For The Traveler Abroad, A Flat Of One's Own

Lying awake at 3 a.m. in a hotel room abroad is a scene woefully familiar to many an international business traveler. With a body clock set for a time zone on the other side of the world, hunger pangs are more likely than sleep in the wee hours. Forget room service; the hotel chef won't pick up a spatula for hours. Getting up to pace the floor is usually out, too, because hotel rooms overseas are typically about as spacious as a shoebox.

Uncomfortable? Yes. Unavoidable? Not anymore, thanks to a growing number of short-term rental apartments in Europe, Asia, and beyond. Harold Seider, a Los Angeles entertainment lawyer who calls on clients in London several times a year, always reserves a flat instead of a hotel room. "If I can't sleep and want milk and cookies in the middle of the night, I want to be able to walk into the kitchen and get it," he says.

LOW RATES. That perk aside, Seider and other like-minded businesspeople find that renting an apartment is simply more economical than staying in a hotel. His experience has been that apartments are "less than half the cost for twice as much room." On Seider's last trip to London, he paid $875 for a week's stay in a nicely furnished one-bedroom flat in the Marble Arch area with a fully equipped kitchen, living room, and dining area. Accommodations for seven days at a three-star hotel nearby would have run him more than $2,000.

Indeed, most European apartment-locating services post rental rates that are 20% to 60% below what one could reasonably expect to pay for a hotel room in such destinations as London, Paris, Madrid, Rome, and even Bangkok. But prices vary widely depending on the apartment's size, its location, the length of stay, and amenities offered. The most expensive apartments are generally within or adjacent to hotels and extend all the traditional guest services, such as daily room cleaning, telephone messaging, and concierge. Yet even these "apart-hotels" cost less than a standard hotel room.

Less expensive are apartments in residential complexes, complete with neighbors who live there year-round. Harry Barclay, president of Barclay International Group, which represents thousands of rental properties in more than 20 countries, says that many of his clients prefer such arrangements because it takes them out of a hotel's tourist cocoon: "They get to shop for cake and jam at the local markets and get a real feel for the place they're visiting."

Douglas Fancher, president of Greenwich Corp., an investment- banking firm in Sausalito, Calif., says that staying in private apartments in Paris makes his frequent business trips there "more fun" because "you get to see and be a part of everyday Parisian life." Furthermore, he says, apartments give him the space and flexibility to entertain clients.

Most apartments also have sofabeds in their living areas, making them ideal for families. "The baby boomers who backpacked across Europe are now taking their children there when they go on business or vacation. They're staying in apartments because there's enough room for everybody, and you don't have to go out for every meal," explains Marie Hoffman, the North American managing director for Keith Prowse & Co., which, with its partner, The Apartment Service in London, offers more than 4,000 apartments in 16 countries.

CREATURE COMFORTS. The best advice for travelers interested in renting an apartment abroad is to be specific. Stipulate location and space requirements as well as any preferences for air conditioning, washer/dryer facilities, elevators, and daily linen service. Also, don't be shy about probing agents for details about the properties they represent. Outfits such as Barclay's and Keith Prowse--which don't charge clients separate finder's fees--provide general descriptions of their rentals, but they may not automatically disclose, say, the amount of street noise and water pressure.

Enlisting a travel agent's help may not be worthwhile, because overseas apartment locators and operators often pay little or nothing in the way of commissions. But Barclay says that "with the weak dollar, more and more people are finding out about apartments" on their own. Barclay International, like many of its competitors, reports growth of 35% to 50% annually since 1990. "Renting apartments is not a passing trend, either," says Seider. "People who rent when they travel never go back to hotels." Nothing beats milk and cookies when you can't sleep, especially when you are far from home.

Overseas Apartment Locators

BARCLAY INTERNATIONAL GROUP 150 East 52nd St., New York, N.Y. 10022, 800 845-6636, 212 832-3777. Worldwide

B & V ASSOCIATES 140 East 56th St., Suite 4C, New York, N.Y. 10022, 800 546-4777, 212 688-9538. France, Belgium, Switzerland, and England

CHEZ VOUS 1001 Bridgeway, Suite 245, Sausalito, Calif. 94965, 415 331-2535. France exclusively

KEITH PROWSE & CO. (USA) LTD. 234 West 44th St., New York, N.Y. 10036, 800 669-8687, 212 398-1430. Worldwide

THE WESTMINSTER APARTMENT SERVICES Ruth Rd, Cortlandt Manor, N.Y. 10566, 914 736-6181. London only


Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.