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If your desire for superb accommodations trumps your concern about expense, you should have no trouble discovering just the hotel for you in Washington, D.C.’s stable of upscale properties. In shorter supply are inexpensive and moderately priced hotels. In fact, the cheapest lodging is found more readily outside the District, in suburban Virginia and Maryland motels and hotels. But do I think you should stay there? No. For a full-blooded experience of the capital, you need to stay overnight and wake up within its urban embrace.

Washington, D.C., has upwards of 130 hotels. In this chapter, I present you with descriptions of about 30 properties, all of which I have visited. The majority of the hotels skew to the more affordable, whose overnight rates can go as low as $99, but seldom higher than $250. I’ve also included several high-end options, not just for the one percenters, but for those who seek a fabulous deal at a five-star place.

The common denominator is the “distinctly D.C.” factor, from the posh Hay- showing off its view of the White House to the Capitol Hill Hotel, the only hotel truly located on “The Hill.” For the most part, I’ve eschewed chains, not because they’re not worthy choices, but because the experience is somewhat predictable and usually has more to do with the hotel brand than the city itself.

Price Categories

Expensive $300 and up

Moderate $200–$300

Inexpensive Under $200

What You'll Really Pay

The prices given in this chapter and the price categories established above are rack rates, the maximum that a hotel might charge for a “double” room. At most hotels, you probably won’t pay the very highest rate unless you visit in the spring—especially during cherry blossom season in late March and early April—and during inauguration Januarys, every 4 years. These categories are intended as a general guideline only, since rates can rise and fall dramatically, depending on how busy the hotel is. In this chapter, I’ve tried to show a more realistic picture, providing peak and off-peak rates, sometimes presented as a range, for each hotel.

Discounts are often available online or by booking through agencies. When the timing’s right, it’s not impossible to obtain a room at an expensive property for the same rate as a more moderate one. And if you’re persistent, you can try besting the hotel’s own discount by searching for a better price on the websites of the major discounters, then calling the hotel and quoting the discovered cheaper rate—it’s usually hotel policy to match the lower price.

Two notes: Quoted discount rates almost never include the hefty 14.5% hotel sales tax. The word “double” refers to the number of people in the room, not to the size of the bed. Most hotels charge one rate, regardless of whether one or two people occupy the room. In a few cases, a hotel specifies separate rates for “single” and “double” occupancy, and I provide that information.

Getting the Best Deal

Want the secret for getting the best hotel deal ever in Washington? Easy: Come to Washington when Congress is out, when cherry blossom season is over, or during the blazing hot days of July or August or the icy-cold days of a noninauguration-year January or February. Not possible? Okay, let’s put it this way: Don’t try to negotiate a good deal for late March or early April (cherry blossom season); hotel reservationists will laugh at you. I’ve heard them.

Consider these tips, too:

  • Visit on a weekend if you can. Hotels looking to fill rooms vacated by weekday business travelers lower their rates and might be willing to negotiate even further for weekend arrivals.

  • Ask about special rates or other discounts and whether a room less expensive than the first one quoted is available. You may qualify for substantial corporate, government, student, military, senior, or other discounts. Mention membership in AAA, AARP, frequent-flier programs, or trade unions, which may entitle you to special deals.

  • Book online. Because booking online is so often the best way to get a discount, we’ve devoted an entire box to a discussion of how to get the best deals.

  • Look into group or long-stay discounts. If you come as part of a large group, you should be able to negotiate a bargain rate because the hotel can then guarantee occupancy in a number of rooms. Likewise, if you’re planning a long stay (at least 5 days), you might qualify for a discount. As a general rule, expect 1 night free after a 7-night stay.

  • Consider enrolling in hotel “frequent-stay” programs, which aim to win the loyalty of repeat customers. Frequent guests can accumulate points or credits to earn free hotel nights, airline miles, in-room amenities, merchandise, tickets to concerts and events, and discounts on sporting facilities. Perks are awarded not only by many chain hotels and motels (Hilton Honors and Omni Select Guests, to name two), but also by individual inns and B&Bs.

  • Finally, whether or not you’ve gotten the best deal possible on your room rate, you can still save money on incidental costs. D.C. hotels charge unbelievable rates for overnight parking—up to $50 a night at some hotels, plus tax—so if you can avoid driving, you can save yourself quite a bit of money. Avoid dialing direct from hotel phones, which usually have exorbitant rates—as do the room’s minibar offerings.

Keep in mind that D.C. hotel sales tax is a whopping 14.5%, merchandise sales tax is 5.75%, and food and beverage tax is 10%, all of which can rapidly increase the cost of a room.

Turning to the internet or apps for a Hotel Discount

Before going online, it’s important that you know what “flavor” of discount you’re seeking. Currently, there are three types of online reductions and one that’s app based.

1. Extreme discounts on sites where you bid for lodgings without knowing which hotel you’ll get. You’ll find these on such sites as Priceline.com and Hotwire.com, and they can be real money-savers, particularly if you’re booking within a week of travel (that’s when the hotels get nervous and resort to deep discounts to get beds filled). As these companies mostly feature major chains, it’s unlikely that you will be put up in a dump. For more reassurance, visit the website BetterBidding.com, which allows you to compare Priceline and Hotwire rates all at once, as well as read comments from actual travelers, who spill the beans on their experiences in bidding and on the hotels they wound up booking. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the quality of many of the hotels that are offering these “secret” discounts to the opaque bidding websites.

