Boutique hotels should be more expensive, but can you get a unique hotel experience without busting your vacation budget?

I miss my travel agent. When I lived in Japan, Kana quickly became one of my favorite people; finding these phenomenal off-the-beaten-path hotels wherever I wanted to go. I never recognized any of the hotel booking names she reserved, but every stay was spectacular.

Once I got back stateside and was left to my own devices, I became a bit of a Bed & Breakfast fanatic to still get that one-of-a-kind experience. To me, even a great chain hotel leaves something to be desired, because even at its best it’s nothing special. If I can have the same experience in Athens that I have in Tokyo or San Francisco, why in the world am I traveling in the first place?

That’s why I’m in love TripAdvisor’s Hot New Hotels survey. It’s like a bucket list of great places to stay — domestic and international. Now the only challenge left is figuring out how to balance the best hotel stay with potentially higher cost. But is this really as tough as it sounds?

Price comparison: boutiques versus chains

So how much extra does it cost to have a unique hotel experience versus a standard stay at a hotel chain? Let’s take a little trip to NYC…

According to TripAdvisor’s list, there are two great new hotels in the city — the Refinery Hotel (No. 2 on their domestic list) and The Jade Hotel (No. 10). If I wanted to book a trip for a week’s vacation around mid-January to avoid the higher prices for New Year’s (January 17-24); these are the best prices I can get according to TripAdvisor:

Compare that with several chains for the same dates:

  • Courtyard Marriott,  Manhattan — $197
  • Fairfield Inn Marriott, Manhattan — $237
  • Wyndham, Midtown — $279
  • Hilton Homewood, Uptown — $179
  • Comfort Inn, Manhattan — $100
  • Holiday Inn Express, Times Square — $237
  • Holiday Inn Express, Manhattan — $205

Granted, these are spread out over different areas, but all of them are in Manhattan. In fact, a quick Google map search of the closest Marriott to the Refinery; is the Marriott Marquis and rooms there are $421 and up for that week of January.

Booking that makes the best of your vacation budget

So depending how “bargain” you want your bargain hotel chain experience to be, you can definitely get better prices compared to the two boutiques. But as you can see from the numbers, not every chain is more reasonably priced. You’re almost certain to have a more unique and memorable (in a good way hopefully) stay at the boutique hotels.

This shows just how useful a few hours of research with your favorite hotel price comparison site can be for hotel booking. Using the multitude of pictures, ratings, guest reviews and more that you can find online, there’s no reason you have to be satisfied with a standard cookie-cutter hotel experience.

Boutqiue hotel booking is possible on a budget

So are all booking sites the same or is it worth your time to shop around online? Here’s what happens when you look for the same seven-day January vacation at The Jade Hotel …

  • TripAdvisor has its best price at $206 through
  • Kayak has its best price at $206 through or
  • lists the average nightly rate at $340
  • Expedia didn’t even give me an option to search by hotel name at first and then once I finally found the feature it says this hotel isn’t available through their site.

If I booked through without checking anything else, then I’d end up paying an extra $938 for the 1-week hotel stay. That’s a lot of entertainment and eating I could do over 7 days if I saved that money out of my vacation budget.

That’s why it pays to spend the hour or so it takes to shop all of these online sites for the hotel you want. To make things easy, start with your favorite travel site and use it to find the hotel you want, then once you have the hotel of your dreams selected, plug in the hotel name on other the travel sites to make sure you’re getting the best deal. It’s not search one and done but it is doing your search right.

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Meghan Stewart

Meghan Stewart


Stewart is certified debt management professional and guest writer on

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Article last modified on March 7, 2018. Published by, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: Stay in style — hotel booking that doesn’t break the bank - AMP.