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Hampton Or A Hilton?

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How do you choose between a Hampton Inn (now known as Hampton by Hilton), and a Hilton if they are minutes apart? Snob value says the Hilton, but the savvy traveler chooses the Hampton, which usually costs half the price of a room at a Hilton, and has guaranteed perks such as free coffee (all day) and breakfast. For those unfamiliar with Hampton Inns, they are aplenty in the USA and are slowly expanding to major cities in Europe. Most are mid-priced and classed as 3 star properties, but are a notch above their Travelodge or Premier Inn counterparts, offering a free hot breakfast and high speed wi-fi in all locations. Free, I hear the skeptics among you say with the rise of an eyebrow, who naturally assume the wi-fi to be poor, and breakfast to be minimal. Now while I can’t speak for all Hampton Inns, the ones I have been to either have exceeded my expectations (which are high) or have offered value for money.

I remember my first encounter with a Hampton Inn during a two-week stay in New York. I originally booked a midtown Hilton, but they didn’t have availability beyond my first three days so I had to look to other Hilton owned properties. I decided to chance the Hampton on 35th as it was  a few blocks from the library I was working in, plus a two-night stay was equal to one night in my first hotel. If it was bad, I could at least console myself with the fact I was saving money. Upon arrival there was none of the pomp with doormen and staff standing around, check in was quick (literally two minutes), and my room wasn’t huge but was clean with a bathtub. I could see Macy’s from the door of the hotel while sipping my coffee, the subway was less a minutes walk away, plus there was a handy Duane Reade across the road for my Pepperidge Farm cookie fix—it seemed pretty good. The staff were genuinely friendly, the wi-fi didn’t drop or let me down, the printer worked just fine, and the breakfast was a no frills buffet in the lounge. As long as I have a good strong hot coffee and a toasted bagel in the morning I’m happy. It was like sitting in a self-service diner except you can help yourself to as much food and coffee as you want for free. I felt quite liberated with no staff watching me, I could eat breakfast while watching the news and read the paper without having to speak to anyone (I’m not a great morning person), in fact I enjoyed my stay so much I booked it again for my next visit without a second thought.

On my most recent travels I was faced with the choice of a Hampton or Hilton again and couldn’t decide which to book. The Trip Advisor reviews were an even balance of good and bad, and so I decided to try a night in each. My friend who is a hotel snob and who won’t stay in anything less than a 4 star had to concede the reviews for the newer Hampton Inn got better reviews than the 4 star Hilton and was willing to give it go. I’m pleased to say she slept well, and despite announcing she wouldn’t go to breakfast (as she didn’t trust buffet food) she accompanied me for my espresso and croissant and then devoured two plates of a cooked breakfast, and a nutella croissant! The Hampton won in the recent battle, but the Hilton I stayed in was exceptionally poor which resulted in a long Trip Advisor review.

First of all, one must remember this star rating system is a little outdated and misleading, because you can’t judge how good a hotel is by this alone. It’s merely a guideline as to what services are available, and the more stars a property has means that they can charge more for the facilities they offer. If you’re not going to use the swimming pool, the hairdresser, or spa (which enables the hotel to have extra stars), why pay for it when you can save money by opting for the Hilton’s budget chain of Hampton Inns, which offer excellent value, plus where the staff seem to be more approachable and friendlier. I’ve held events in hotels that were rated 4 star (with shoestring staff and no air conditioning), but in reality should have been a 3 star, and some 5 star hotels that were dreadful in terms of facilities and service.

1* is a budget hotel where you may have to pay for extras such as towels, wi-fi, and usually are a hostel type accommodation where check in times are fixed, and bathrooms maybe shared.

2* is a step up where some services maybe available such as a phone in the room or a television. Some bathrooms will be en suite, and basic toiletries like a bar of soap maybe available.

3* offers above average accommodation at a mid-price point. Each room usually has a television, air conditioning, towels, phone, and some toiletries. Some may have a fitness room and access to a pool, and a baggage room.

4* properties are considered deluxe with a choice of suites, with room service, at least one restaurant, a swimming pool, a spa, a business center, a gift shop, and a percentage of the rooms must have bathtubs, and all bathrooms must be en suite.

5* are considered luxury properties that have all the above, with a hair salon, valet parking, offer a range of dining options where meals can be served every day, and have 24 hour room service. Some will have a penthouse suite, with dedicated concierge services and bellhops.

