Hotel Check-in/Check-out Times Are Broken: Here’s Why You’re Paying for Rooms You Can’t Use

Have you ever flown to Europe, landed at 6 o’clock in the morning, and had to wait until 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. to check into your hotel? That’s a miserable experience. If you’re a business class passenger maybe you can shower at the airport in an arrivals lounge. You find a place to store your bags. You’re exhausted and want a nap (part of my strategy to quickly adapt to local time is a short nap, in order to make it through dinner on local time).

If you travel to India you might arrive at 1 a.m. Surely you need to go to bed when you get there. So you wind up paying for a hotel the night before. But then when your flight back departs at 2 a.m. what do you do? You need to leave for the airport around 11 p.m., which is far beyond what hotels will do even for elite late check-out. So you wind up paying for an extra night you don’t “really” use. Now you’ve paid for two more nights than you actually “stayed.”

Do hotel check-in times and check-out times even make sense?

Someone wanted to “community note” this tweet, “Hotel check in/out times are set as they are to allow the hotel staff time to clean and prepare the room for the next guest” but this completely misses the point.

  • A mid-tier hotel is structured around its own operations and costs. They’re trying to deliver the hotel product as efficiently as possible. Guests conform to the needs of the property and help minimize its costs. Maybe there’s no room service, just a grab and go, or food is delivered in cardboard and paper. Guests might check-in using a kiosk instead of with a person. And they arrive and depart in a manner which maximizes the efficiency (and lowers the cost) of the housekeeping operation.

  • A premium hotel is structured around meeting the needs of the guests. It achieves a premium rate by delivering a premium service. That means investing more in staff and products that elevate the guest experience in case those elevate a stay. As soon as a customer enters the hotel’s doors, they are a guest meant to be taken care of. It’s possible that a hotel is full on a given night, long before check-in time, but if so then the guest is immediately cared for. Is there a temporary standard room that might be assigned rather than the premium one they booked? Can they use the gym or spa? Would they like a complimentary coffee? How can the guest be made as comfortable as possible?

I thought a better take, which represents a certain kind of traveler, came from Becky Pokora: if a hotel is a place to sleep, and you aren’t sleeping, then it’s ok I guess? You aren’t looking for a premium experience.

One of the mistakes we make most thinking about travel is to universalize our own experience – that how we travel and what we’re looking for is right and should be how it works for everyone.

While many premium hotels fail at check-in and check-out, Starwood Preferred Guest was truly revolutionary in how they treated best customers when they introduced “Your24”:

  • Check in whenever you wish, check out 24 hours later
  • As long as you check in at 9 a.m. or later, you’d still be entitled to 4 p.m. late check-out

This was offered to 75 night Platinum members. Hotels had to approve the request, but it was confirmed in advance after booking, and personally I didn’t have a problem getting approvals. Marriott made this a benefit at the Ambassador level and the reports I’ve heard have been that approvals are harder. Starwood’s best customers were truly honored guests.

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. “One of the mistakes we make most thinking about travel is to universalize our own experience”

    Only travel? How about life

  2. OK,

    So you want to check-out late and always check-in early??

    How could this possibly work?

    I want to stay in my room until 4 or 6pm while you want to check-in to my room at 7 or 8 am. That’s a no-go for any hotel that is fully booked.

  3. Traditionally, hotels in India had a 24 hour policy: whatever time you checked in, checkout was 24 hours later (times the number of days of your stay). This still exists, but has been eroded by chain management.

  4. In general, hotel times aren’t aligned with guests at all.

    4 pm check-in times are absurd. A properly staffed hotel should be able to clean and flip every room by 2 or 3 pm. The problem is many hotels only have 1 housekeeping shift; 9 am to 4 pm. They may not have a single housekeeper on duty after 4 pm and before 9 am. They should start cleaning rooms at 7 am, as there’s always a fair number of guests who check-out by 7 am. Especially airport hotels and downtown business hotels. Tropical resorts, by contrast, may not have a majority of guests arrive until after 4 pm due to flight timings.

    Similarly, what about breakfast? It is crazy to see how many airport and business hotels don’t have a single restaurant option for breakfast until 7 or 7:30 am. You’re an airport hotel. Guests are leaving at 5:30 or 6 am. At least have a cold buffet or a grab-and-go coffee station beginning at 5 am.

