Under The Radar Free Night Cert Option: Holiday Inn Express Outer Banks Review

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Holiday Inn Express Outer

Holiday Inn Express Outer Banks Review – Reliable Comfort in Nags Head

To the surprise of likely no one who’s previously read my articles, I’m a big fan of Holiday Inn Express.  After Hilton Garden Inn, it’s probably the brand my family and I visit most often.  While we do enjoy unique aspects of other brands, we embrace the overall predictability and standards from Holiday Inn Express.  We end up focusing most of our IHG free stays (points or free night certificates) at their properties based on our travel goals.  Even better, it’s great when those travel goals overlap with a (relatively) unique location for a Holiday Inn Express.  Our recent stay met both of these parameters.  Here’s my Holiday Inn Express Outer Banks review based on our recent stay.

Booking

The wife and I each hold a legacy IHG Select Mastercard account from Chase which provide a free night annually.  We had a few expiring soon, and our drive to the Outer Banks is a simple one.  We prefer to focus our periodic Outer Banks stays during the low season, too.  A few weeks in advance, we each booked one free night using our FNC’s for a weekend stay.  Nightly cash rates started at approximately $135 during the weekend; the points rate was 32k per night.  In comparison, a random midweek night in July during the high season starts at just over $300 or 70k points; FNC’s aren’t an option.

Location

The Outer Banks is a 200-mile stretch of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina and southeastern Virginia.  The Holiday Inn Express Outer Banks is located in Nags Head, NC, the home to the immediate area’s most family-friendly beaches (in our experience).  Similar to most other Outer Banks hotels, this property is largely surrounded by beach houses.  Nags Head offers visitors plenty of dining, shopping, and recreation options but is also close to scenic Highway 12 drives south to Cape Hatteras and onward ferries to Ocracoke Island.  Going south beyond Nags Head, visitors substantially lose those everyday conveniences.  Nags Head is optimally located for the best of both worlds.

Holiday Inn Express Outer

Check-In

We arrived at the property a few minutes before the advertised 4 pm check-in time, and Tanita at the front desk efficiently checked us in.  She explained the temporary housekeeping policies (more on that later) and parking matters.  I asked if any upgrades were available (the wife and I hold IHG Platinum status from the Chase card).  Tanita advised that the hotel was fully booked during our stay.  I was a bit surprised, until I saw members of a wedding party throughout the hotel.  We received a two bed street side room, the same type we booked.  Tanita was able to join the reservations together at check-in.  There was no need to move rooms or stop by the front desk again the next day.

Room

As we entered the room, I was immediately struck by it’s thoughtful design.  The microwave and fridge are housed among significant cupboard and counter space.  This area rivals the space that other kitchen-inclusive properties provide (TownePlace Suites, for example).   Adjacent to this area is a roomy wardrobe for hanging articles, along with an iron and board.  On the other side of the entry area is a small bathroom and large mirror.  The well-lit area, generous counterspace, and shower make up for the fact an ajar door can hit any commode occupant.

The rooms were renovated in 2016, and they’ve been kept up remarkably well.  Frankly, I expected the rooms to be more beaten up from tons of beach-goers.  The room’s generously-sized TV was mounted between two functional areas – the work area and small chest of drawers.  An elevated platform below the TV allows visitors to conveniently store suitcases.  Lighting is cleverly hidden above in the rack-style desk and dresser areas.  Above the dresser are posts for hanging coats or other clothing.

The same type of lighting is located above the bed headboards and is surprisingly substantial.  I also liked having the more traditional bedside lamp option, as well.  Of course, I imagine these design touches aren’t unique to this Holiday Inn Express, but it’s the first I’ve experienced many of them.  The comfy beds have firm and soft pillow options, an underrated Holiday Inn Express touch.  A small, easy to spin chair is located next to the room window – my little ones entertained themselves on it throughout our visit.  Carpets are in good shape.  The only room blemish is the stained desk chair.  I easily accepted this imperfection since the room was excellently appointed otherwise.

Holiday Inn Express Outer

Amenities

Property History

The front desk staff advised that this property was previously the Nags Head Beach Hotel (for about 30 years) before it was branded a Holiday Inn Express in 2016.  I vaguely remember passing by this property during its previous life.  In my opinion, the transition of the property seemed adequate enough.  The hotel houses all that one would expect of a Holiday Inn Express, albeit in a tighter footprint than an average property.

