Manhattan. For under $100/nt for a clean room with 2 queen beds, breakfast, and wifi, I can't complain. It was surprisingly clean and well appointed (nicer in many regards than the Four Points by Sheraton we stayed at in the previous night). A/C and fridge worked perfectly (unlike the 4 Points).

And if no decent dive chains are available, I'll go the route of cheapest available decent chain hotel, and check out hotel discount sites like or, or hit up expedia or travelocity and use a $50 off $200 (or similar) coupon to sweeten the deal to something approaching budget chain level.

Most of the time we use Starwood Preferred Guest points and stay in Sheratons, Alofts, Four Points, or other Starwood brand hotels for free. They tend to be a little nicer or at least more consistent.

I can't say I recall staying in a non-chain hotel since my backpacker days that one summer in Mexico... Let's just say I got everything I expected (short of a VD) for $5/night.
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Old 07-20-2014, 06:00 PM   #12
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When I am by myself on a road trip I generally choose divey chains: La Quinta, Motel 6, etc.
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Old 07-20-2014, 06:05 PM   #13
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We use both but standardized on Days Inn (never more than maybe 65 unless you are in a big city) or Microtel which is not everywhere. In the South we have stayed in dives that are 40 and under and only once had a negative experience (was safe just very run down).
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Old 07-20-2014, 07:05 PM   #14
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When DW and I are on a road trip we stay away from the interstates and the big cities. This often puts into "dives". I prefer to call them "mom and pop motels". Usually you can park on the first floor in front of you room. We meet some very interesting people, like oil field workers, farmers that (with their machines) move with the harvest, truck drivers that park at the motel, various construction trades. I feel as safe there as I would at at a high-rise motel with lots of security cameras and guards.
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Old 07-20-2014, 07:17 PM   #15
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Used to stay in dives until I found that I could get a nice room for the same price on Priceline.

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Old 07-20-2014, 07:43 PM   #16
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I always use Hotwire first to see what the deals are. Once or twice I actually found the same deal on a hotel's own website, or on 95% of the time, I've gone with Hotwire. I usually pick a 3 star, but sometimes will go for a 2 1/2 star if it's a cheap enough rate (usually a La Quinta Inn type place, or perhaps an independent hotel).

You get sometimes huge discounts but don't know the hotel until after you pre-pay your reservation. The trick is to know what to look for. This way, you can end up in fairly nice hotels for just about (or sometimes LESS than) dive prices.

One clue: I love my free breakfasts, if I'm paying for the room. Typically, 2 1/2 star hotels give you a 'cold' breakfast, with maybe a waffle iron, and maybe hard boiled eggs - but no animal proteins. Whereas, if you find a 3 (or the rare 3 1/2) star hotel with free breakfast, usually it's a pretty damn nice one, with ham/sausage/bacon. These are typically a Holiday Inn Express or a Hyatt. These are also typically fairly new(er), and a great value for the buck.

My only hesitation with staying at the 2star or 1 1/2 star on Hotwire are that I can definitely say the experience has, on average, been better staying at a nicer hotel, in terms of the bedding/mattress, and AVERAGE level of quietness. Sure, there have been some 4 star hotels (the Palmer house in Chicago, for instance) that are ridiculously noisy inside your room....but I'll always use Hotwire first, and then look around if I get the rare chance to beat it with other websites.

The other thing to look for is user reviews. In each listing, Hotwire will tell you what % of previous Hotwire purchasers would 'recommend' the hotel to others. If 80% or more would recommend it, odds are it's pretty good. If only 70% or less would recommend it, odds are it's an independent hotel that isn't really that high of a star, or it's one of the older chains that isn't in the best of areas or condition. You could end up with a good experience, but I'd probably opt for a higher recommended one.

Also, don't forget to look at other things like free parking or free airport shuttle. Those items alone in some cities could mean adding $20 OR MORE to your room rate if it's not included. So make sure you look at all of the hotel amenities and add in the value.
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Old 07-20-2014, 08:05 PM   #17
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When SO and I are on the road we tend not to have a schedule - result is that we may end up miles and hours from where one might have guessed, which maybe means a stay in Wickenberg AZ instead of Prescott. Makes motel pre-planning problematic, but as JakeBrake says, you meet some interesting folks that way. Mostly the places are ok, sometimes they are great (well, if you like old, which we do), and sometimes they are so dang bad (Westerner, Wickenberg) it is just astounding. When it is time to be off the road and there is one room in town left....
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Old 07-21-2014, 04:28 AM   #18
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FUEGO, what is the name of the NJ hotel with the 10 minute ride to Manhattan? Thanks.

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Old 07-21-2014, 05:20 AM   #19
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The main reason I would choose a chain over a "dive" is that if the experience is horrible you have more options for recourse with a chain than with an independent operation.

People may choose chain motels for the same reason they choose McDonald's -- it's far from the best, but at least the experience is usually fairly consistent and you usually know what you are going to get.

Also, frequent travelers may join affinity/frequent guest programs for free stays that a single independent motel can't really offer.
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Old 07-21-2014, 06:52 AM   #20
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On road trips DH and I aren't very adventurous- we tend to go with the lower-priced versions of the major chains (Fairfield, Hampton Inn). He does all the driving and at some point we figure out what time we want to get off the road and where we'll be. I find something on my smartphone and book it.

We're more open to non-chains on other trips and make heavy use of TripAdvisor for finding B&Bs. We just stayed in a great one in Sitka.

We don't really tolerate dives well. We like a little room to spread out and I like a decent fitness center, so chain hotels are part of the budget.

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