by Angela Perez
I recently returned from a month-long road trip from Raleigh, NC to the Southwest – just me and my blind, elderly, diabetic dog, Tater. My best pal has to get two insulin shots a day and his condition means he wears out fairly quickly on hiking trails. Tater needs solid sack time and that means we don’t drive straight through the night – we gotta stop for a comfy bed and a chance for me to explore the local culinary scene if there is time. Despite Tater’s condition, we still get around and have grand adventures across the U.S., just slightly modified to accommodate his medical issues and my out-of-shape, aging, pandemic body.
On this recent four-week mega road trip spanning West Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, I learned all sorts of valuable lessons for road-tripping with a dog and I would like to share some of those hard-won insights with you. (In an upcoming blog post I will share with you some of my favorite off-the-beaten-path sights and restaurants you should check out.)
One of my most delightful discoveries was the hotel chain Best Western (BW) Hotels and Resorts. In my many decades on this planet (I won’t specify how many), I don’t think I’ve ever stayed at a BW property. I will confess, I am a hotel points junkie and that means I often choose Marriott and Hilton hotels so I can rack up points for free stays and upgrades. (Alas, I miss out on some gorgeous properties by sticking to certain hotel chains and do plan to start branching out more.) Despite my brand loyalty, there are several reasons why this recent road trip turned me into a major Best Western fan.
Before I go into those reasons, let me tell you about BW for those who are only vaguely familiar with the brand. The international chain has about 2,000 hotels in North America and I am telling you, these hotels are everywhere west of the Mississippi. If you are driving through desolate, remote areas, there is inevitably a BW at the next one-horse town you ride into. For me, that’s convenient because I never know when I am going to hit the wall while driving and decide, “That’s IT! I cain’t drive one more mile. I gotta get out of this dang car!”
The most well-known properties in the chain include Best Western, Best Western Plus, and Best Western Premium. The chain also boasts several other hotel categories, a luxury boutique brand, WorldHotels, the trendy boutique Aiden, GLō , and Vīb properties, and the budget, extended-stay Sure Stay properties.
So, now, why BW for Angela and Tater when we’re on the road?
I love hotels. I love everything about these temporary lodging spaces designed to make you feel at home and cater to the needs and desires of the masses while still making you feel you are receiving individual care and attention (I would call this phenomenon “commercialized hospitality”). An incredible amount of work, thought, and time goes into giving you a good night’s sleep. I don’t mind spending any amount of money for a room that meets my current needs, wants, and desires. I often stay at Marriott’s luxury brands, the Ritz Carlton, St. Regis, and EDITION hotels. But when on extended road trips with Tater that require packing in and out daily, I typically choose Marriott’s extended-stay brands, TownePlace Suites and Residence Inns. The pet-friendly rooms at these hotels are usually on the first floor and an easy in-and out of a side entrance, where I can park my car close by and get Tater out quickly for potty breaks. My boy is older and when he’s got to go, he’s got to go. Best to not do any dilly dallying.
On the first night of my road trip, I decided to stay at the Best Western Tunnel Road in Asheville, NC. After that stay, I was hooked. Here’s why:
1. That first BW in Asheville boasted a feature that I previously never considered important but now deem crucial when traveling with a dog: exterior-corridor doors. Exterior corridor simply means that the door opens to the outside – not to an interior hallway. That means that when your dog starts whining at 3:00 a.m. that he needs to go out to pee, you don’t have to put on a bra, fix your hair, and worry that you won’t make it outside before he lets loose. You simply slip on your shoes and a sweatshirt, open the door, and head towards the nearest dedicated pet “restroom” space. And, if your elderly dog doesn’t quite make it to the designated spot, at least you are outside, where dog urine and poop belong.
[Note: What I like about the Asheville BW is that it is not near the hectic, congested downtown area where you’ll be fighting for parking spaces. It is just off the highway and it is just a couple of blocks from a great, dimly lit French bistro, Rendezvous, which has a nice big parking lot and easy parking. You will find in my writings and travels that I cannot and will not deal with street parking, parallel parking, or parking decks and don’t like to have to deal with valet parking. I find it all very inconvenient, especially when I have Tater with me. I am now at the age where I detest cramped, hectic, congested spaces.
2. Part of the convenience of rooms that have exterior-corridor doors is that you can park in front of your room. This set-up is a dream for a road-weary traveler with a pet in tow. You can bring in luggage at your leisure. If you check in late at night and can barely keep your eyes open, you can park, walk four or five steps, flop your tired selves down on the bed, and take quick naps before you lug in your bag of medications, pet food, and pants that haven’t been washed in over a week. Well, you will lug it in. Your dog will continue to snore soundly on the bed OR wake up refreshed and ready for you to take him on a one-mile hike.
