In trying to get butts in the beds, seemingly every hotel has had the same idea: discount! Rather than giving away the store with outright per-night price cuts, thousands of properties are offering two-for-three deals. That is, stay two nights and get the third free. That's the equivalent of a 33% discount.
The options span from the cheapest highway crash pads to the fanciest luxury enclaves. Take your pick, because right now is the sweet spot:
* Between now and the last day of April, Country Inn & Suites selling three nights at most of its 450-plus properties for a third off. Many times, this puts a three-night bill at $200 (that's $67 per night, before tax). The deal, good through April, has the added advantage of coming with a coupon for free food at a T.G.I. Friday's location (either a buy-one-get-one-free offer for an entree or one for half off the price of an appetizer).
* Choice Hotels, not to be upstaged, has rolled out a similar offer. If you book two room nights between now and April 30, you get a free night (through its Choice Points program) for a free night at one of 1,500 locations in North America. The stays are good at any of the Choice Hotel names, which include Econo Lodge, Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, and Cambria Suites (to name some of the cheapest ones).
* Sofitel's doing it worldwide through May 31. (I recently had a fantastic meal at the restaurant at its Chicago property cooked by its James Beard award-nominated chef. Too bad the deal is for the room, and not for that.) Minotel is doing it as well.
* New York City's Thompson Hotel Lower East Side is doing it for its studio king suites, plus $100 thrown in at its restaurant Shang, a superb modern Chinese place that's captivated many critics. That brings the total for a three-night stay to $500. You have to book by April 1, and stay by the last day of August. Site: www.thompsonhotels.com, booking code: MARCHLES
* High-luxury property Four Seasons Scottsdale in Arizona's trying it, too. Rates there in the summer start at $195 (ends September 13). InterContinental Hotels & Resorts is doing it through April, provided your third night is a Sunday.
* Count Blakes Hotel in Kensington, London, among the 3-for-2 discounters, plus its competitor Grosvenor House (A J.W. Marriott hotel) on Hyde Park. And the White Elephant Hotel Residences on Nantucket. And a big selection of the Small Luxury of the Hotels of the World, and its rival group of The Leading Hotels of the World, around the globe.
* It's even happening in Africa. Try the luxury Franschhoek Country House and Villas near Cape Town and Shumbalala Game Lodge, near Kruger National Park.
* At Walt Disney World in Orlando, the Sheraton Dolphin and Westin Swan hotels are capitalizing on Disney Park's decision to offer free admission on your birthday in 2009 by offering the same thing at their hotels. Stay at least three nights, and make sure one of them is your birthday, and your room will be free for a night. You'll also get a free dessert by the hotel's award-winning pastry chef, Laurent Branlard. (Okay, that's pretty weak, but at least it's in conjunction with another big birthday savings offer.)
* Universal Orlando responded by giving an extra two nights if you stay for three, though October 8. That must be reserved by March 29. So is SeaWorld Orlando, if you book by March 31 for travel through September 7, and what's more, it's throwing in free admission to two theme parks as part of the deal.
* Expedia.com is offering a deal that's similar, but not always quite as good. For hotel bookings of 3, 4, or 5 nights, it gives you your last night free. That must be booked by April 9, after which new hotel options will be added.
The trend has become so prevalent that for the next few weeks, you can probably Google "3-for-2," "hotel" and the name of your destination city and you'll be likely to find a stellar deal. Let no one say that this recession doesn't have its upsides.
Is there any hotel left that isn't offering three-for-two deals?