Boston hotels are convenient -- the central city is so small that nearly every location is a good one -- but generally expensive. Lodgings reflect the city's historic character: Decades- and even century-old properties compete with establishments that opened to meet the demands of the 21st-century tech boom. Rooms vary in size from tiny to enormous. The average room rate flirts with $200, but bargains are available, particularly at slow times; including Cambridge and Brookline in your search increases your options. With enough planning and a little luck, you'll almost certainly find a place that suits your needs, taste, and budget.
Book ahead if you can if you are traveling to Boston between April and November, when conventions, college graduations, and vacations increase demand. The popular fall foliage season, in September and October, keeps the city and its hotels busy.
Note that some Boston hotels have begun adding a facility fee of $15 to $30 to each night’s room rate, ostensibly to cover access to Wi-Fi and onsite facilities such as fitness centers. Just like all the little fees that show up on a cable TV bill, these facility fees are mandatory for customers and can inflate the quoted room price.
If you’re willing to stay outside the city, there are decently priced brand name chain hotels to consider. That can be a good trade-off—limited charm, but at a savings of $100 to $300 a night. Keep in mind that traffic going in and out of the city during rush hour can be stop and go (and truly brutal on the worst days), which cuts into your sightseeing time. Recommended options include Best Western Plus Waltham Boston (tel. 844/235-7903), Hilton Garden Inn Boston Logan Airport (tel. 855/618-4697), and Sheraton Needham Hotel (tel. 781/444-1110).
For an alternative to hotels, bed-and-breakfasts boast homey settings and give visitors an opportunity to connect with locals. They are often less expensive than hotels, too. The Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau maintains a small list of B&Bs and inns that it recommends.
Airbnb is active in Boston and the surrounding towns, too. As of late 2018 it lists over 300 rentals of single rooms and whole apartments in Boston alone, here. Keep in mind that proposed Massachusetts regulations for 2019 could add hefty hotel taxes to Airbnb rates (as much as almost 17.5%). The proposed regulations would also require rentals to be in full compliance with fire and other safety codes and be covered by a $1-million liability insurance policy.
- Very Expensive: $326 and up
- Expensive: $226-$325
- Moderate: $151-$225
- Inexpensive: Under $150
What You'll Really Pay
The prices quoted here are rack rates, the maximum a hotel charges. You will probably not pay that rate in the Boston area unless you arrive at the height of foliage season or during a busy college graduation period. You can typically find discounts when booking through the major discounters (Priceline, Hotels.com, Expedia, and Travelocity). During slow times, it's often possible to land a room at an expensive property for the same rate you'd pay at a less pricey one. Rack rates at the Fairmont Copley Plaza start at $289, but in January 2011, just a cursory search of the usual Web discount sites revealed that rooms were available for as much as $100 less.
If you're the gambling type, you can bid for a room on Priceline. In late October 2010 -- the tail end of foliage season -- rooms at the Hyatt Regency Cambridge, where rack rates start at $179, were going for about $100.
Sometimes all you have to do is contact the hotel directly and negotiate. Just by asking, you may be able to make a deal with a reservations clerk to match or beat a price that's available through a discount website.
And remember to check hotel websites for special offers. The Colonnade Hotel Boston offers a 2-night winter weekend deal that lets guests pay the Friday evening temperature in dollars for their room that night -- in other words, 32°F at 5pm, $32 for your first night in the room (plus the standard rate for Sat night).
Note: Quoted discount rates almost never include hotel tax. Unless otherwise specified, they don't include breakfast or parking.
A Note About Smoking
The city of Boston bans smoking in all hotels, inns, and B&Bs, and the Marriott, Westin, and Sheraton chains forbid smoking in all their properties. Nonsmokers shouldn't assume that they'll get a nonsmoking room without requesting one. As hotels squeeze smokers into fewer rooms, the ones they use become saturated with the smell of smoke and air freshener, even in lodgings that are otherwise antiseptic. To avoid this disagreeable situation, be sure that everyone who handles your reservation knows that you need a completely nonsmoking room. And if you're a smoker or traveling with one, be sure you understand your hotel's smoking policy -- lighting up in a nonsmoking room can subject you to a hefty cleaning fee.
