As part of my tour to research US budget hotel chains, I picked the Howard Johnson South Lake Tahoe for a summer getaway from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe. It’s in a good location, just steps from Lake Tahoe’s beach, but that’s were the good news ends. The rest of the Howard Johnson reminds me of why many people avoid US budget hotels and why I haven’t stayed at one for years. Find out why I wouldn’t stay again!
Location: The location is the best about the Howard Johnson (or lovingly called HoJo) for a summer trip: it’s a short walk off the lake shore and a wide stretch of beach. One of the beach front hotels operates a beach bar and has a DJ, making for a more lively scene. The vistas of the mountains surrounding the deep blue lake are stunning and will make you quickly forget your choice of hotel and remind you of why you came to Tahoe in the first place! The HoJo is a drive from the casinos and, if you are planning a winter trip, also a drive to the Heavenly Ski Resort Gondola.
Service/Rewards: The service throughout my stay was friendly and responsive. I was checked in quickly and the staff even was willing to change my room to a quieter one in the back of the property. Housekeeping had cleaned my room and provided clean sheets and towels and bathroom amenities, but not addressed maintenance issues. That seemed to be a theme throughout: While staff were not proactive in addressing apparent issues, they were responsive whenever issues were brought to their attention, by other guests or myself. It seems to be more of a management/owner issue than a staff problem.
Insider Tip: The rooms at the back of the property (x17 and up) are away from the street and quieter. They unfortunately do not have a view of the lake. The HoJo participates in Wyndham Rewards, rated the best value hotel rewards program and I did earn Wyndham Rewards points for my stay. One of my reasons to stay here was to learn more about the Wyndham Group and to try out their promotions – read How I saved more than 50% with Wyndham Hotels!
Room: The HoJo is an old-style motel, with all rooms reached via exterior corridors. I had booked a standard king room on the upper level and it’s a good-size room, with a sitting area, a small built-in closet, drawers and a side-shelf. The hotel and the rooms are very old and in need of renovation. The bed featured a thin wool blanket with a single flat sheet and the TV was a huge tube TV from the 90s – both something I haven’t seen in a US hotel in a very long time. While the room was clean, the carpets, bed cover and curtains had seen better days. The Wyndham website appears to use stock photos of new model rooms. While the photos on the website show similar furniture, they were not taken in this hotel: the furniture is much older and there are no flat screen TVs as shown in the photos – so beware! The room had a coffee maker meant to be used with single-use filter baskets, but the coffee provided didn’t have those, rendering the coffee maker useless – cost cutting measures apparently in effect. The room has a safe, but it wasn’t working, likely out of battery. The fridge was working well and a nice feature in the hot summer weather! While the bedroom is sizable, the bathroom is tiny, with a very small, uncomfortable toilet, sink and narrow, built-in shower. It – surprisingly – featured a nice shower-head with multiple settings and a glass door – but the shower head was below shoulder height for me, only comfortable for people under 5ft. The amenities seemed to be standard Wyndham and of good quality. There was even a dental kit! The towels were clean and bright white, but hard as sandpaper! There is free wifi internet in the room, it’s reliable and blazingly fast at an average measured speed of 38.3 Mbps, making the WiFi Internet the best feature of the HoJo S. Lake Tahoe!
Amenities/Restaurant: The HoJo advertises a “seasonal pool and hot tub”, but that season must be “never”! Despite my summer visit, blue skies and hot weather, it was closed, what looked to be for longer period and/or much needed maintenance. It’s located right next to the street and surrounded by a charming prison fence, so I went to the nearby beach instead!
There is plenty of free parking around the hotel in an open parking lot. A modern washer/dryer and an ice machine are provided as well. You couldn’t escape the budget hotel feeling at breakfast either: The room is tiny with only two tables! Coffee, watery juice, oatmeal and a plastic box of cut water melon and some basic pastries/bread. The promised “hot” breakfast consisted of a waffle maker. It’s offered till 9am, so you might as well miss it and go next door for a better way to start your day!
Bottomline: The Howard Johnson by Wyndham is an example of why people don’t like budget hotels in the US: It doesn’t deliver on the promises made on the booking web site, the hotel and rooms are old and in bad condition, barely resembling the photos on the web and poor management makes it worse. The staff was friendly and making the best out of a tough situation – I don’t envy them for their job! At $112/night, this was very poor value and I wouldn’t stay here again or recommend it. The Days Inn across the street has a working pool for $70/night during my visit and my second hotel, the Rodeway Inn, was in better shape and better location for $82/night! Wyndham has a long way to go to repair the image of some of their brands, as long as hotels like this are under their brands!