2. Discounts on the hotel’s website itself. Sometimes these can be great values, as they’ll often include such nice perks as free breakfast or parking privileges. Before biting, though, be sure to look at the discounter sites below.

3. Discounts on online travel agencies as Hotels.com, Quikbook.com, Expedia.com, and the like. Some of these sites reserve rooms in bulk and at a discount, passing along the savings to their customers. But instead of going to them directly, I’d recommend looking at such dedicated travel search engines as Hipmunk.com, HotelsCombined.com, Momondo.com and Trivago.com. These sites list prices from all the discount sites as well as the hotels directly, meaning you have a better chance of finding a discount. Note: Sometimes the discounts these sites find require advance payment for a room (and draconian cancellation policies), so double check your travel dates before booking.

Tingo.com, a site founded by TripAdvisor, is another good source. Its model is a bit different than the others. Users make a pre-paid reservation through it, but if the price of the room drops between the time you make the booking and the date of arrival, the site refunds the difference in price.

4. Try the app HotelTonight.com. It only works for day of bookings, but WOW, does it get great prices for procrastinators (up to 70% off in many cases). A possible strategy: make a reservation at a hotel, then on the day you’re arriving try your luck with Hotel Tonight. Most hotels will allow you to cancel without penalty, even on the date of arrival.

It’s a lot of surfing, I know, but in the hothouse world of D.C. hotel pricing, this sort of diligence can pay off.

Consider Alternative Accommodations

If your luck and time are running out and you still haven’t found a place to stay, and/or if your budget constrains you from choosing one of the selections in this chapter, consider these alternatives:

  • Hostelling International Washington, DC (1009 11th St. NW, at K St.; www.hiwashingtondc.org; tel 888/464-4872 or 202/737-2333) is well located in the Penn Quarter and nicely equipped, with Wi-Fi, bike racks, and air conditioning. Breakfast is complimentary, and the hostel often hosts complimentary dinners. In all, there are 250 beds, all but a handful without private bath. Dorm rooms and private rooms are available at rates that range from $30 to $150 a night per person, plus $3 Hostelling International daily membership fee.

  • Check out AirBnB, a website-based rental operation that matches people looking for a place to stay with locals interested in renting out space in their home, or sometimes the entire apartment or house, often for far less than you might pay at a hotel. At the time researched, AirBnB Washington, D.C. (www.airbnb.com/locations/washington-dc) had 1,818 listings scattered among 26 neighborhoods. Similarly, Vacation Rentals by Owner (www.vrbo.com), FiipKey.com,and HomeAway.com,among others, offer furnished apartments for rent around the city. You might also consider BedandBreakfastDC.com (www.bedandbreakfastdc.com; tel 877/893-3233): In business since 1978, this organization works with a large selection of private homes, inns, guesthouses, and unhosted furnished apartments to find lodging for visitors.

  • Consider house swapping. Try such organizations as The Home Exchange (www.homeexchange.com)or HomeLink International (www.homelink.org) which offer tens of thousands of would-be swaps worldwide (take into account the membership fees when looking at the overall costs).

  • Call Washington’s tourism bureau, Destination D.C. (tel 202/789-7000), and ask the tourist rep for the names and numbers of any new or about-to-open hotels. If the rep isn’t sure, ask her to check with the marketing director. Up-and-coming hotels may have available rooms, for the simple reason that few people know about them. Hotels scheduled to open in D.C. in 2015 include the Half Street Hotel and a Hampton Hotel, both near Nationals Park in the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood.

  • Consider staying outside the city. In northern Virginia, Rte. 1, also known as Jefferson Davis Highway within Crystal City limits, is lined with hotels for every budget. A good listing is available on the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority website (www.mwaa.com/reagan/reagan.htm). Click on “Travel Tips,” and then click on “Local Hotels,” in the Local Tourism section on that page to discover the rundown of nearby hotels.

Extended Stays in the Heart of the City

Travelers to Washington, D.C. who plan to visit for a week or longer should know about the centrally located AKA White House District  apartments/hotel, 1710 H St. NW (www.stayaka.com; tel 202/904-2500). The D.C. location is one of ten AKA properties (others are in NYC, Beverly Hills, Philadelphia, London, and Arlington, VA), all of which offer luxuriously furnished one- and two-bedroom apartments, for short term and extended stays. AKA offers tremendous value, especially when your timing is right: I plugged in some July dates in 2014 and found that a one-bedroom suite was available at the White House District location for $205 a night, which was lower than the $214 rate offered for a studio suite at the nearby budget hotel The Quincy. I know which one I’d choose! Check out the website to see for yourself some of the property’s fine appointments and amenities, including fully equipped kitchens, stylish decor, free Wi-Fi, an on-site fitness center, and a washer/dryer in each apartment. K Street law offices, the White House, the Corcoran Contemporary, National Gallery, and excellent restaurants, like Bombay Club, are just some of the property’s notable neighbors. FYI: While it’s true that AKA serves mainly as an extended stay property, it also accommodates visitors for nightly or a few nights’ stay, as availability allows.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.