There are more than 10,000 hotel rooms in Philadelphia, and more than 30,000 in the surrounding region. Overnight options range from extra-modern to scrupulously traditional, splurge-worthy to bargain priced. When you're choosing among them, you'll care about price and style, but you'll also want to consider neighborhood. Do you want to be a short walk from the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Independence Hall, Rittenhouse Square? Need to be near the airport? On a backpacker's budget?
Very Expensive $300 and up
Inexpensive Under $100
What You'll Really Pay -- The prices quoted in this guide are for hotels' rack rate, the maximum that it charges; it is, however, possible not to end up paying that rate. You can typically find discounts of up to 20% for rooms when booking through agencies or through websites such as hotels.com or expedia.com. Time to time, it's not impossible to obtain a room at an expensive property for the same rate as a more moderate one. Rack rates at the Ritz-Carlton Philadelphia start at $359, but just a cursory search of the usual Web discount sites revealed rates as low as $259.
If you're the gambling type, you can bid for a room on Priceline. In November, a room at Le Méridien (rack rates start at $158) was snagged on Priceline for $125.
Note: Quoted discount rates almost never include breakfast, hotel tax, or parking fees.
The Big Picture
If you're familiar with American hotel chains, you'll recognize the majority of your overnight choices in the Greater Philadelphia region. The range includes both high-end (Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton) and lower-priced (Comfort Inn, Best Western) accommodations, with the majority in the moderate ($100-$200 per night) range. Although most rooms are generously sized -- more than 200 square feet -- some more historic properties, such as the Loews Philadelphia and the Latham, have smaller rooms, along the lines of what you might find in New York City. Unlike many of the trendier spots in Manhattan, Philly's lodgings tend to be more traditional in decor. (We're still waiting for Ian Schrager to discover us.) One way hotels have been modernizing is their addition of Wi-Fi, which has become less and less expensive, if not free, for hotel guests.
Philadelphia's last hotel boom came just before the millennium. The expansion of the Pennsylvania Convention Center promises more Center City hotels will open in the early 2010s: Rumor has it that Kimpton, which already has the Palomar at 17th and Sansom streets, will open a Hotel Monaco at 5th and Chestnut streets in 2012; University City expects two more hotels; Sugarhouse Casino plans to let gamblers spend the night (in beds) somewhere down the line. Still, the ongoing recession may have other plans.
Getting the Best Deal
Flexibility may not be the hallmark of corporate operations, but even the most mega of hotel brands ease pricing during the heft of summer (typically, late July to Aug) and the dead of winter (Jan-Mar). Still, big conventions and big events such as March's Flower Show or Independence Day (July 4) can be game changers, so look far ahead for potential cogs in your travel-budgetary wheels.
The best bets seem to reside online. I like www.tripadvisor.com for a comprehensive pricing picture, and one-click access to discount travel sites such as Expedia.com, Orbitz.com, Travelocity.com, Hotels.com, and Priceline.com, which lets you "name your price," for a hotel of their choosing.
There's no local clearinghouse for hotels, but the Independence Visitor Center, 1 N. Independence Mall W., Philadelphia, PA 19106 (tel. 800/537-7676; www.independencevisitorcenter.com) can point you toward a hotel you might like, answer other accommodations-related questions, and can book you a room or two.
The local clearinghouse for bed-and-breakfasts is Bed & Breakfast of Philadelphia, Box 21, Devon, PA 19333 (tel. 800/448-3619 or 610/644-8790; www.bnbphiladelphia.com). This reservation service represents more than 80 regularly inspected inns in Philadelphia, Valley Forge, the Brandywine Valley, and Lancaster, Montgomery, and Bucks counties. They book reservations Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm, and accept American Express, Visa, and MasterCard. Be sure to ask if the property you are interested in accepts children.
Another website that lists a few dozen top B&Bs in Philadelphia and surrounding historic towns such as Chadds Ford and Doylestown is Bed and Breakfast Online (www.bbonline.com). Rates range from about $85 for a room to about $300 for a luxury cottage.
Philadelphia has two reliable hostels, one in Old City and another in Fairmount Park. To stay at either, I recommend paying the $28 annual membership (free to those 17 and under; $18 for seniors 55 and over) to Hostelling International USA, 8401 Colesville Rd., Ste. 600, Silver Spring, MD 20910 (tel. 301/495-1240; www.hiusa.org), in order to score discounted rates.
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.