Snug Dimensions

For instance, the lobby is noticeably small and easily full with just a half a dozen or so visitors.  Two small chairs are available on each side of the check-in area, but that’s it. There’s no way to be in the lobby for more than a few minutes without feeling in the way.  Doors on each side of the lobby bring in plenty of wind from the oceanfront.  The wife and I enjoyed always-available coffee in the lobby.  The business center is located in a small nook immediately to the left of the lobby elevators.  It’s not so much as a nook as it is a side of a hallway next to the restrooms.

Second Floor Amenities

The second floor breakfast area and fitness center fit in the necessary services without any extra room.  I couldn’t help but notice how these common areas seemed to fit in hotel room-sized dimensions.  The fitness center seems to be the exact size of one hotel room.  The breakfast area is two rooms, three taking into account the service area.

A bit more space opens up elsewhere on the second floor.  A small indoor pool with plenty of seating and fresh towels is located behind the elevator and stairs.  The pool is also adjacent to a big balcony area with plenty of chairs.  Ice machines and guest laundry are widely available throughout the property.  Two 1980’s-era elevators service the five floors.  I used the stairs behind the elevator bank plenty to avoid the high-demand elevators.

Holiday Inn Express Outer

More on Breakfast

Let me get one thing out of the way quickly: cinnamon rolls return!  I’ve stayed in a few Holiday Inn Express properties during the pandemic, but they’d all nixed cinnamon rolls until now.  I indulged.

I was pleasantly surprised at the well-maintained breakfast presentation.  Perhaps this is because the property has two workers at breakfast; I usually only see one (very busy) attendant at other Holiday Inn Express’s breakfast.  Unfortunately, the breakfast area is closed off by doors and windows, probably due to space limitations of the hotel.  Prompt diners will do best here.  Breakfast is only available 6:30-9:30 each morning, and the place is inevitably packed later in this timeframe.  We ate around 6:30-7:00 each day, and more than a few were there even then.

Holiday Inn Express Outer
Oceanfront Rooms.

Service

I try to have low (or no) expectations while traveling these days to avoid disappointment.  In particular, I don’t expect much from limited-service chains like Holiday Inn Express.  Competence (or some derivation of it) is all I hope for from hotel staff.  This property met or exceeded in all service areas.

The front desk is well-staffed, and all agents are happy to help.  They also make strong, satisfying coffee (breakfast’s is comparatively weak).  The wife and I enjoyed our wide-ranging conversations with everyone at the front desk.  Perhaps this means they’re patient.

Daily traditional housekeeping has been suspended due to the pandemic.  However, unlike other hotels, this property provides reliable, efficient housekeeping alternatives.  After filling out a housekeeping request card, guests place their used towels in the laundry basket, setting the basket and wastebin outside the room between 9-12 noon each day.  During our stay, we received fresh, bagged linens and an empty wastebasket on a timely basis.

As I mentioned earlier, breakfast service is thorough, but I couldn’t help but notice they weren’t open when we arrived at 6:35 the second morning.  One attendant held up her hand, signaling five more minutes until opening.  A line of about ten of us had formed by that time.

Holiday Inn Express Outer

Conclusion

Overall, we were satisfied with our stay at this property in the eastern reaches of North Carolina.  In our experience, this hotel meets or exceeds the standards of Holiday Inn Expresses in more populous areas.  That reliability in an out of the way location is refreshing.  The rebranded property seems squared away in most aspects, and the staff’s attention to detail is evident.  The wife volunteered that she would stay at the property again, a compliment she doesn’t throw around lightly.  I’m happy to find a convenient use for our two annual IHG FNC’s in such an area we like routinely visiting.  We’ll be back at the Holiday Inn Express Outer Banks next low season.

Benjy Harmon
Benjy is a fan of points, miles, and financial independence (FI). An experienced world traveler, husband, and father, he currently focuses on roaming throughout the USA expense-free (or close to it). He enjoys helping others achieve their FI and travel goals.

