Tips For a Better Hotel Experience

Photo courtesy of timsmith on sxc.hu
Photo courtesy of timsmith on sxc.hu

Whether for business or pleasure, for a one-night stay or for a week-long vacation, hotels are basically the same.  Some are more expensive and more exclusive than others.  Some offer more perks or amenities than others.  But at all of them there are certain things you can do from the time you make your reservation to insure your stay goes off without a hitch.  I work in the accounting department of a major hotel chain hotel. Here are my tips, from my experiences at work.

Plan Your Stay

Unless you’re going to a convention or staying for business in a particular hotel, you have a huge number of choices for your vacation.  Understanding the season of your chosen locale will help.  Winter in Florida, for example, is the season so prices for hotel rooms will be considerably higher and service may suffer due to the large number of people at the hotel’s restaurant, bar or pool.  Choosing an off-season location, like Florida in the summer, will give you more affordable choices and less crowds to deal with.

Photo courtesy of szazesk2 on sxc.hu
Photo courtesy of szazesk2 on sxc.hu

Making Your Reservation

There are many choices for making a reservation – directly through the hotel, through a wholesaler like Expedia, or through a travel agency.  Though many people believe online wholesalers have the best deals, this isn’t always the case.  Expedia and hotels.com are the same company, as are Travelocity and Priceline.  They all generally have the same rates.  The hotel may offer some great deals, such as discounts for pre-paying your room, free breakfast, a room upgrade or hotel/resort credit.  These specials aren’t advertised though; you have to ask for them.  Your local travel agent may or may not have good rates, depending on whether or not they have a relationship with the hotel.  The major agencies I deal with, who generally get the best rates from us, are Tourico, New World Travel, hotelbeds.com, Travel Impressions and some airlines, particularly Virgin Holidays.

If you make your reservation directly through the hotel, you can pre-pay or give a credit card to hold the room until check-in. 

        I.            Pre-pay – You’ll get a discount in many cases, and you won’t have to worry about that at checkout.  Most hotels have a 72-hour cancellation policy – cancel up to 3 days before your check-in date and you’ll get a full refund.  Even after that 72-hour period, most hotels will give a full refund for cancellations due to natural disasters or family emergencies.  We don’t ask for proof of a family emergency at the hotel where I work, but other hotels may require proof.

      II.            Credit Card Guarantee – If you can’t pre-pay, or don’t want to, you’ll still have to give a credit or debit card at the time of reservation to hold the room.  The credit card insures the hotel has a way to charge for a no-show or late cancellation.  Here’s the tip:  Use your credit card, and use the one you plan to use at check-out.  Do NOT give your debit card.  I’ll explain why below, and security is not the reason.

Photo courtesy of sykicktb on sxc.hu
Photo courtesy of sykicktb on sxc.hu

Checking In

Before your arrival, check the hotel’s check-in policy.  Some hotels start check-in at 2:00 or 3:00 while others start at 4:00.  If you plan to arrive early, let the reservationist know when you make your reservation.  Ask for early arrival.  You may or may not have to pay for the convenience, and most hotels don’t guarantee early arrivals, though they do try to accommodate them, provided the rooms are available.

If you are not sure what time you will arrive and you get to the hotel when check-in begins, you may encounter lines at the front desk.  If you arrive before check-in time, you may be asked to wait.  Hotels MUST have a check-in (and check-out) policy to give the housekeeping staff enough time to prepare the rooms for incoming guests.  If you’re early, you can usually ask the front desk to hold your luggage while you go look at the pool or have a bite to eat.

At check-in, when it’s finally time to get your room key, remember you’re on vacation.  The front desk staff is often vastly underpaid for all they do.  They must make reservations, listen to and resolve complaints, answer questions, and take payments – all with a smile on their faces.  It’s not an easy job.  When it’s your turn to check-in, put a smile on your face, despite any hassles you may have encountered thus far.  Just as it’s not your fault that the guest in front of you was rude or the front desk agent is having a bad day (and none of this should be reflected in their dealings with you), it’s not their fault that you just sat in traffic, couldn’t find the hotel or that your child is cranky.  A smile is a powerful tool towards great customer service.

