Planning Guide

Things Your Bed-and-Breakfast Won't Tell You

1.    "Don't Be Surprised if It Seems Like We Don't Know What We're Doing"

SeafoodPlenty of people consider running a bed-and breakfast a dream job and more and more people do start such businesses. The Professional Association of Innkeepers International ( PAII) reports that today the number of the licensed B&Bs in the United States is 20,000 whereas in 1980 there were only 1,000. According to PAII estimates people spent approximately 21 million nights at bed-and breakfasts. With such big supply of B&Bs available for customers, many innkeepers are just struggling to survive and often have to decrease their expenses to stay in business. All this has a direct impact on the quality of services provided by B&Bs, threatening to turn your coveted vacation into a weekend of hassles.

Before booking accommodation in a B&B consider checking whether it is a member of its state or regional association. It is a good litmus test as all members of bed-and-breakfasts operate within state laws, meet all licensing requirements and carry commercial liability insurance. Moreover, most B&Bs are regularly inspected for safety, cleanliness and hospitality. Check PAII's website www. paii.org where you can find links for state and other associations.

Some good small B&Bs may prefer not to join PAII to avoid paying costly fees. In this case check whether the inn is a member of the local convention and visitor's bureau or local chamber of commerce.

2.    Our Reviews Are Bogus'

One of the most popular ways of choosing a B&B is checking travel directories for rates and property descriptions. The biggest of them are BedandBreakfast.com or BBOnline.com which offer an opportunity to screen all B&Bs against some criteria, for example fireplace or central location. In fact there are more than 200 online travel directories that provide such information as rates, pictures of the property and short description. Unfortunately you won't be able to find independent reviews there as most property descriptions are provided by innkeepers who usually pay to be listed in the given directory. To find true third-party reviews visit www.tripadvisor.com where you can find reviews of thousands of B&Bs worldwide provided online by the former visitors. You can also find 325 bed-and-breakfast guest reviews at www.we8there.com.

If you failed to find any guest written review, read the information provided at the site of the B&B you selected. Make sure you pay attention to the size of the property. If the building is very small, with just one or two guestrooms you will feel as if you are in someone's home. Another thing to consider is how much time the inn has been in business. If this B&B has been operating for more than 10 years it is going to a good place to stay.

3.    "Sure, You Can Find a Last-Minute Deal"

Usually the most popular inns are booked up more than six months in advance. But not all bed-and-breakfasts may be as full as you think. With the increased popularity of last-minute travel many do offer as much as 40% off the week's stay to spur-of-the-moment guests. 

The best sources of such deals are BedandBreakfast.com that lists hot deals every Wednesday and BBOnline.com that shows properties with current last-minute discounts by state. Sometimes you can come across the price which is too good to pass, like $150 instead of $250 for a suite with a hot tub in Newport.

But if you can't find your property in any list or it is full for the selected weekend don't give up as some clients may cancel their reservations and then some B&Bs will call people on a waiting list to fill rooms.

4.    "Our First Price is Our Worst Price"

Even though bed-and-breakfast market remained stagnant for the past few years, rates did increase. In spite of the fact that the industry has been showing minimal gains since 2003 the discounts are still widespread and not only for the last-minute deals. Many properties do offer discounts for off-season and mid-week reservations and weekday corporate rates can be offered with 15 % discount for guests traveling on business.

In addition many B&Bs may offer their frequent guests special packages with free nights, discounts and other perks. For example, one inn may offer one free on-site dinner for every three nights you stay or another inn may give a free night to some return customers.

5.    "Three Stars, Four Stars – Who's Counting?'

Unlike hotels B&Bs don't have brands, that is why travelers rely mostly on independent rating systems available in guidelines and brochures. The most prestigious ones are handed out by Mobil (stars), AAA (diamonds) and Select Registry, an innkeepers association that gives stamps of approval. The properties are thoroughly inspected by these three groups which then share the results, evaluating everything, from exterior to linens.

Unfortunately not all bed-and-breakfasts manage to keep up to the level specified by one of these groups. If a particular B&B stopped offering some service it might make a difference in its rating. So make sure you check the year the B&B's rating was awarded and inquire what has changed since then.

In addition, some B&Bs simply award themselves a rating. Such was the case with Julia's Bed and Breakfast in Hubbard, Ohio which claimed to be offering the "ultimate four-star experience" while still having a pending application with AAA. Julia's did get four stars from AAA later that year, but unfortunately not all B&Bs can boast that.

6.    "Thank Goodness for Photoshop"

Sometimes there could be some discrepancies between what you see on the B&B's websites and how the property looks like in reality. To avoid misunderstanding it's better to ask the innkeeper about the property and its surroundings before booking.

7.    "We Are More Flexible Than You Think"

Occasionally accommodation provided by the B&B may appear not as comfortable as you would expect. Many inn guests think that as the property is rather small they have to put up with what they get. No! It is really important to specify what your needs are when you book. To avoid sleepless night in an uncomfortable bed test the mattress before you unpack and if you don't feel comfortable call the manager as soon as possible. In most cases your request will be satisfied although you may be charged more money for more comfortable accommodation.

Some travelers don't like to stay in a bed-and breakfast just because they don't feel like socializing with strangers in the morning. You may avoid this tradition if you ask the innkeeper to deliver a hot breakfast to your room or leave a basket of cold continental-style goods by your door. Many inns will satisfy those requests, including the dietary requests. Just ask the innkeeper about that when booking and he will likely let you have an omelet instead of their traditional pumpkin-pie pancakes.

8.    "We've Sold Out to Business Travelers"

To increase the customer base and stay competitive in lodging industry, many B&Bs focus on servicing the niche groups offering discounts and special packages to seniors and families along with providing meeting rooms and breakfasts-to-go for corporate visitors. Still many people prefer to stay in an inn to avoid hustle and bustle of work life atmosphere. If that is your case, search for properties where cell phones are prohibited to use in common areas or groups of travelers are kept separated from other guests.

On the other hand, if you are traveling on business, make sure the inn can provide everything to satisfy all your needs, including high-speed Internet access if you need it.

9.    "When It Comes to Cancellations We're Softies at Heart"

These days the industry is more stringent about cancellation policies than it used to be several decades ago. It can be explained by the fact that because of the small number of rooms available in a typical bed-and-breakfast (usually about 7 rooms per property) they rarely overbook and rely on every guest to show up. The policies may be different but most B&Bs do take cancellations seriously. Some will charge you some nominal fee if you failed to cancel two or three weeks before the arrival, others will bill you the entire amount if you don't let them know at least 72 hours in advance.

But if some emergency ruins your plans to have a trip don't feel upset as many innkeepers won't charge their guests if the room can be filled. So it would be wise to check for a waiting list when you book.

10.    "If You Are not Happy You Can Get Your Money Back"

Unfortunately not all innkeepers are willing to negotiate refunds or discounts when the customers complain about poor service or bad experience. If you appeared in such unpleasant situation, try to make a claim through your credit card company. All you need is to document your case and back up your detailed notes with pictures of the offending items. You will also have more chances to win the claim if some of the promised goods or services were not provided. And try to pack and leave the inn as soon as possible after you realized that your inn is a bad one.