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7 COMMENTS

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7 COMMENTS

  1. Nice to see a review of this property, and I too (surprise) share a relatively positive take on Holiday Inn Express, even more so amidst the pandemic. (more on that below)

    But despite the great length of your review, you gloss over the one issue that time and again has soured us from using IHG points to stay here. To be blunt, this property intentionally discriminates (sic) against even IHG premium members. When we stay at ANY beach-front property, the whole point is to have an ocean-front or facing room. You don’t mention how your family reacted to having a room facing away from the ocean — i.e. the street. (dullsville, no? Or are they not into ocean waves’ serenading songs?)
    But HIX @ OBX (like a nearby Hampton Inn) simply will not let you book in advance any ocean-front rooms…. (counting on being to upgrade, as you found out, likely to be fruitless)

    About the breakfasts, we’ve stayed at half dozen HIX properties over the past year, (including Va Beach, Manassas, VA, and Exton PA) and nearly all of them had worked extra hard (early on) to provide reasonably hot and diverse breakfast items, plus fresh fruits, while paying serious attention to covid issue — including yes, the hot buns are back! (contrast this pattern with the very lame pattern at so many of the Raddishacks, and the supposed top-notch Marriotts w/ breakfast included fare — like SpringHill Suites @ Exton, PA — which to this day scrimp inexcusably on breakfasts…. not even trying to blame it on covid anymore (as competitors next door have figured out to have hot breakfasts AND hire the necessary staff!… Get with it Marriott! and yes, kudos to HIX the chain….)

    • escot,
      Thanks for chiming in. You bring up an interesting matter regarding oceanfront rooms at this property. Based on a few brief searches just now, I see one can book oceanfront rooms on cash rates, but indeed, not on points. That’s quite a limitation for many, and it’s perfectly understandable why some may opt to stay elsewhere. We live on the coast and have easy, local access to beaches, so a room with an oceanfront view wasn’t a big deal for us. Nonetheless, I’ll keep my radar up on this one and will plan to report back on our future stays/upgrade request outcomes (which I usually don’t hold expectations for, anyway).
      I can identify with your breakfast takes. I’ve only stayed once at a SpringHill property – never again, substantially due to my disappointing breakfast experience there.

      • Thanks Benjy. Appreciate that the beach-front not as important for your gang if you live close anyway. (For us, yup, it matters.) A few added tips for your future research:
        1. Not all HIX beach-front properties are so UN-rewarding with their better rooms. For example, we’ve been pleasantly impressed with VA Beach HIX this past year — on points, getting nice ocean front rooms — and they have a major renovation now underway.
        2. Pre-pandemic, we used to really like Spring Hill Suites…. stayed at several out across the Rockies — which had large whirlpools & pools, plus the BEST breakfast spreads we’d encountered this side of Sweden. (heaven there)…. But something’s gone wildly amiss with Marriott this past year…. Unlike HIX, which seems to encourage/push their member hotels to get back up close to pre-pandemic breakfast service (while still being mindful of safety precautions), Marriott just lets its breakfast included properties keep on cutting corners, keep on with the tired “chef pierre” packaged fare…. while getting very sloppy on safety (if at all). Utterly no excuse for this pattern — the SHS we were at was “sold out”…. (room wise, even as they’d “sold out” on quality)

        Only thing that will change this lazy Marriott (et. al.) covid excuse, but not really mindset will be for bloggers like you to start writing about it more…. and yes, for more and more elite customers (I’m Platinum) to ….. well, say something. 🙂

  2. I suggest trying the TownePlace Suites up the street. It’s only a few years old and in great shape. In general, I do prefer Hyatt place/house at just 5k points.

    • ABC,
      Yes, I’m familiar with this property also, although I haven’t stayed there. It’s not oceanfront like the Holiday Inn Express but definitely worth considering. Thanks for mentioning this other property to everyone! Unfortunately, no Hyatts in the Outer Banks – another example of their relatively limited footprint.

    • We also skipped over that high priced (35k+ pnts/da, TownePlace, as it’s NOT actually on the beach. (unless you count that extended board walk connection) Moreover, as I recall, they don’t have any rooms with balconies — in any direction. Sure, TP’s are usually “nice” …. but that’s not a beach-front experience. (Ok, beach area…. as in walk to it and open windows…. if that’s all ya want, and don’t need to be “on” the beach, have at it)

      Not sure what your point was in gratuitously bringing up tier1 Hyatt H/P
      @ 5k. Sure, I like ’em too. But there isn’t one within two hours of OBX. (much less one at 5k)

      • escot,
        One other detail I forgot to share with everyone regarding the nearby TownePlace (which I figure you know). In addition to not being an oceanfront property, the TownePlace sits perpendicular, not parallel, to the oceanfront.

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