Out of the two, I currently favor Hampton Inns (and have stayed in a few, and lived in one for a few of weeks) over a Hilton for several reasons, and service is one of them. As a Hilton Honors member, I choose a Hilton to get the perks such as an upgrade and access to the Executive Lounge, but if I don’t get them, then I may as well stay in a Hampton Inn for the extra paid, or points deducted. I also take the time to review each stay on Trip Advisor and I don’t hold back, but Hampton Inns tend to reply and listen to feedback, while Hiltons get defensive. In the past I have been offered extra points as compensation, refunds for things such as parking, free stays and upgrades, but all I ever really wanted was a stress free stay. These are my pros and cons and why my reasons for choosing a Hampton Inn or a Hilton…

Hampton

Hampton by Hilton has been revamped in the last decade and slowly many Hampton Inns are being refurbished and renamed Hampton by Hilton, while newly built ones have a contemporary feel with digital keys being offered in some properties. The pros outweigh the cons, and in some areas the Hampton is the savvy traveler’s choice over the more established Hiltons.

Pros

  • All properties offer a free hot breakfast including their renowned waffle maker. While some vary in choice and quality, most include a selection of pastries and muffins, toast and bagels with spreads, eggs (boiled, scrambled, or omelets), coffee and tea, juices, and a selection of cereals and fruit. Smaller properties may have limited choices, and once the pastries have gone then there is no more (as I found in one hotel where I came down to breakfast late), and in larger ones items are replenished constantly with more choice. I’ve also seen breakfast on the go bags in reception that contain fruit, a drink carton, pastries and a yoghurt—a great idea for those who have to leave before breakfast service.
  • Some rooms have a microwave and fridge, which makes it economical and practical if you want to eat in. You need to request it though, and is handy for long stays.
  • Many cater for the traveler on the road and will have self-service washing machines to use.
  • Wi-fi is free for everyone and is available in all areas and no password is needed. This is useful if you have checked out and are in the lobby waiting for your flight or cab.
  • Complimentary coffee and water are available in the lobby throughout the day, and not just the morning as is the norm in other properties. Not only does it save money but your time as well.
  • Rooms have a coffee maker or in the UK a hospitality tray with a kettle. This is great to have if you don’t have a microwave as often I like an instant ramen cup when I am watching a midnight movie.
  • Some properties have gyms and pools.
  • All have free printing available and some have a small business center with computers to use. In New York they are located in the lobby (due to space) so you can print out a booking confirmation, where other properties they may have a separate room where you can sit down and work and print out documents.
  • Many will have a luggage storage room, unlike its competitors like Travelodge that don’t always offer this facility.

Cons

  • The lobby or lounge areas tend to be small, open plan and can be noisy. Usually it doubles up as a breakfast lounge, so it can be busy in the morning.
  • Not all properties will have rooms with bathtubs, and newer properties are being built with showers only to save on space.
  • Staff multi-task (some do check in, and rotate with breakfast service) so if someone is on a break there may not always be someone to help you with a specific query.
  • There is no room service, but some properties may have a bar area where they will serve food, and others will have vending machines. The reception may have a small shop where they sell bottled water or amenities such as toothbrushes, which in other hotels maybe complimentary.
  • Some properties will have toiletries and newer ones have soap dispensers installed in the bathrooms.
  • Check out times can be earlier than other hotels, and late check out maybe available at a cost or if you are a Hilton Honors member it maybe offered as a complimentary perk.

Hilton

Hiltons vary in standards in terms of quality of service, and also what facilities are offered, so it’s hard to generalize and weigh up the pros and cons, but one should expect above average service, and facilities compared to a Hampton. If you are the kind of traveler that likes other people to do things for you and aren’t prepared, then a Hilton may suit you at a cost.

Pros

  • Room upgrades maybe available to an executive room or a suite (deluxe is now considered to be pretty much standard) if you are a Hilton Honors member or if the check in staff are being nice. Upgrades aren’t guaranteed, and some establishments don’t offer them and keep them in reserve so they don’t need to clean them. Officially, if a room is available it should be offered, but if not then ask. I checked in and knew there were executive rooms available (that’s when up to date apps are handy) and wasn’t offered an upgrade at check in, but was when I was checking in online. I got one in the end, but to be honest there didn’t seem to be much difference in the rooms.
  • Executive Lounge access. If you are in an executive room you will get access automatically, but access can also be bought or offered as a perk. Lounges will vary in what is offered, but most will have computers and printing facilities, soft drinks and coffee available, some snacks, and usually complimentary breakfast and evening canapés and alcoholic drinks. Depending on the venue, some will also offer cookies and teatime snacks, and if the lounge is manned, they can sort out late check out and other issues without you having to go down to reception.
  • Bathrobes, slippers, and toiletries. These are usually complimentary and are available upon request from housekeeping.
  • Not all will have a swimming pool, but most will offer a fitness room with key access.
  • Most will have shops in the lobby selling gifts, but also essentials for the traveler such basic medical supplies like antiseptic creams, and books and magazines.
  • Usually the hotels will have more than one restaurant, room service, as well as a mini bar. These days the mini bar is electronically monitored so people can’t take things and replace them. Once an item is removed a charge is made so be careful if you do use a mini bar.

