Should you splurge on a 4-star luxury hotel or save your money and stay in a 2 star? Sometimes it’s worth it to break the budget when you crave a little pampering — and a smoke-free room. And sometimes you have to take whatever you can get.

Which Level of Luxury?

2 star

The courtyard at the Shorebreak Hotel in Huntington Beach. The Kimpton is most definitely NOT a 2 star hotel. Credit: Judy Antell/ Vegetarian TravelingMom

A certain type of traveler chooses cheap accommodations, not just for financial constraints, but because she prefers to spend her money on theater tickets, or fine dining, or designer clothes.

I am not one of those travelers.

While I can’t condone splurging on the Mandarin Oriental or Four Seasons regularly, I am a luxury hotel girl at heart and get squeamish when I stay at 2 star hotels. They remind me of club team soccer tournaments I chaperoned, where we stuffed as many girls as possible into rooms and bunked with other parents just to keep costs down. My mother-in-law’s admonitions always ring in my head: Don’t touch the bedspreads!

Boutique Luxury

My sweet spot is the boutique luxury, Omni or Kimpton hotels, that are just luxurious enough without making you think you are blowing your kids’ college fund. (I still have to pay tuition for my third daughter, who starts college in the fall.)

So I was not looking forward to a recent stay at a Quality Inn, the result of a reservations snafu at another Boston hotel. We could not change our plans; it was our middle daughter’s college graduation, along with something like 18 other area colleges. Hotels were either sold out or were charging absurdly high prices ($279 for a room at Extended Stay America; the usual rate is more like $109). We needed to be close to campus and didn’t want to be gouged, so we booked the last room at the Quality Inn.

It was grim when we got there; The hotel was also sold out, packed with high school soccer and baseball teams and tour groups from China. We had reserved a non-smoking room, but were given the only room available, a smoking one that smelled like an ashtray.

The Good

2 star

The Boston Sports Club, free with a stay at the Quality Inn. Credit: Judy Antell/ Vegetarian TravelingMom

Although the hotel had no fitness center, it offered free passes to a fantastic Boston Sports Club across the street. My husband and I are members of New York Sports Club, but no NYC clubs can compare to this. (Note: NYSC members get in free anyway). There was a huge exercise area, with every weight or cardio machine available, gorgeous indoor tennis courts, indoor AND outdoor pools and several studios for group exercise classes.

If you had kids with you, they could use the water slide or spray fountains at the outdoor pool.

The Bad

The smoking room was truly stinky and my husband and I got headaches. There was also a huge wet spot near the sink, but not coming from the sink – maintenance came and couldn’t explain it, so they just threw a towel over it and we had to avoid it on the way to the bathroom.

We did get a non-smoking room for the next two nights. And we were able to get it at 7 a.m., leading me to believe that the hotel could not have actually been sold out the night before. The room was [mostly] clean [see below] and I doubt it had been occupied the night before.

The rooms were tiny – you could touch the door from the second bed, and when my older daughter spent the night, she found an unappealing large brown stain on her sheet. Yuck.

The thin towels seemed to contain the sloughed off skin cells of a thousand previous room occupants – they were clean but threadbare.

The pillows were awful. Small, hard, covered in slippery polyester sheets.

2 star
This is why we had to be in Boston- college graduation! Credit: Judy Antell/ Vegetarian TravelingMom

The refrigerator was quite loud, as was the AC. We couldn’t open the windows.

One of our nights it was pretty loud outside, as teens ran up and down the concrete breezeway that was inches from our bed. I would never stay in a motel like this alone and I didn’t feel particularly reassured with my husband. We could also hear the tour buses starting up at 5 a.m.

The bathroom light buzzed, but the  water pressure was fine, and the sink in the alcove before the bathroom was spacious enough for three of us to spread out our toiletries. If you forgot conditioner, you would’t want to use the stuff provided – it was the same quality as that used in a mid level gym.

The iron was filthy and transferred a patch of dirt to my husband’s shirt. We were given a new, clean iron.

Freebies

Parking, of course, was free, which it almost always is in suburban hotels. When we found a downtown Boston hotel that was not sold out, parking was an additional $50 a night. Our ROOM was only $99 the first night.

Breakfast was included and it was perfectly adequate. There were a few cereals, in large plastic bins, along with granola and packets of oatmeal. There were bagels and four kinds of bread, including whole wheat and rye, a couple of toasters, and cream cheese, peanut butter and jam.

There was also yogurt, eggs, potatoes, juice, skim milk. There were even blueberries (frozen, but still – blueberries?) and apples.

My only complaint here – I can’t stand coffee in styrofoam. And I wish they didn’t use those wasteful teeny containers of half & half. But you could use the 2% milk for your coffee. If you aren’t a styrofoam snob.

Bottom line: I’ll take my 4 star hotel any day, thank you very much.

What’s your preference: Luxury or budget hotel? Tell us in the comment section below.