Best hotel chains for business travelers

— -- Paul Tamburelli stayed 125 nights this year at Marriott hotels and says the chain is the only one that consistently meets and exceeds his needs.

"When a reservation is booked, I never have to worry about my room being there for me," says Tamburelli, a vice president in the commercial vehicle transportation industry.

Tamburelli of Peoria, Ariz., says he wearily checked in at 2 a.m. at the Kansas City Airport Marriott a few years ago after traveling 14 hours during a blizzard.

"It was one of those days from hell," he recalls. "I had not eaten all day, and everything was closed. The night manager found me a sandwich and something cold to drink. Now, that is service."

It's clear why Tamburelli says Marriott is the best hotel chain. Other frequent business travelers give reasons — ranging from friendly staff to cleanliness, frequent-traveler programs and price — for preferring others. They might all want to take a peek at Business Travel News' 2011 U.S. Hotel Chain Survey to see how their favorites stack up in the eyes of the managers who book travel for many businesses.

The trade publication received 519 survey responses from corporate travel department officials who rated hotel chains in up to 13 categories on a one-to-five scale.

Among other criteria, the chains were rated on the appearance of their hotels, the quality of room amenities and business amenities in the rooms, the quality of business centers and their overall price and value.

The winners?

Four Seasons for deluxe hotels, JW Marriott for upper-upscale hotels, Crowne Plaza for upscale hotels, Holiday Inn for midprice hotels, Four Points by Sheraton for select service hotels, Staybridge Suites for upscale extended-stay hotels and TownePlace Suites for midprice extended-stay hotels.

Four Seasons' score of 4.33 was higher than any other hotel chain's. The score enabled Four Seasons to knock The Ritz-Carlton — which finished first among deluxe hotels last year — out of the top spot.

No longer a two-horse race

The Ritz-Carlton slipped to third with a 4.30 score behind the Mandarin Oriental's 4.31. It was the first time in more than a decade of Business Travel News surveys that The Ritz-Carlton had not finished first or second.

"Luxury for a long time was a two-horse race between Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton, but not anymore," says Michael Baker, Business Travel News' senior editor for lodging.

"Mandarin Oriental outscored Ritz-Carlton this year," he says, "and St. Regis and Fairmont were not far behind."

Despite its slide from the top, The Ritz-Carlton scored highest in four categories: facilities for resort meetings, arranging individual travel, the physical appearance of its hotels, and helpful and courteous staff.

JW Marriott's 4.21 nudged out No. 2 InterContinental's 4.19 among upper-upscale hotels.

It was a return to form for JW Marriott, which ranked No. 1 from 2007 through 2009 but fell to No. 2 in last year's survey.

JW Marriott received the highest score from corporate travel buyers in six categories: facilities for resort meetings, facilities for non-resort meetings, commission payment systems, physical appearance of hotels, quality of in-room amenities and helpful/courteous staff.

Rewards programs help

Frequent business traveler Gene Placzkowski of Racine, Wis., can appreciate JW Marriott's top ranking. His favorite hotel is the JW Marriott in Bangkok.

"The staff always smiles, greets me by name and knows my preferences," says Placzkowski, a quality manager in the consumer products industry. "Even though my wife is there only one time every year, they also know her name."

Like many frequent business travelers, Placzkowski admits that he wouldn't be loyal to a particular chain without its frequent-guest program.

"I spend 30% to 40% of my time on the road," Placzkowski says. "The rewards I get from a frequent-guest program allow me to take my wife on vacations that we normally would not be able to afford."

Frequent business traveler Brian McCarty agrees that he wouldn't stay as frequently at the hotels of his favorite chain — InterContinental — without its frequent-guest program. The program reduces travel costs with free-stay awards and offers room upgrades, he says.

McCarty, a sound recording engineer in Cairns, Australia, says his favorite hotel brand is Holiday Inn Express— one of eight InterContinental brands.

"The cleanliness and standards imposed by InterContinental on the various brands look to be rigorously enforced, and any issues are rectified professionally and promptly," says McCarty, who has stayed 31 nights at the chain's hotels this year. "Pricing is generally fair, as well."

It's pricing — not a frequent-guest program — that matters most to Richard Floegel, a frequent business traveler from San Diego who works in the computer industry.

"Pricing is the consistent consideration for my business travel — not chain loyalty," he says.

Floegel spent more than 70 nights this year at the hotels of his favorite chain, Radisson.

They offer "attractive business rates," worldwide locations and "consistent quality and consistent range of service," he says.

Improvements make a difference

In the Business Travel News survey, Radisson scored 3.70 — the lowest score of five upscale chains — but the score was "significantly" higher than last year's 3.60, Baker says.

Crowne Plaza ranked No. 1 in the category with 3.99.

Though capital spending by hotels declined during the recession, InterContinental Hotels Group "put about a half-billion dollars into renovating Crowne Plaza properties and a billion in relaunching Holiday Inn," Baker says.

Holiday Inn's 3.86 score was the highest among midprice hotels, and Four Points by Sheraton's 3.94 score was the best among select service hotels.

"Similarly, Starwood put a lot of money into Four Points by Sheraton, and it earned a top rating for the first time in our survey in almost a decade," he says.