Trust me, when you are road-tripping, the convenience of parking in front of your hotel room door is exactly what you need. For example, there was one day when I was driving through the endless featureless high plains of northeastern New Mexico (this area is so desolate that even the Native Americans who lived in the area for centuries didn’t venture too far into it) that the winds were blowing across the plains at 40 miles an hour all day. In North Carolina, we call that tropical wind speed and everyone hunkers down inside with a week’s worth of milk, bread, and hoards of toilet paper on hand. In New Mexico, the entire months of March and April feature gale-force winds and New Mexicans cruise around in it like it’s just a light breeze. I found driving in these winds utterly terrifying.
Tumbleweeds the size of Buicks were pummeling my car all the way down the highway and I kept trying to dodge them, an impossible task. I felt like the poor, little doomed frog in the video game Frogger trying to get across the highway. Mentally and physically exhausted, I finally pulled in at the Best Western in Santa Rosa, New Mexico (it’s on the famous Route 66). There was an easy and quick check in and my room with the outside facing door was part of a block of pet-friendly rooms, all located just a few steps from a sprawling, well-appointed pet potty station. The set up was perfect and I could get all of the pain-in-the-behind business of packing Tater n’ me in and out over and done with at my leisure, delighting in the convenience of it all. PERFECTION!
One more thing I love about the Santa Rosa property – they have placed nice-looking trash cans all along the outside corridors. These are so convenient for people who are stopping after long road trips and who want to clean out their car before they get back on the road. I am telling you, hospitality groups, these small things matter!
[Note: As a food writer, I don’t say this lightly. There is a family-run Mexican restaurant there that has the best homemade chips and salsa I have ever had in a restaurant – Chico’s Tortas y Piñas Lokas. It comes free when you sit down and the salsa is super spicy. And you don’t get a choice for mild – you gotta take the heat. Think about what I am saying – how many zillions of chips and gallons of mediocre salsa have we all consumed? I would drive hours to Santa Rosa for this. This is major. The young lady waiting tables told me her mom makes it. Mom and auntie cook in the back while the nieces, nephews, and cousins work the front of the house.]
3. The BW hotels had the lowest pet fees of any of the mid-range hotels I stayed in on my travels. (Though, there is a luxury golf resort in Tucson that had super-low pet fees AND outward facing doors, a true rarity – more on that in another blog.) These pet fees generally range from $20 – $30 a night for the entire stay, or, for some of the higher-end BWs, $20 – $35 per night. As people who travel with pets know, hotels that are mid-range and up now charge pet fees, often $100 – $150. And although these high fees are usually for the entire stay, that fee is a bitter pill to swallow when the entire stay consists of one night, a night which is just a quick stop on the way to somewhere else.
I will say that as someone who travels frequently with my dog, I understand and agree that hotels charge pet fees. Pets do have accidents in the rooms and can cause all sorts of damage. Everyone who has stayed in a carpeted pet-friendly room knows that they often smell faintly of wet dog fur and pee and that this smell is impossible to get out after hundreds of dogs urinate and excrete their scent in the same room day in and day out.
I get super irritated when I see people arguing with front desk folks about a pet fee. Some even try to sneak in their pet so they can avoid the fee. To these people, I say: STAY AT HOME if you don’t want to pay for your pet to stay. Your dog is a guest and a smelly guest at that. You gotta pay the piper.
4. Most of the pet-friendly BWs I stayed in have caught on that having carpet in pet-friendly rooms is not a great idea. Dogs are way too tempted to pee in the same spot other dogs have peed on. It’s in their nature to mark their territory. Non-carpeted floors make for easy clean up – for both the housekeeping crew and for pet owners themselves. I had a conversation with the friendly and charismatic GM at the Best Western Plus Sun Canyon in Sierra Vista, AZ (I really like this little hotel) about hotel best practices for being “pet-friendly.” (Yes, I am a hotel business nerd – I jump at the chance to talk with GMs about their hotel operations. As I said, I am fascinated with hotels.)
She said she attends hotel management conferences that include break outs about the latest and greatest ideas in making hotels pet-friendly in a way that means less down time cleaning these rooms. Well-thought out pet-friendly features are a win-win for both the guest and the hotel, which exists to generate revenue. And, to all hospitality groups, I will tell you – on this road trip I saw that the majority of travelers had their dog(s) with them. Folks ain’t leaving home without their furry friends if they don’t have to. Hotels have to catch up with the demand for pet-friendly amenities and conveniences.
Best Western has stayed on top of this trend and what’s important to folks traveling with pets. That said, I also stayed in several carpeted rooms and those BWs did an amazing job neutralizing the pet odors (two hotels that come to mind are the BW Mission Inn in Las Cruces, NM (one of my favorite BWs) and the Saddleback Inn in Oklahoma City (the area is a bit sketchy but the hotel is safe and the rooms are great and the staff is super friendly. And it has outside-facing doors!
