Travel

8 rules to remember for Midtown hotels

If you're headed to Manhattan to see some shows or the tourist sights, here are eight of my personal rules about Midtown hotels.

And the first thing you have to know is that most of the usual rules don't apply in Manhattan.

Rule No. 1 : In New York, the chains are your friend.

Many frequent travelers abhor the standardization of chain hotels. Well, save that love of the quirky hostelry for your next trip to Napa Valley. In Midtown, boutique is mostly code for smaller rooms, bigger attitudes and higher prices.

But chains have national standards to which even New York franchisees must adhere. And thus they tend to have bigger rooms, better service and more amenities.

There's one caveat: The hotels have to be new, and you have to snag a room on a high floor for noise reasons.

But take the Hilton Garden Inn Times Square (790 8th Ave.; 212-581-7000; www.stayhgi.com) – my favorite Midtown hotel and the place where I am typing these words. The rooms have refrigerators, microwaves, flat-screen TVs. There's room to work.

Almost every Broadway theater is within five blocks. And it's cheap. Relatively.

Rule No. 2 : In New York, brand status means nothing.

The Hampton Inn at 50th Street and 8th Avenue (212-581-4100; www.hampton inn.com), another of my favorite New York hotels, has a concierge, a terrific staff and quite luxurious rooms.

A Hampton Inn, you say? That's the cheapest of the Hilton brands and best known for sitting on the exit of a freeway. True. But in New York, it's got better service than the Sheraton. Which brings us to:

Rule No. 3 : In New York, prices depend on timing, not quality.

That Hampton Inn I just mentioned often charges well over $350 a night. You have to adjust your expectations in Midtown; a room under $250 is a cheap room. Everyone knows hotels vary pricing based on sophisticated predictors of demand.

But in New York, the contrasts are eye-popping. The difference between pricing on different dates far eclipses the difference in pricing between hotels. In other words, the Waldorf Astoria on a low-demand night will charge less than the Four Points by Sheraton on a high-demand night. So what should you do?

Rule No. 4 : Try to stay on a Sunday night.

Midtown hotels are the cheapest on that night; you can stay most Sundays for less than $200. In general, the most expensive nights are Wednesdays and Thursdays, although weekend rates don't drop significantly. At certain times of year – the spring-break weeks in March and weekends in the fall – hotel rates in Midtown are stratospheric as hotels fill with school groups and shopping Europeans. You can easily pay $400 a night for the crummiest joint. Best to go to New York instead in January, February, late April and May. The summer isn't bad either. And Thanksgiving weekend is a bargain.

Rule No. 5: Prices usually drop nearer the stay.

Don't assume advance booking serves you well. Using chain Web sites, I recheck prices right up to cancellation deadlines. I switch hotels as prices drop nearer the night

Rule No. 6: Ignore Trip Advisor.

Many travelers base their choices on the comments at tripadvisor.com, a site that lets guests review hotels. It's mostly useless for New York. The vast bulk of the comments come from people who are in various states of shock.

Rule No. 7 : Consider Chelsea.

A lot of new hotels have opened near 8th Avenue in Chelsea. There is a decent new Holiday Inn Express (232 W. 29th St.; www.hiex press.com), a Hilton Garden (121 W. 28th St.; www.stay hgi.com) and a Four Points by Sheraton (160 W. 25th St.; www.starwoodhotels.com). They're all less than 10 minutes by train from Broadway theaters, and Chelsea now is a terrific neighborhood in which to shop, eat and stroll.

Rule No. 8 : Corporate rates probably won't help.

The company you work for may have negotiated set rates – but I can almost always beat that price on my own.

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