The Big Picture
As you evaluate Boston hotels, keep the city's relatively small size in mind, and check a map before you rule out a location. Especially downtown, the neighborhoods are so small and close together that the borders are somewhat arbitrary. The division to consider is downtown vs. the Back Bay vs. Cambridge -- not, for example, the Waterfront vs. the adjacent Financial District.
Year-round, it's always a good idea to make a reservation, and the earlier you book, the better your chances of landing a (relative) bargain. Definitely reserve ahead for travel between April and November, when conventions, college graduations, and vacations increase demand. During foliage season, the busiest and priciest time of year -- even more expensive than the summer -- plan early. If you don't, you risk staying far from Boston, paying dearly, or both.
Thanks to the mix of new construction and repurposed buildings, strict zoning laws and building codes, and varying market conditions at the time of construction, Boston hotels offer wildly varying room sizes and amenities. Don't assume that a certain hotel, even one that's part of your favorite chain, has every option you expect. If you must swim a mile every day, order food at 4am, or hold a meeting in a room with a T1 line, always check to see whether your hotel can accommodate you. If it can't, a comparable property almost certainly can.
Major chains operating in and around Boston include leisure-oriented Best Western, Holiday Inn, Radisson, and Ramada; business-traveler magnets Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott (in all its incarnations), Sheraton, and Westin; boutique-hotel trendsetters Kimpton, Morgans, and W; and luxury operators Doyle Collection, Fairmont, Four Seasons, InterContinental, Le Méridien, Mandarin Oriental, Ritz-Carlton, and Sonesta. The scarcest lodging option in the immediate Boston area is the moderately priced chain motel, a category almost completely driven out by soaring real estate prices. And especially at busy times, brands that are bargains elsewhere may be pricey here -- twice what you're used to paying, if not more.
Rates in this chapter are for a double room (except where noted); if you're traveling alone, single rates are almost always lower. The rates given here do not include the 5.7% state hotel tax. Boston and Cambridge add a 2.75% convention center tax on top of the 6% city tax, making the total tax 14.45%. Not all suburbs impose a local tax, so some towns charge only the state tax. These listings cover Boston, Cambridge, and Brookline.
Bed & Breakfasts
A bed-and-breakfast can be a good alternative to a chain hotel. B&Bs are usually less expensive than hotels and often more comfortable. Most are near public transportation. Because most B&Bs are small, they fill quickly. An agency can save you a lot of calling around and can match you with a lodging that accommodates your likes and dislikes, allergies, dietary restrictions, tolerance for noise and morning chitchat, and anything else you consider important. Reserve as soon as you start planning, especially for a visit during fall foliage season.
Expect to pay at least $85 a night for a double in the summer and fall, and more during special events. The room rate usually includes breakfast and often includes parking, but be sure to ask. Many lodgings require a minimum stay of at least 2 nights, and most offer good winter specials (discounts or 1-night-free deals).
The following organizations can help you find your ideal B&B in Boston, Cambridge, or the greater Boston area:
- B&B Agency of Boston (tel. 800/248-9262 or 617/720-3540, 0800/89-5128 from the U.K.)
- Bed and Breakfast Associates Bay Colony, P.O. Box 57166, Babson Park Branch, Boston, MA 02457 (tel. 888/486-6018 or 617/720-0522)
- Bed & Breakfast Reservations North Shore/Greater Boston/Cape Cod (tel. 617/964-1606 or 978/281-9505)
- Host Homes of Boston (tel. 800/600-1308 outside MA or 617/244-1308)
- Inn Boston Reservations (tel. 617/236-2227)
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.