Cons

  • Wi-fi in the room isn’t free unless you are a Hilton Honors member and even then you only get the (slow) standard service, which is only good for checking emails accessed by signing into your account. This doesn’t help if you check out or if you arrive early, but generally wi-fi should be available in the lobby for free. High speed premium wi-fi maybe available, but may incur a daily charge.
  • Breakfast isn’t free (unless you have Executive Lounge access and have it there), but can be included in a package. If you miss it, then you won’t get a refund.
  • Depending on the location, parking charges can be high or some will only offer valet parking, so if you are driving it can add up on your bill. Some may offer discounts for guests, but it’s rare. Parking maybe free in some hotels, or have limited spaces.
  • Standards of service can vary, and I have had run ins with various members of staff who either ignore complaints, or say they will do something and do nothing. Often the only way to get things done is to cause a scene in public. I know it may seem dramatic, but if you have a moldy smelling room and they have no other rooms to move you to except a suite (which they admit, but don’t want to give you) a dressing down in reception usually wields results.
  • Hiltons are usually twice the cost of a Hampton, and cost more in redemption points with Hilton Honors.
  • Some properties are in need of refurbishment with dated fixtures and fittings and old air conditioning units, compared to a newer contemporary property.

As you can see the main difference is in what facilities you will be using. If you aren’t going to use the pool, spa, or have a haircut then the Hilton isn’t going to offer you much unless you want to use the Executive Lounge. However, given that access isn’t always granted, or what facilities are available, you will be paying extra for an unknown quantity. In Bangkok the lounge access facilities are superb with a full buffet breakfast, evening drinks and canapés with luxurious seating. However in Washington D.C. the service was disorganized, the drinks on offer were limited, and the lounge was small. With a Hampton you are guaranteed a breakfast, and the coffee is actually good, plus you can’t go wrong with a chocolate muffin, cream cheese bagel, fruit, waffle, or peanut butter on toast.

While some see a Hampton as slumming it and as the poor man’s Hilton, actually a Hampton is a wise man’s Hilton. I personally prefer the more casual feel of a Hampton where the staff are approachable and have a can do attitude, compared to the staff in a Hilton who tend to tell you why they can’t do things with a less than genuine smile. I recall ringing housekeeping and asking for some slippers that weren’t in the room, and was told to make sure and check before they would come up and bring me a pair! Hamptons are giving the traditionally upmarket Hiltons a run for their money, and while there is still snobbery over the star ratings, the wise traveler will look at value they get for their money rather than how many stars the property can boast.

One of my favorite Hamptons has everything I look for except for a nearby train station or bus station (it’s a short taxi journey that makes it worthwhile); a free breakfast from 7-10 a.m., coffee and hot water flasks in the lobby all day, free high speed wi-fi, a pool, a jacuzzi, a fitness room, rooms with bath tubs, microwaves, and fridges, and a 24 business center (where I have printed out a whole manuscript). I do enjoy staying at Hiltons, but find staff less proactive, and I was shocked to find some have even stopped providing hotel stationery and pens. Recently, the perks in a Hilton have disappeared, and you have to pay for extras such as newspapers, and wi-fi, which you get free in a Hampton.

If you are an organized and self-sufficient traveler the Hampton is ideal, but if you like your ego massaged or want more of a resort type hotel, then the Hilton maybe a better choice.These days I will only choose a Hilton if it has an Executive Lounge, and if the cost (in points or otherwise) justifies it, because without the perks, Hiltons are overpriced for what they offer. Therefore it makes sense to opt for a Hampton if you have the choice—don’t be put off by the lack of stars, because you may just be pleasantly surprised as I was.

*You can join the Hilton Honors program for free and earn points for each stay, get free wi-fi, and other benefits as a member.

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