Posted by Ric Garrido

Santa Maria is one of the largest cities with a selection of lower-priced hotels along the California central coast corridor of Highway 101 between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Last week I picked Santa Maria for a hotel stay on a Friday night.

A sale on Travelocity resulted in a rate discrepancy with the room rates listing higher on the InterContinental Hotels Group website for the Holiday Inn Santa Maria. I booked a $119 refundable rate for the Holiday Inn Santa Maria on the IHG website and then filed a Best Price Guarantee using a $79 rate on Travelocity. My room night was free after my IHG claim was approved.

Santa Maria is an inland city of Central Coast California. 

As a person growing up around Monterey, my traditional impression of Santa Maria as a teenager in the 1970s was the place seemed to be a cowboy ranching town. This was the kind of place where teenage boys tended to be seen wearing cowboy hats and driving pickup trucks.

Apparently the city is also known for Santa Maria style BBQ. I do not recall ever eating it.

One of the places that has changed greatly over the past three decades is the cowboy town of Santa Maria. The city population grew 25% in the past decade from 77,000 to over 100,000 residents, and Santa Maria is now larger than Santa Barbara. Oil fields and vineyards dot the oak-covered valley landscape.

The largest employer in the area is Vandenberg Air Force Base where the nation’s missile systems are test fired out over the Pacific Ocean and defense satellites are launched into space. Highway 1 goes inland from Pismo Beach for sixty miles of coastline around Vandenberg before coming back to the sea at Gaviota some 30 miles north of Santa Barbara.

Santa Maria has loads of new build hotels and shopping malls dot the Highway 101 corridor.

Holiday Inn Santa Maria

Santa Maria is a town where I have stayed several times when driving between Monterey and Southern California locations south of Los Angeles. There are beautiful hotel locations like Cambria, Morro Bay and Pismo Beach north of Santa Maria with ocean view rooms, but those hotels will cost you; especially when traveling on a weekend or in peak season summer months.

San Luis Obispo 35 miles north of Santa Maria is a university town and hotel rates tend to be higher. Pismo Beach is a beach resort with hotels on the cliffs offering unobstructed ocean views. On a weekday in the off-season Pismo Beach is a good lodging choice. On a weekend anytime of year, Pismo Beach gets room rates in the $130 to $200 range for a Best Western and more for independent, boutique hotels.

30 miles south of Santa Maria is the Santa Ynez wine region of the movie ‘Sideways’ fame. Hotels like Marriott Santa Ynez command higher prices. And once the road turns back to the coast of Santa Barbara the hotel rates jump significantly.

My main point is Santa Maria provides a lower cost overnight stay option when driving the California coast than any other place within 100 miles. Ventura and Oxnard, south of Santa Barbara are other cities with lower rates than  other beach towns along the California coast south of Los Angeles.

Holiday Inn Santa Maria

Holiday Inn & Suites Santa Maria

HI Santa Maria pool

Holiday Inn Santa Maria outdoor pool.

The temperature was still cool in the low 50s when I was leaving the hotel at 8:30am. Daytime temperature were approaching 80 F during the Christmas holiday season.

Holiday Inn Santa Maria bar

The room was comfortable with a firm bed. The difference between a standard room and my room was a kitchen

Holiday Inn Santa Maria kitchen cu

Full kitchen at Holiday Inn Santa Maria

Holiday Inn Santa Maria room

Holiday Inn Santa Maria room.

Holiday Inn Santa Maria desk

Holiday Inn Santa Maria desk.

Holiday Inn Santa Maria beds

Holiday Inn Santa Maria beds.

The disadvantage of a free room night with IHG Best Price Guarantee.

The room rate I booked on IHG was $119 knowing that a $79.20 rate was available on Travelocity.com. I booked this hotel specifically to claim a free room night with IHG’s Best Price Guarantee policy stating a lower rate found within 24 hours of booking the same hotel room with IHG results in first night free.

My stay at Holiday Inn Santa Maria was a free night. I splurged on a $12.50 breakfast at the hotel’s Portobello Restaurant.

