Today I Learned: That One Of The Big Hotel Chains Is Actually A Non-Profit

Phoenix-based Best Western began in 1946 out of an informal system of referrals between independent hotels in California. They came the only hotel reservation service that covered the entire United States in the early 1960s, and the largest motel brand with nearly 700 properties. Up to that time they had a marketing partnership with the predecessor to Quality Inns (then Quality Courts), as Best Western was largely West of the Mississippi River and Quality was to the East.

The Quality partnership ended in 1964 as Best Western launched eastward with ‘Best Eastern’ hotels. In 1967 the east name was dropped, everything consolidated under the Best Western name.

Today there are over 4000 Best Western properties. They are all independently owned, but most of the big hotel chains own very few of their own hotels. Best Western remains true to its roots as a hotel booking platform, a referral system, that’s tied together by a name and reservations system along with Best Western Rewards. There are some common rules for properties expressed in a unified front desk manual.

Hotel booking ‘associations’ were common in the 1930s and 1940s, publishing directories of independent ‘member’ properties. This grew as domestic travel grew, as automobile ownership spread.

Best Western was founded by M.K. Guertin, who was born in Liberty, Texas in 1891. He moved to California in the 1920s and worked at a family member’s hotel. He bought his own motel in 1933 and built a membership network of his own as Gary Hooover explains,

When he and a few close friends founded Best Western in the late 1940s, he immediately hit the road, inspecting 507 motels up and down the west coast, driving 4,956 miles in twenty-nine days. He accepted no payment for his time or travel expenses – Best Western had become a labor of love.

As Guertin signed up new members, he required each to become an informal inspector on Best Western’s behalf. If he heard of a prospective member, he’d send an existing member to the property to see if it met his high standards. If he heard that a member was not keeping their property up, he’d call another member and tell them to check on it. Unlike United, Best Western under Guertin did not hesitate to kick out a poor performer – Best Western has forced out as many as 15% of its members each year. By 1951, Best Western had grown to 197 members.

Back then properties were almost all independent. Only Hilton was a national business. The first Holiday Inn didn’t open until 1952, growing to 415 properties within a decade.

What I never knew, though, is that like early marketing associations for independent hotels, Best Western was organized as a non-profit. And even as it introduced advances in lodging – “[i]n the mid-fifties, they banned coin-operated “Magic Fingers” from beds in the belief that they cheapened the overnight experience” and added “the first national reservations system, placing a teletype machine in each motel” – it has remained a non-profit.

They continue to offer baseline property standards, a reservations platform, and group buying of supplies and consulting services along with a loyalty program. As Hoover reminds, they aren’t alone i the world operating in this way but are “like the French Relais & Chateaux (over 500 members) and Logis de France (2,400 members).”

Best Western’s member hotels rejected a management proposal to convert to a for-profit corporation to more easily access capital markets and invest in technology. So they remain a hotel member-owned non-profit association today.

(HT: Jeff W.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Thank you Gary. This is quite interesting, and explains why we have always found Best Westerns to be reliable. I hope you will write more of these informative posts.

  2. That explains why Best Western is a mixed bag. I rarely stay in them due to the inconsistency between properties. I have stayed a some nice Best Western properties but other are like Super 8. If I stay at a Hampton Inn, Hyatt Place etc. – it is always the same experience.

  3. Thanks for this interesting article! I am usually a Marriott/Hilton snob. However, when traveling in the West, around many of the National Parks and in more remote areas, Best Western is often the best choice. Plus Best Western status matched my Lifetime Titanium status! This provides many nice amenities . I used Best Western points to reserve a very nice Boutique property (Au Trocadero) overlooking the Eiffel Tower in Paris. For such an expensive city, this property was a steal of a deal. I e-mailed the property to let them know that my daughter would be honey-mooning there, They upgraded her to a very nice balcony room with amazing views and surprised her with chocolate covered strawberries. They really went out of their way to make her stay very special.

  4. Cool. I have stayed in some really nice Best Westerns, with wonderful fireplaces and all. It kind of makes me want to stay with Best Westerns more, supporting independent owner operator motels. [Despite the sometimes uneven quality.]

  5. Whenever I think of the finest in luxury accommodations/experience Best Western is always the first name that comes to mind.

  6. To Jason who said on May 16, 2020 @12:52 that “Best Western is shit”, I say that you sir, are in fact a turd. A stinky, slimy poo-poo head.

  7. We, in error, ended up in a Best Western in Venice (Italy). It turned out to be an excellent experience–and fully unexpected.

  8. Although I normally avoid Best Westerns because the independent nature means really uneven quality, I will echo the comment above that around the western National Parks, Best Westerns are the best, if not the only, game in town. On a trip to Utah a few years ago I quickly learned how much I missing out by not being a Best Western member.

    I think with a little basic research on Tripadvisor before bookin, I think staying at Best Westerns would be a safe choice. Really, isn’t that true of any hotel chain?

  9. Interesting. While it’s been an awful long time since I’ve stayed at a BW, this makes me more inclined to do so in the future.

  10. I’ve known for years now that BW was more like a co-operative and that this had influence on how BW hotels operate and on the BW loyalty program. It was part of why I never expected too much from

  11. Organized as a non-profit just means that there are no individuals who benefit from the profit of the organization. AAA is organized like this. The organization does not pay income taxes on it’s profits. Where as a not for profit is a charitable organization that also does not pay income taxes on its profits and no individuals benefit from the profit of the organization. But what AAA and Best Western does is benefit does is benefit it’s members. A not for profit 501(c)(3) is like the Red Cross where it charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals.

    Both of these organizations pay income taxes on what is called Unrelated Business Taxable Income: Like AAA providing car insurance (they are not organized to insurance cars). Or Best Western Call center earning interest income on it’s savings accounts.

  12. @ Joey Pompano hotmail? where did that come from? Of course I am a hot male but you may not be able to tell from my default avatar. Although… my sexiness exudes through my words, perhaps.

    @ Johosofat yeah the only good thing about BW is they have lobby restrooms that are a great place to take a BM while you are on a road trip and driving on an interstate with nothing other than gas station restrooms

  13. I will say that BW’s liberal status matching and sometimes lucrative points promos mean that when I’m in a rural town with limited or no Hilton or Marriott properties, I’ve still got a place to go where my stay accrues benefits and I see a few perks.

    That said, they’re hit and miss. In a small town I called on weekly for a few months, I discovered an independent property across the street from the BW where I was able to book via for a lower rate, use that platform’s 10th night free program, and got a much nicer room than any available in that original BW.

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