  5. Hyatt Globalists can check in at 9 AM at many Hyatt Place/Houses. (Some other properties will as well, but it’s a local option.) And they’ll often let you in earlier. Many/most of the major European airports have them close by, so if you’re forced to have an early morning arrival, booking your first night in the city is often not only a cheap option, but a convenient one as well. Last year we arrived at AMS at 6 AM, were at the Hyatt Place by 7 AM, and checked in with an offer of breakfast. (HP breakfast at AMS is nothing like US HP breakfast, it’s one of the better buffets you’ll ever see, with international/local offerings galore.)

    Personally, I like to schedule later arrivals in Europe, but sometimes you can’t avoid the early ones. Hyatt Globalist + Hyatt Place is the cure.

  6. If I am arriving between 0500 and 0800 I will buy the room from the night before. I want to be sure to have somewhere to go, and I feel it unreasonable (albeit pleasant) to expect a hotel to have a room ready for me at any time ….

    Heck – most hotels have a hard enough time finding and keeping staff for regular shifts these days.

  7. Wouldn’t hotels have to purposely leave some rooms unsold to cater for days with overlapping late check-outs and also early check-ins? There are several moving pieces to juggle just to get rooms flipped by current check-in times.

    That said, the Sofitel LHR T5 has been very accommodating when I’ve arrived early from a flight. Airport hotels will probably have more guests who arrive/leave outside of standard times.

  8. The airport hotel in BKK operates on a 24 hour check-in/check-out system so you can check in at 1 AM and still stay for 24 hours.

  9. As I get older, I have learned from experience, such as the time a few years back when I dropped my bags and my wife at our Paris hotel around 9am while I went to a meeting. She spent 6 hours waiting to be allowed into the room at official check-in time, and I was punished accordingly. Now we just book the night before, send comments and text and a call before we get on the plane to confirm our arrival time with the hotel getting the name of everyone we speak time. As an extra perk one can even have breakfast on arrival as opposed to the recycled plastic that they service for a pre-arrival breakfast on the plane. And if taking a red eye home from the left coast, just keep the room for an extra night. Yes, it costs money or points to do so but if one can afford it is a worthwhile luxury.

  10. Some Hotels I have to check in the day before and make sure they are aware and do not treat me as a no show. However Hyatt has been wonderful, especially the Hyatt Regency at the Circle in Zurich. I now stay there when I arrive and the night before I leave. Great place.

  11. Unfortunately, “rooms by the hour” has a bad name and is associated either with short-term stays at hotels inside airports or with red light districts, so I don’t see check in/check out flexibility changing much in the near term.

  12. Higher end hotels in India have not traditionally had “a 24 hour policy: whatever time you checked in, checkout was 24 hours later (times the number of days of your stay).” The Oberoi, Taj and ITC hotels have never given me a “24 hour policy” on one-night stays at Indian hotels and I’ve had a lot of one-night hotel stays in India’s cities. But many of these Indian hotels have sometimes allowed me to check in as early as 8am/9am and check out as late as 6pm/7pm on my one-night stays and provided the access without any surcharge for early check-in and/or late check-out.

  13. The overwhelming bulk of North American hotels are 100ish room limited service properties.

    Housekeeping for the most part is scheduled 8-4 on weekdays and 9-5 on weekends but….they are under extreme pressure by local management who is under extreme pressure by the management company and/or owner to be done before that. Please don’t bring up the parent companies as they have no clue/say/influence as to anything regarding pay rates/benefits/handbook rules/FTEs, etc.

    On top of that, the pandemic gave the industry an excuse to permanently riff a large amount of housekeeping jobs that will never come back, period.

    Don’t like it? Tough. Your choices are to either pay a lot more for a high end property where the changes are less noticeable or stay home.

  14. A Hyatt Regency once let me check in at 6 am and even told me to go enjoy the Globalist breakfast.
    However, most of the times I have been told to wait in lounge while they prepare a room for me or they let me stay in lounge after 4 pm checkout until it is time to leave for the airport.

  15. Come on it isn’t rocket science. Hotels can’t always offer elites late check out while elites expect early check in. Inventory or room types just aren’t always available to do that.

    There is also considerations just as house keeping and how long it takes to turn the rooms

  16. All hotels which sell room to airline crew do it according to the crew’s schedules. In many cases roughly 24 hours during whatever part of the day that the crew is doing that 26-hour turnaround.

  17. Tell me you’ve never worked in a hotel without telling me you’ve never worked in a hotel.

  18. “ One of the mistakes we make most thinking about travel is to universalize our own experience – that how we travel and what we’re looking for is right and should be how it works for everyone.”

