Reinventing Extended-Stay Hotels

The light-filled atrium at the Staybridge Suites Times Square location. Courtesy Staybridge Suites Photo by Staybridge Suites
By Beth Collins

For years, extended-stay hotels were dingy buildings on the outskirts of town where you wouldn't want to spend a single night, let alone a week or more. But in the past few years, some key hotel brands have been reclaiming the category, transforming them from places to avoid to places to look forward to.

Gone are the cheap polyester bedspreads, chipped Formica surfaces, and sagging mattresses. Instead, the new extended-stay hotel is hip and stylish, with contemporary furniture, soothing color palettes, and stay-a-little-longer amenities like iPod docking stations, flat-screen TVs, laundry rooms, fitness centers, and hot breakfast buffets.

These three extended-stay hotel brands are leading the pack with extra style and savings. The listed prices are per night; ask if any discounts are offered for multi-night or weeklong stays.

Photo Caption: The light-filled atrium at the Staybridge Suites Times Square location. Courtesy Staybridge Suites
A king studio room at the Staybridge Suites hotel in New York City, across from the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Courtesy Staybridge Suites Photo by Staybridge Suites
The Vibe: With 184 locations everywhere from Atlanta to Abu Dhabi, Staybridge Suites (www.staybridge.com) has established itself as one of the go-to extended-stay hotels around the world. The brand has recently begun to venture into more metropolitan locations, complete with new design elements and amenities specifically designed to fit city life. The launch location for this new urban Staybridge debuted this April in New York City. Though the setting -- just a few blocks from Times Square and a block from Port Authority -- could have made for a chaotic experience, the hotel feels like an oasis.

The Design: Just past the entryway, a waterfall feature is your first clue that this is a place to relax. In the lobby, you can sit by the fire, surf the net on free Wi-Fi, or lounge by the TV. And beyond that is the hotel's crown jewel, a glass-roofed, light-filled room where a hot breakfast is served every day. The room is also used for the Sundowner receptions, where the hotel offers free beer, wine, and appetizers three evenings a week.

The hotel also has some of the comforts of home -- you can wash and dry your clothes for free (even the detergent is provided), check out the library that's stocked with books and games, and buy water and snacks from BridgeMart, a 24-hour mini convenience store.

The Rooms: The 310 guest rooms in the Times Square location aren't as roomy those in Staybridge Suites' suburban properties, but each room makes the most of its space. The décor has a smart, urban feel -- dark wood furniture, crisp white linens, rich red accents, and custom photography featuring New York City locales. The kitchenettes are small but perfectly serviceable, with stainless-steel appliances, cookware, plates and utensils, and a coffee maker.

The Price: A room for two people at the Staybridge Suites Times Square (340 West 40th St. between 9th and 10th Avenues; tel. 800/225-1237; www.staybridge.com) starts at $236 per night.

Photo Caption: A king studio room at the Staybridge Suites hotel in New York City, across from the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Courtesy Staybridge Suites
A room at the SpringHill Suites Orlando at SeaWorld. Courtesy SpringHill Suites Photo by SpringHill Suites
The Vibe: With 17 different lines within its brand, Marriott (www.marriott.com) has mastered the art of tailoring hotels to specific travelers' needs. The target audience for the SpringHill Suites line -- a younger, hipper traveler -- is especially evident in the new Gen IV properties, such as the Las Vegas Convention Center location or the one across the street from SeaWorld.

The Design: Instead of the staid, den-like décor of Marriott's business-focused Courtyard line, the hotel has an open, airy design with an inviting color palette of light neutrals and bright pastels. The lobby, so often just a place to pass through in other hotels, is full of cozy chairs guests can sink into as they use the free Wi-Fi.

The Rooms: Each suite feels like it could be the apartment of a young professional in some cool Scandinavian city, with defined areas for sleeping, working, and lounging. The beds are piled with comfy pillows, the sofa pulls out for extra sleeping space, and the desk is roomy enough to get some actual work done, not just a token sliver of wood. The kitchen is minimal -- just a mini-fridge and a microwave, but it's all you need to prepare a quick Lean Cuisine dinner or some microwave popcorn from the marketplace downstairs.

Perhaps the most brilliant part of the design is the layout of the bathroom. Rather than lump everything together, SpringHill Suites put the shower and bath in one area, and the toilet and sink in another. That way, if one guest is showering, it doesn't have to mean the rest of the bathroom is off limits to the other guests.

The free breakfasts are a hit, thanks to the make-your-own waffle station, eggs any way you want them, and fresh-baked muffins. And there's coffee service both in the morning and the afternoon -- maybe a nod to the fact that the young crowd probably won't be turning in after the evening news?

The Price: Rooms at the SpringHill Suites Orlando at SeaWorld (10801 International Drive, tel. 888/468-4651, www.marriott.com) start at $99 per night, including access to a free shuttle to the theme park. A room for two people at the Las Vegas Convention Center is from $109 per night.

Photo Caption: A room at the SpringHill Suites Orlando at SeaWorld. Courtesy SpringHill Suites
The lobby at the AKA Rittenhouse Square hotel in Philadelphia. Courtesy AKA Rittenhouse Square Photo by AKA Rittenhouse Square
The Vibe: AKA (www.hotelaka.com) properties may officially be hotels, but staying in one feels more like living in a chic pied-à-terre. The locations are in metropolitan areas -- New York City, D.C., Philadelphia, and soon in Los Angeles and in London -- and, like apartments, they have full kitchens, living rooms, and bedrooms.

The Design: The décor is decidedly un-hotel-like as well, thanks to partnerships with architect Joan Pierpoline, who used blackened steel and sculpted wood in her design, and Monika Bravo, who created video art installations for the lobby and fitness centers.

Photo Caption: The lobby at the AKA Rittenhouse Square hotel in Philadelphia. Courtesy AKA Rittenhouse Square
A luxe bedroom at the AKA Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. Courtesy AKA Rittenhouse Square Photo by AKA Rittenhouse Square
The Rooms: Guestrooms are just as impressive, with granite countertops and sub-zero refrigerators in the kitchens, Egyptian cotton sheets on the beds, and marble finishes in the bathrooms.

One of AKA's best features is that it not only hosts guests in a city, but it also encourages visitors to maximize their time. The brand's motto is "Don't just visit -- live it!" and its Live It! program helps guests do just that. At the Philadelphia location, for example, the hotel will help guests arrange cooking classes, guitar lessons, painting instruction, even learn-to-DJ packages -- all with local experts. And the Give It! program connects Philadelphia guests with volunteer opportunities around the city. With the average stay lasting about a month, such services transform the hotel experience from something tolerable to something that's actually fulfilling.

The Price: A room in Philadelphia at the AKA Rittenhouse Square (135 South 18th St., tel. 888/252-0180, www.hotelaka.com) starts at $185 per night. Depending on the season, a two-night minimum stay may be required.

Photo Caption: A luxe bedroom at the AKA Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. Courtesy AKA Rittenhouse Square
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