Why Should You Use the Same Credit Card at Check-In?

Honestly, mistakes happen…and so do authorization holds.  One of the things I do most is explain the authorization hold and call banks to release them.  When you check-in the hotel will automatically place a hold of $50 for every night you stay.  If you stay seven nights, there will be a hold placed on $350, just in case you charge things to your room and don’t pay for them.  That hold will usually drop off within a couple days of check-out but in the meantime you don’t have access to that money, and in some cases guests have incurred overdraft fees for continuing to use their debit card. 

The other reason – mistakes happen.  If you give the front desk agent your credit card at check-in and ask the hotel to charge that and not the debit card you used when you made the reservation, most of the credit card will override the debit card (though in a very few instances, the hold may still be placed on your debit card).  Bu mistakes DO happen, especially when the front desk is busy.  Better to just avoid the problem in the first place: when making your reservation, use the credit card you plan to use when you arrive at the hotel.

Photo courtesy of CDWaldi on sxc.hu
Photo courtesy of CDWaldi on sxc.hu

During Your Stay

If you plan your vacation during a heavy tourist season, more problems may arise during your stay.  The restaurant, bar and pool will be busier so your wait will be longer.  I went down to the front desk on morning during spring break and found a line for the restaurant extending into the lobby and around the elevators.

Housekeeping starts at 8:30 so if you have plans to hit the theme parks, slopes or beach, head out early.  You’ll avoid the crowds from later in the day and your housekeeper will appreciate being able to get started early.

Many hotels are going green and asking their guests to help.  The housekeepers replace towels left on the floor but not the ones left hanging on the towel racks.  If you want to do your part, hang your towels and use them more than once, reducing the amount of water the hotel uses in laundry.

This one is common sense – put your valuables away!  We recently had a guest lose a Blackberry in her room.  She had left the phone on the bathroom floor under the towels.  The housekeeper simply picked up the pile of towels, with the phone among them.  When the phone was recovered from the laundry room, it was clean but no longer functioning.

Respect the hotel’s pet and smoking policies.  We are a non-smoking, no pet hotel though we allow service animals and smoking on the room balconies.  If a guest smokes in the room, we can smell it in the hallway.  Likewise, if a guest sneaks in Fido, another guest usually hears the dog barking in the middle of the day when it’s been left alone in the room.  If smoking in the room or bringing your dog are important, make sure the hotel you choose allows it.

Photo courtesy of kaypat on sxc.hu
Photo courtesy of kaypat on sxc.hu

Checking Out

The check-out time in most hotels is 11:00 AM.  For the most part you can check-out in person at the front desk, or just leave (leave your key on the room’s dresser or in the keybox in the lobby).  At the hotel where I work, we also offer video check-out via the television.  If you’ve charged a dinner, a drink or gift store purchase to room, you should check-out in person and review all of your charges to be sure your bill is correct.  Again, mistakes do happen.  We also have the night staff slip bills under the doors of departing guests around 4:00 AM so that the guest can review the bill in the morning and use the video check-out.

Late check-outs are available as well.  You should notify the front desk as early during your stay as possible if you want to check out late or stay an extra night, especially during season when the hotel may be overbooked.  Just as with early check-in, there may be an extra charge for a late check-out.

Guest Surveys and Outstanding Service

Check the lobby of the hotel for a guest survey.  These are invaluable tools for the hotel for improving their services.  We review our surveys at a weekly meeting geared specifically towards discussing the guest comments.  For our hotel (and the entire chain), only scores of 9 or 10 are acceptable.  Anything less is a failure, so if you had an exceptional experience, don’t be afraid to mark down a 9 or 10 on the survey.

Likewise, if you had exceptional service from a particular staff member – whether it’s front desk, housekeeping, wait staff or another of the hotel’s employees – write a letter to the hotel’s general manager or tell that person’s supervisor before checking out.  Staff members are rewarded for guest compliments, and those letters are kept in the employee’s file.

Hopefully these tips will help you enjoy your vacation and avoid any unnecessary hassles.  Though all hotels strive to exceed their guests’ expectations, a little preparation on your part helps us fulfill our duties even better and help provide you with a vacation to remember.

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