    – reminding me of Gary’s One of the mistakes we make most thinking about travel is to universalize our own experience – that how we travel and what we’re looking for is right and should be how it works for everyone.

    – reminds me of Gary’s obsession against refillable shampoo bottles when the rest of the world really don’t care…

  19. This is my largest desire of hotels… a customized check-in/out time. I don’t even need 24 hours! How about just letting me stay 16 hours? If I fly to Europe and arrive at 7am, I could busy myself til 10am, but PLEASE give me a bed at 10am… I swear I will vacate in 16hours or less. I simply cannot stay awake from 7am until a 4pm checkin time.

  20. @Bgriff, agreed: Peninsula’s “Peninsula Time policy” — check-in as early as 6 am and check-out the next day as late as 10 pm, no elite status required — deserves more than a shout-out. I love Peninsula Hotels and was unaware of this policy, but it’s a godsend for long-haul travelers, particularly to Asia.

  21. @FNT Of course they can do this, but it will increase costs and, thus, room rates. Since none of these things you want to add are of value to me, I’m more likely to select a place without these features and a better rate.

    For me, this is easily solved. There are flights into CDG that don’t arrive at the crack of dawn. And, when faced with no choice but early arrivals into Australian and NZ cities, I just arrange to start the trip in another city. Going to visit Adelaide and Sydney? Fly to ADL first, the connecting flight gets you in early afternoon if you select a bit longer layover, which gives you flex time for customs bottlenecks and time in the lounge.

  22. Soooo agree. Airport hotels should be more accommodating. Hilton (CDG) charges 50€ extra for early check in and you still have to wait. I’m sure none of that went to the housekeeper.

  23. Some of the cheap local brand hotels I stay at in China have strange 24+ hour check-in and check-out times. Had a 8am check in, 1pm check out policy and a 10am to 2pm policy recently. I guess they can manage it with low occupancy.

  24. It would be interesting if more hotels broke with the standard check in and check out times. Then guests could choose their hotel partially by those parameters.

  25. James: “I’m amazed at people who defend being kept out late and kicked out early.” I am amazed by people who don’t comprehend that allowing early checkins and late checkouts for all would result in the property losing a day’s revenue for most room turnovers. This means a substantial increase in rates for properties with high occupancy rates. Are you also amazed at hotels that won’t let you stay free if they have an empty room?

  26. I find it a mixed bag- if we are traveling for work and know we will arrive early in the day, we get the room the night before and make it clear when we are landing so they don’t think we are a no-show. It is usually a long travel day internationally and we don’t want to mess around. However if it is a later arrival, like 11 or noon, we may be fine with waiting a couple hours for a room. I personally try to work out or immediately go for a walk to get my blood moving and get some sunshine to reset my clock.

    If I am going on vacation with my family, it depends- I may rely on my high status to see if they can get me one of the first rooms cleaned and just bring a carry-on with change of clothes to hang out by the pool for the couple hours until its available, or, if I know we will be jet lagged, I’ll book the room starting the night before. A lot of places we go that are high end have a courtesy suite they let you use for an hour or so to change and shower before you leave too. The idea being they just refresh it between people (like an airport lounge shower) and you aren’t using a bed.

  27. Day office room rates can still be useful in some places to get a bed to sleep in and a shower when arriving at say 8am or 9am.

    Also, airport hotels or hotel gyms may be places where you can get limited access to freshen up (and in some cases even nap) for a bit before check-in time at the hotel you’ve booked for your nightly stay.

    In some places, people even buy a refundable ticket with lounge access in order to get lounge access at the airport on arrival before heading into town after the flight.

  28. It always annoyed me when I have to change hotels in the same city for one reason or another.
    Check out of hotel A at 11am, take less than an hour to travel to hotel B, have to wait until 3pm to check in.
    I was never a fan of leaving my bags with coat check since there’s a lot I carry of value that could get damaged, just want my room, toss my belongings in, then go out again.

  29. Sometimes hotels aren’t rule nazis. We landed in Lisbon mid morning, very tired from California. We went to the hotel…just in case they could take us. The hotel welcomed us by taking our luggage and taking us to their breakfast buffet, while they expedited our room. It made us feel special and they came and got us when the room was ready. The true delivery of customer service in a country where customer service isn’t often extolled. I recommend Hotel Avenida Palace if staying in Lisbon!

  30. My workaround when I arrive in Europe early is after I drop my bag at the hotel, I find a local spa that has a shower facility, book a massage where i usually fall asleep for a bit, then take a shower and I’m good to go.

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