At the time I booked this hotel I could have booked the same night on the IHG website for $80 with AAA rate. I kind of wish I had paid the AAA rate instead of getting the free night.

A paid night at the Holiday Inn Santa Maria would have earned around 25,000 bonus points with The Big Win IHG promotion for staying in three different brands and making three online reservations. I value 25,000 IHG points at about $175 when used for PointBreaks and Point & Money award nights.

Now I am in the situation of having to get one more hotel night with IHG in a brand other than Holiday Inn Express or Candlewood Suites sometime over the next four nights. The InterContinental Monterey about 3 miles from my home is over $200 per night. The next closest IHG brand besides Holiday Inn Express is over 70 miles away in San Jose.

Hotel Indigo in San Diego was $80 per night when I was there last weekend. In San Jose there are a couple of Crowne Plaza hotels at around $80 to $100 per night or I will have to pay about $120 to stay at a Holiday Inn San Francisco or $150 to stay at an InterContinental in the city. Regardless of the price, the location is going to mean a 200-mile roundtrip drive to head to the San Francisco Bay Area for one qualifying IHG hotel night.

My free night at Holiday Inn Santa Maria is going to cost me more than $80 if I am going to earn The Big Win 25,000 bonus points before December 31.

Paying $80 for the Holiday Inn Santa Maria looks like it would have been the better deal compared to getting a free night with IHG Best Price Guarantee.

25,000 IHG Rewards Club points for $80 is a great deal. Taking another road trip in the next four days is not as convenient as having simply paid for the Holiday Inn Santa Maria last week.

Related Posts:

Is IHG sending me to London for The Big Win (August 25, 2013)

Pacific Coast Highway on the Winter Solstice (12/22/2013)

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Ric Garrido of Monterey, California is writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler.

Loyalty Traveler shares news and views on hotels, hotel loyalty programs and vacation destinations for frequent guests.

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5 Responses

  1. This is one of my regular overnights on an annual wine weekend along the central coast and inland. The last couple of years it’s been a 5K PointBreak, though I have also paid the AARP or AAA rate. Always upgraded to one of the “kitchen” rooms. This year, because of the Big Win promo, I ended up staying across the parking lot at the Candlewood Suites, fulfilling my 4 brand requirement (worth only 16K to me…I guess because I stay at IHG properties quite a bit and these promos tend to punish us and reward those who stay infrequently!

    Santa Maria has grown and sprawled along Hwy 101. As for BBQ, I suspect the two venues that come to mind are actually not in Santa Maria itself, but just north and south of it. For dinner we head to Jocko’s in Nimpopo about 10-minutes north of the HI for some of the best (and cheapest) beef in the west. It’s also a BYOB so goes nicely at the midpoint of a wine tasting weekend where you can break out a bottle or two of the best you’ve sampled. Next morning it’s sought about 15-minutes to Kay’s Kitchen in Orcott, nice an homey with a Tri-Tip to die for! Also a bargain. Both with a unique atmosphere well worthy of the region.

  2. Oh, did not realize an IHG BRG claim did not earn stay credit for the free night. Good to know, thx!

  3. Arghhhh! DavidB: that is Orcutt and Nipomo, not Orcott and Nimpopo. My old stomping ground in the 50s-70s. Used to work at the Holiday Inn cooking up tri-tip during college. JFYR, the secret to good tri-tip is to age it in beer, then you cake it in rock salt and spices and sear it over an oak fire, then let it cook to completion in an oven. It has to be served with pinquito beans.

    Comment by AlohadaveKennedy on December 27th, 2013 at 12:38 pm
  4. Crikey – pay the extra $ and stay in a decent town.

    SLO has some great restaurants and it’s a fun town. Or can stay at Morro Bay or Avila Beach.

  5. @Paul – As a tourist I would stay in Morro Bay, Cambria, San Luis Obispo or Pismo Beach.

    This was a necessary hotel stopover since I had spent the day hanging out on the Big Sur coast and at Hearst Castle. I arrived hours after dark and I was on the road by 8:30am to San Diego. Santa Maria met my needs at a low price.

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