5. Most BWs offer budget-friendly nightly rates. Although BWs offer great amenities and the rooms are usually clean, comfortable, and well appointed, nightly rates can be from one quarter to half the cost of mid-range hotels. I would put it like this – BW offers mid-range accommodation for budget prices. And for a road trip where I am already paying pet fees every night for Tater, that suits me just fine. Most people associate hotels with outside-facing doors with low-budget lodging. And, it’s true, many of the sketchier low-budget hotels have this kind of lay out. But all of the BWs I stayed in were in safe, convenient areas and felt like mid-range hotels like La Quinta Inn, Hampton Inn, or Residence Inn. When you are on a road trip packing in and out with an elderly pet who needs to go potty at all hours of the night, this quick and easy access to the outside world is pure heaven and gloriously convenient and all for a budget price.
In addition to the pet-friendly features I mentioned above, there are a few other aspects to BW I love:
1. Points junkies will appreciate this: BW will match your point status with other hotel chains. They call this perk “Status Match.” For example, if you are a Gold Elite member with Marriott, all you have to do is send proof of this to BW and the chain will automatically upgrade you to that status. During this trip, I made it to BW’s highest tier, Diamond Elite. This tier lets you quickly add up points to score free nights.
2. If you take the time to fill out the online survey BW sends you after a completed hotel stay, they reward you with 250 points. Yep, they reward you for your time and thoughtfulness. There are very few corporate surveys I have filled out that actually offer you something for your time. Which is why I never fill them out. This is smart marketing on BW’s part.
3. They actually have a decent complimentary breakfast. Although I typically get tired of these breakfasts after a long road trip and skip them (and I cannot stand crowds of people crammed into a tiny room at 7 a.m. in front of one slow-moving waffle station – it’s the fifth level of hell). I do love grabbing some fruit, granola bars, and coffee for the road. And, to this Southerner’s utter delight, on the way back to NC, the BW Plus in Oklahoma City had GRITS ON THE BUFFET. I do love the Southwest, but goodness knows, I did miss my grits. I even tried to find grits at the Denny’s out there but all they had to offer was oatmeal, which ain’t even in the same ballpark. But, I digress. Well, I always am happy to digress when it comes to grits.
A couple of things I don’t love about BW have to do with the mobile app. Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate being able to easily book a BW room from my phone but there are a couple of quirks:
1. The app logs me out every single time I use it which can be a pain in the behind. Some of the other hotel chain apps keep me logged in day in and day out. I know, I know, logging you out is better security, but, I will admit, it’s a small but annoying thing. The app has a box to check to keep you logged in but it has never, ever worked for me.
2. The map feature never seems to work on the mobile app. When I am trying to decide on which hotel is closest to my road trip path in unfamiliar territory, I appreciate hotel apps that offer the map feature – showing where exactly the hotel is and whether or not it is close to my travel path, offering quick off-ramp access or a requiring a 30-minute drive out of my way. Although the BW app offers a map view, the view never seems to work, it only opens on the hotel listings. The BW map view does, however, work in a laptop or PC.
One of my favorite hotel app features is actually from Marriott. They have a feature that lets you plug in your trip path and it shows the Marriotts that are along that path. I adore that feature when planning a road trip and it has sometimes led to me booking Marriott hotels instead of other hotels simply because I can quickly figure out a place to stay that allows pets (it has a filter for pet-friendly hotels). Though, for this road trip, I ignored the BW map view quirk and stayed almost exclusively at BW properties (except for a few lingering stays at luxury resorts).
So, to sum it up, Tater n’ me are big fans of staying at pet-friendly BWs with outside-facing doors. They are incredibly convenient for travel-weary road trippers. And all of these hotels have different character and personalities – no two are the same, unlike some of the cookie-cutter low- to mid-range brands. These quirky BW hotels harken back to the golden era of road trips in the 50s – mid 80s, the Route 66 era with hotel facades that feel like you are stepping back in time UNIRONICALLY but with all of the amenities today’s travelers need. And sometimes, these hotels might not look like much on the outside, but the rooms are fantastic. And they always have a fridge (which I gotta have to keep Tater’s insulin cold) and a microwave, high-speed internet, and spacious layouts.
Tater says, do yourself and your dog a favor – stay at Best Western hotels with outside-facing doors for your next road trip. These BW hotels are TATER APPROVED, baby! I am in the process of writing a complete accounting of our trip to the Southwest with all of the cool things you should see and eat. Stay tuned!
P.S. I have become such a fan of hotels with outside-facing doors that I will start documenting everywhere I find them. I only hope that there are more luxury hotels and resorts that offer this wonderful feature. I did mention the one in Tucson (which, by the way, is one of the most beautiful, interesting cities I have ever been to in the whole world. And I have traveled all over the planet. You’ll have to stay tuned if you want to know what hotel that was.)