I’ve had lots of experience visiting expensive cities. London, Paris, and New York come to mind. These days I whip out my loyalty card and redeem a few thousand points when the prices are too high to bear. But back in my younger days, before points or status, I had to find other ways to save money. Just like a suburban commuter, I often chose to stay a few miles away in a less popular neighborhood.
This can certainly go wrong if you’re not careful. On my first visit to Paris right after college, I stayed at a dirt cheap hotel far on the outskirts of the city near Port de Charenton. It doesn’t look that far away on Google Maps, but we were definitely the only people left on the Metro when we reached our stop.
In other situations, however, it works quite well. I’ve found that staying in business districts on the weekend is a great way to save money. The Hyatt Regency Santa Clara is $300+ midweek but I got it for $80 on a Saturday night. I found the four-star Crowne Plaza London for $140 with two queen beds. (An American-sized hotel room in London? Amazing!) And I got the Andaz Wall Street with a suite upgrade and $100 breakfast credit for $250.
You don’t need to isolate yourself from culture of a thriving metropolis. Seattle’s Capitol Hill doesn’t have nearly as many hotel options as downtown, but it’s probably a better place to spend your time than the Pike Place Market to get a real sense of what the city is all about. The few hotels and bed-and-breakfasts there offer more affordable rates. I grumble about New York, but I’m often referring to Manhattan. Stay in Brooklyn instead and while it still won’t be cheap, it will be more reasonable.
And finally, I just got back from a stay in Portland about a month ago. My hotel was on the edge of downtown, but I spent nearly all my time in the Pearl District. Some of my favorite Portland restaurants and shops are in the Pearl. Downtown is just, well, offices and department stores.
Business travelers may not have the flexibility to stay in a less central neighborhood. They are also more likely to have expense accounts for this kind of stuff. But if you’re a leisure traveler like me, I strongly recommend looking at less conventional neighborhoods. You’ll save some money, you’ll have a more intimate view of the local culture, and with public transit what it is (or a short taxi ride) you can still make it back to the bustling inner city.
Hotels.com has a great summary of some alternative accommodations in major U.S. cities if you’re interested in learning more. Their Hotel Price Index does a good job comparing some of the most and least expensive cities, as well as offering a “neighborhood spotlight” to highlight areas you may not have considered when planning your next trip.