Bed and Breakfasts Offer Free Rooms to Say 'Thank You' to Military

PHOTO: Veterans and their loved ones at the Azalea Inn & Gardens in Savannah, GA. Pictured center is the innkeeper, Theresa Scott Jacobson.

Hundreds of bed and breakfasts around the country will offer free rooms and discounts to active and retired military personnel for Veterans Day and beyond this year. It was an idea that started with one three-room inn in West Virginia and has grown exponentially.

Kathleen Panek, the owner and host of the Gillum House Bed & Breakfast in Shinnston, West Va., said she thought the military needed a thank you and made her whole inn available to book for free. The next year, she invited nine other inns in West Virginia to join her.

Then, she said, "I started sending out emails to [inn] state associations asking if they wanted to join us. All they had to do was offer one free room for one night, that wasn't going to break anybody. I only have three rooms. I know what it is to be small."

The first association to accept the offer was in Cody, Wyo. And then it just grew and grew, as did the work to maintain it.

"It buried me alive," she said. "I never expected anything like that."

Panek has since passed the duties off, but still participates in the offer. Now, active and retired military can find out about the deals at web sites like BnBsforVets.org and BnBfinder.com/military.

The BnBsforVets site has 244 participating inns, many of which are already selling out of their free night offer. But even if an inn is sold out for this year, this isn't an offer likely to go away, said Panek. Inquire now about booking the offer for next year.

There are nearly 100 offers on BnBfinder, ranging from a 10 percent discount to free nights. But Mary White, CEO and founder of BnBFinder, said there are even more offers than what's on the web site. "Sometimes," she laughed, "the innkeepers don't get around to loading all their deals."

She encouraged veterans to call the site's toll-free number to get personal help with finding an offer to suit them. (888 547 8226)

White said many inns offer specials for veterans all year-round. The innkeepers do it, she said, because "they appreciate so much what the military does for our country." She added that because innkeepers are so involved in their respective communities, they negotiate to extend the offer beyond the inn and into spas or restaurants in their towns.

"Innkeepers are known for their hospitality," she said. "Think about how hospitable they are to the average person and then ratchet it up 10 notches, that's how they treat their military guests."

Sara Moriarty's husband, Eric, was in the Army National Guard and stationed overseas twice. They heard about the promotion through a friend andd stayed at the Gillum House last year. "It was our first time at a B&B," she said. "It felt like being at a relative's house that you haven't seen in a long time."

"All military people should know about the promotion. It's a very cool experience," she added.

Panek said her thanks goes also to the spouse or partner of the person who has been deployed. "They have to take care of everything while their loved one is deployed do they [the deployed] can be at ease." "They are the unsung heroes."

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