Booking and checking into a hotel has never been easier -- so why does it sometimes feel like such a fraught moment when you get to the front desk to check in? It could be because we are aware that the hotel folks know a lot more about what we are in for than we do, an unsettling feeling for sure.
Most hotels and hotel employees want you to have a good stay, but that doesn't mean they aren't keeping a few things to themselves as they peer into the reservation computer screen and encode plastic door keys for you. Here are some of the things your hotel won't tell you, and maybe doesn't want you to know.
1. If you booked a cheap room, you're getting a cheap room.
In these days of fully computerized booking, the person at the front desk knows where you booked your room, how much you paid and what amenities you specified -- and they likely have instructions on what to do when rooms have been booked for very low rates. So if you booked your room at a rock-bottom "name your price" rate, you shouldn't expect the best room with the best view in the hotel.
2. They know which are the best rooms.
When you are checking in, the front desk person chooses a room for you, and he or she knows if it is a good one or not. Hotel staffers know which rooms are large or small, are far from the elevator, have bright lights pouring in, have good or bad views, are noisy, etc.
That said, they might not know about problems such as a remote without batteries or a non-functioning coffee maker, as these issues often go unreported by previous guests. So if you want something fixed, ask politely, since it may well be the first the front desk has heard of the problem.
3. "No vacancy" might not be true.
Only the front desk staff knows the true, up-to-date inventory of the hotel, as they are privy to the most recent cancellations and know if certain rooms are being withheld from the main reservation system for any reason. Centralized reservations systems, whether online or at an 800 number, often do not have the same updated information. Calling the hotel directly can sometimes result in a booking when no other method is working.
4. Staff is often underpaid.
When you are upset, tired or in need of something, it is helpful to remember that the hotel staff is probably underpaid to some extent, that they have managers looking over their shoulders, and that they are just trying to get through their shift doing a good job. They aren't trying to cause you problems, ruin your stay or make you a king. They're at work.
5. Staff holds the cards.
It is true, however, that those same underpaid folks make most of the critical decisions about your reservation. So maybe think about it -- if someone paying your company $159 for a product came in ranting about some minor thing, how would you treat him? You would probably tell him -- very nicely, of course -- that he can have his money back and find another product elsewhere. Hotel folks might not tell you that (although if pushed far enough, they may be authorized to do so), but they can give you the small, noisy, too-bright room for sure.
6. Staff may not have been background checked.
Given how much stuff the majority of hotel visitors leave lying around without incident, it is clear that most hotel workers are plenty honest, but keep in mind that not all staff undergoes a thorough background check, extensive vetting or tough checks on references. Be sure to stow your valuables in the hotel safe rather than leaving them out.
7. Concierge recommendations may not be entirely unbiased.
It is a fairly routine practice for hotels to recommend some establishments and not others when guests ask. The property may have a deal with a local restaurant, or the hotel owner may own the restaurant as well, or the employees may have been told not to give out information that would lure folks away from the hotel restaurant or bar, or the concierge may be getting paid to recommend specific establishments.
My tactic in this case is to do a little research on nearby places, then ask specifically about them. A quick scan of your smartphone before you call the concierge can help you figure out what to ask and which information to trust.
8. Your room may be neat, but it's not all that clean.
Hotel housekeepers may clean anywhere from 10 to 30 rooms per day, and often have to work particularly quickly between check-out and check-in times. That gives them only about 15 - 20 minutes to clean each room, which mostly means make the beds, replace any items that were used overnight (such as glasses, towels and coffee cups), check the minibar and be gone. Think about your own bedroom and bathroom; how much can you really get done in 15 minutes? That's how clean your room is.
9. A lot of stuff doesn't get cleaned at all.
These typically include the coffee maker, doorknobs, desktops and the TV remote. If you are a germophobe, you might be careful about the non-bed furniture; travelers frequently sit on them while changing, doing quick computer work with very minimal clothes on, etc.
10. This especially applies to the bedspread.
Hotels change their main bedspreads very infrequently, despite the fact that a lot of stuff happens on top of them. Of all the hotel tips I have read over the years, I have seen this one the most: Don't lie down on the bedspread.
11. Crazy stuff may have happened in your room.
The one thing that many hotel tell-alls have in common is the revelation that no one talks about what has happened in any given room, which can be anything from affairs, arrests and parties to drug deals, deaths and even murders.
12. The staff doesn't really care if you are going to post a bad review.
Threatening a bad review on social media or sites like TripAdvisor tends not to get much of a rise out of most front desk staff; they have had ticked-off customers before, and will again. If you feel you have been done an injustice and deserve compensation, try to address the specific problem directly with the hotel manager during your stay or with the corporate office after you leave. If you still don't feel satisfied, feel free to post a review or report as you like -- but don't expect the threat to get you the royal treatment.
13. Checking in early (or late) might get you a lesser room.
If you check in outside the normal check-in times, you might have to take what they've got -- and it might not always be a great room. However...
14. It might also get you a better room.
On the other hand, some hotel experts recommend that you give it a try. When inventory is way off-balance, as it is in the morning before most rooms are ready, or late at night when most are full, what is left might be a much better room than you paid for, as these are typically left unoccupied until the last minute.
On a recent family trip, due to a massive flight delay we checked in after 11 p.m. and ended up in a suite despite having paid a standard rate (it turned out to be a room for disabled travelers, so we had a lot of extra space). To give away these rooms, the hotel needs to be sold out or very nearly so -- but sometimes good things come to those who wait.
15. Other guests know a lot of these things, so we are all taking care of each other.
As hotel guests start to pay more attention to how they behave in hotel rooms, things start to get better for all of us. For example, if you read this article, then keep your hotel room pretty clean when you stay, and I stay there the next night and do the same, and folks post info to review sites to help everyone know what to expect -- well, we'll all have a lot less to worry about.
Editor's Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc.