Business Travel: Strategies to save time, money and hassles

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Travelers planning to stay for a while now have some options, thanks to ex-apartment-house builder Jack DeBoer of Wichita, Kan., who created a new kind of apartment hotel, Residence Inn. Now owned by Marriott, Residence Inn has competitors, among them Homewood Suites, owned by Hilton. A different concept is BridgeStreet World, which features a block of apartments set aside in a residential apartment building, where corporate guests can stay for extended periods of time. All have a pricing gimmick: the longer you stay, the less per night you pay. Cheap imitations, such as Intown Suites, dangle $25-a-night rates, yet I’ve heard disgusting complaints about their cleanliness and couldn’t get straight answers from their management.

Residence Inn (www.marriott.com)
Located on Vermont Avenue in downtown Washington, D.C., the 202-suite Residence Inn is a block away from the K Street power alley and perfect if you’re selling to lobbyists or Uncle Sam. It’s attached to a 24-hour CVS drugstore. The hotel charges $20 a night to park, but I found street parking right out front. My room was a large studio with the bed in an alcove, plus a desk and dining room table with four chairs and a fully furnished kitchen. A big sectional sofa dominated the living room. There was also a 27-inch TV on a swivel stand. This Residence Inn had no business center—one is planned as part of a remodel and a Kinko’s is three blocks away—but every room had a high-speed Internet connection. The mattress was a bit thin, but I did feel at home and slept well. My wake-up call was on time. Breakfast was buffet style in a bright, airy room with a fireplace, TV and free newspapers. There was no shortage of eggs, fruit, baked goods, yogurt, make-your-own waffles and O.J. The coffee was so-so, but I got a cup of strong stuff from Au Bon Pain next door. The staff was extremely prompt and friendly. From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., there’s gratis lasagna, chicken Marsala and desserts, but no drinks. There’s a 24-hour fitness room and guest laundries. Rates range from $199 to $239 for one to six nights, $169 to $199 for seven to 29 nights.

Homewood Suites
(www.homewoodsuites.com)
A block away, Homewood Suites has 175 rooms with separate bedrooms and a staff as professional and responsive as the one in any four-star hotel. Rooms are a little smaller than those in Residence Inn and there’s no desk or table. You work off a kitchen counter that is not as comfortable, and you can’t really spread out papers. But the living room seating area is more homelike and the mattresses were thicker and firmer. Homewood has a coffeepot going night and day. Breakfast is served in a smaller area off the lobby and, when it’s busy, you may have to share a table. The breakfast buffet isn’t as creative as Residence Inn’s, but the two-hour evening manager’s reception includes beer and wine. Homewood has a small fitness center with a TV, a business center with a Dell laptop, laser printer and 24-hour access. There are free high-speed Internet connections in the rooms. Parking is $20 a night. Room rates start at $179 for one to four nights, $159 for five to 11 nights.

BridgeStreet World (www.bridgestreet.com)
BridgeStreet World has 8,000 corporate apartments in high-rise apartment buildings. Usually they fetch $120-$130 a night for 30 to 60 days, but BridgeStreet’s boss, Lee Curtis, will rent them for three days minimum. At Ballston Meridian in Arlington, 20 minutes west of Washington, D.C., and a block from the Metro subway, my one-bedroom apartment was $170 a night, including covered parking. You make your own bed and rustle up your own food or go out. Restaurants are everywhere and a copy center is attached. The fitness center is monstrous. The high-speed Internet connection worked. A concierge greeted me like a resident and had my key and instructions. No doorman, no bellman, no room service and no crowds.