Hotels Travel Guide

Chain Hotels vs Local Lodging – The Familiar vs the Cultural

Written by Charlie

When traveling internationally, the decision to choose chain hotels vs local lodging can be confusing! Here are some thoughts on the cultural aspect of that decision.

When it comes to lodging, I like to stay in places where I have points – simply because I like to travel for (nearly) free! But, when traveling around the world, it can sometimes be a bit more difficult to make that decision as to whether you want that familiar chain hotel experience or dip your toe more into the cultural lodging.

Chain Hotel vs Local Lodging


The Tehran Ferdowsi hotel / photo from website

Depending on where you go in the world, this will likely be a question that pops up as you plan your stays. In many major cities, it could very easily be a wash depending on the category of hotel you are looking for. But, once you get a bit more off the beaten path, the decision can be a little more difficult to make.

Here are some things to consider when making that decision.

The Familiar vs the Cultural

While many chain hotels will go the extra mile to add the cultural spin to their hotel, sometimes you cannot really embrace the cultural aspect of staying in a place unless you become unglued from the chain hotel, at least for that stay.

The Familiar

High-end chain hotel properties actually can do a pretty good job of incorporating some of the cultural environment and that can include the hotel being in some historically significant building. Look at the high-end hotels in major European cities and you will see what I mean.

But, if you are staying in more of the mid-range chain properties, you will likely have the same chain experience that you would have in that chain around the world. For some people, that is just what they want. They want the familiar experience from check-in to the bed that they sleep on.

Staying with chain hotels can have some definite advantages:

  • Free stays using points (yes!)
  • Elite status (which can give many perks for your stay)
  • Ease of contacting (call the customer service center)
  • Familiar policies (like check-in/check-out)
  • Nights/stays for elite credit or promotions

The Cultural

At the same time, you should not discount the cultural lodging! While they are not going to be free, many times they are significantly cheaper than the chain hotel would be (if you are basing the value of your points on that specific hotel you may not notice general rates). A good example for that is to look at rates around Asia.

Another part of choosing a local lodging place is that they often let you continue the immersive cultural experience even after you retire to the hotel after a day of sightseeing. Whether it is enjoying tea with other guests and the owners or staying in a room/suite that takes you back to the ancient times of the location, there are a lot of elements to local lodging that could cause you to want to branch out and give it a try.

All of the above advantages for chain hotels are not necessarily present for many local lodging establishments. The exception would be with perks like free breakfast based on your elite status. It is quite common in various areas of the world to have breakfast just included with your stay and those breakfasts can be quite unbelievable! I stayed at one hotel in Tehran that had just the most incredible breakfast spread and it was all of local variety. Chain hotels may not be able to give you that same treatment – of course, it was not possible to stay at a US chain hotel there anyway. 🙂


The delicious breakfast spread in Tehran / photo from Ferdowsi

Some cultures will have the host of your lodging take you in and treat you, not like a customer, but a member of the family. It is an incredible cultural experience to have a meal with a local family and see how they interact and enjoy the conversation – all while being in your “hotel.”

Choosing A Local Option

Obviously, not all local options are going to be what you may want! In some cases, you might get a lot more “culture” than you had bargained for!

Airbnb can be a great option as you search for places to stay as you will get to stay in a home in the city you are visiting. That is really getting down to the local level!

Another way is to search on TripAdvisor. The local lodging places rely heavily on TripAdvisor and they normally are pretty good about following up on reviews, good and bad. In the past, I have message a TA reviewer to find out more about the property and have always learned a lot about what to expect from those interactions.

Do not judge by price! Remember, they are likely much smaller than the chain hotel in size and may actually be an extension of a large home/dwelling. As such, they do not have a lot of overhead and they do not have to pay franchise fees. Plus, they may not even have any employees, choosing to treat the place as a family job. In such cases, the cost will often be significantly lower than a chain hotel – just because it is does not mean it is a bad place!

Which Are You?

I have to admit, I most of the time come down on the chain hotel option. For me, it is about the freedom of using points and the fact that I am rarely in a location that long. Since it is nice to enjoy the flexibility that the familiar provides, I typically stay in chain hotels while traveling for short stays.

But, some of my best stays in my travels have been when staying in local lodging. The thing that brought all of these thoughts out where the reminder that Hyatt is opening a Park Hyatt in Marrakech next year. While I love the Park Hyatt brand and would certainly love to give it a try, I had an absolutely incredible and cultural stay in Marrakech several years ago when I stayed at a riad. I’m not sure if I would go to a chain hotel in Marrakech just based on how immersive we found the riad experience.

So, which are you? Are there certain regions of the world where you are more comfortable choosing one over the other? I would love to get more ideas for locations so leave them in the comments!

Some of the links on Running with Miles are affiliate links that pay a commission if a purchase is made. Running with Miles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.