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:

  • Overall, hotels have improved. In our current survey, 53 percent of readers called check-in and checkout excellent, up from 42 percent in 2006. The numbers for service rose from 37 percent to 44 percent; for upkeep, from 36 percent to 43 percent.
  • No hotel chain matched the scores (or price) of the Ritz-Carlton, but satisfaction depends on what you’re seeking. Microtel Inn & Suites, an unassuming chain with an average daily rate one-third of what guests paid at the Ritz, was also outstanding at pleasing its customers. Among the duds: Motel 6, which scored lower than all others for comfort, and Days Inn, Econo Lodge and Americas Best Value Inn, which were among the worst for value.
  • Upscale and moderate hotels give a lot of bang for the buck, but most budget hotels earned low scores for value, comfort, service, and upkeep. Some readers thought the bathrooms at the Red Roof Inn, which calls its accommodations “cozy,” were a tad too intimate: 13 percent described bathrooms as cramped. Microtel, which topped our Ratings of budget chains for the third time, proves that a budget hotel needn’t be second-rate. Unlike most hotels in its class, Microtel usually builds new hotels instead of buying and converting old properties from other chains. 
  •  At all price levels, you’ll find more suites. Many suite hotels include hot breakfasts and evening socials in the price, along with laundry facilities and a workout room open around the clock.
  • You’ll see more boasts about beds: Hyatt has its Grand Bed, Westin its Heavenly Bed, and DoubleTree its Sweet Dreams Sleep Experience. Some hotels sell their bedding and linen collections to the public. A comfy bed is good for business: 10 percent of respondents cited a luxurious bed and linens as an important factor in choosing a hotel.

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