How Do You Use a Concierge?

USA Today ran a piece on hotel concierges, the upshot is that they’re extremely useful but that some travelers don’t take full advantage of their services because they’re intimidated or unfamiliar with them.

On the whole that hasn’t been quite my experience, I’m neither unfamiliar nor intimidated and yet I find most concierges to be of limited usefulness.

There are truly connected concierges, on rare occasion I had heard of the lead concierge at the Hotel Arts Barcelona getting guests into El Bulli when there was a same-day cancellation. But on the whole, I’ve rarely found concierges who could get me in somewhere that I couldn’t get into on my own.

I do use concierges for simple restaurant reservations outside of the United States, I find that their English is better than I’ll find at most restaurants and so it may make sense to communicate with them instead of with the restaurant directly, so I’ll have them make the call and confirm (and re-confirm when necessary) my booking.

Most times though a concierge just adds a middle step, potentially creating a game of telephone with two cups and a string where something is lost in translation.

When I was staying at the Prince de Galles in Paris I communicated with the hotel in advance by emailing to make several restaurant bookings, which they confirmed for me. One afternoon I showed up at the appointed time only to find the restaurant wasn’t even open! Now, I had a terrible time discerning what actually happened, and even if the restaurant took the booking without realizing they’d be closed I still fault the hotel — which purports to be a luxury property even if it pales next to the George V next door — for not calling to re-confirm the booking before we departed the hotel to head to the restaurant.

The toughest booking I made on that Paris trip, Joel Robuchon, I made myself.

The concierge in my building will make restaurant reservations (and water your plants or feed your cat, though I do not have a cat) but I can’t imagine ever using them to make such a booking, if I can’t do it myself online at Opentable I’ll pick up the phone, it’s usually just as simple to call the restaurant as it is to call the concierge. It’s nice to have someone receiving packages for me, though.

I have several different concierge services through various credit cards, from Diners Club to Visa Signature (VIPdesk), to Amex Platinum (Circles). Occasionally I’ve tested them for various things like tickets to sold out events, and they come back with an offer, but it’s usually for more money than if I’d just go to a broker online directly – and that would be handled much more quickly, rather than hoping they remember to call me back.

Of course there are higher end services. The only one I’ve dealt with, and they’re hardly the top end, is Quintessentially, whose services are made available to British Airways first class customers, but my impression is that they can barely book a cabana in the Concorde Room at Heathrow let alone be counted on for more extensive arrangements.

There are of course the pricey $20,000+ services that promise to get you into the best events and be at your beck and call, I haven’t worked with any of those and no doubt if you can afford their services and the pricetag for the events they promise to arrange for you like attendance at the Oscars or TV premiers then you might also consider the services of a true personal assistant (or a personal assistant and a concierge service to work together!).

Neither of those are me, and I’m limited to the credit card services which I rarely use, and the hotel concierges which I rarely use.

I do much like my Hyatt private line concierge, however, but I’ve never asked her to do anything besides dealing with hotel and Gold passport issues for me. Starwood’s Platinum representatives have long been referred to as concierges, though my sense is it was more urban legend than fact that they could meaningfully do much more for you than a hotel booking or simple tasks like those a credit card paid-for concierge might.

That said, I wouldn’t hesitate to walk into a hotel, especially one I frequent or at least affiliated with a chain that I frequent, and ask for assistance from the concierge even if not a guest in the hotel. I imagine that I’d be most inclined to feel like I needed that assistance in a foreign country, as that’s the only time I tend to use a concierge. But then I also feel no compunction about walking into a hotel I frequent and borrowing their lobby to meet with folks even when not a registered guest (and at some hotel properties that’ll mean complimentary internet and complimentary soft drinks, I have long wished more chains would copy the now-defunct Radisson benefit ‘Our World, Your Lounge’ where all elites were officially welcome to this).

How do you make use of concierges? I figure I genuinely must be missing something.

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. Hotel concierges for me are a handy backup or go-to when there’s something I can’t do myself.

    I’ve used their services at foreign hotels to help when English skills of general staff aren’t serviceable. Have also used them to get the address of a destination in a local language (for taxi drivers), and for extra advice of what’s interesting to do in the local area.

  2. Maybe the concierges are more useful to the average USA Today reader than to the average travel blog reader, so you are just speaking to different audiences and neither of you are wrong. Most things they can do, you and I could probably do better, but someone out there has less experience and organization and couldn’t. Of course some concierges may be useless, but many are probably just less useful than our own skills.

  3. I used them in Las Vegas. It was Sunday morning at the Bellagio – every restaurant in the hotel had a long wait and my friend was starving. The concierge suggested a little known restaurant in the vdara (connected to the hotel). The concierge was fantastic.

  4. I used the concierge at my Prague hotel extensively during a time when I had a large team of people working for me there. Mostly for arranging cars at varying times and varying numbers of passengers, but also for reservations. After a couple of times attempting to book restaurants myself, I found she was able to apply pressure to the maitre d’s to make it happen better than me – probably because she has the ability to suggest these places to patrons. Being fluent in Czech helped also I’m sure. She gave some good sightseeing and show ideas also, and let us know when to use the metro instead of cabs (and also gave us metro tickets that were charged to our room, a real convenience). On the whole she made my winter in Prague much more pleasant.

  5. Even if you are not a guest at a hotel, one should always fel free to ask for assistance from a concierge. If the concierge is able to get you a table at a sought after restaurant, then a gratutity is in order. And a gratuity should be provided for any good service that the conceirge does for you as a non-guest.

  6. I also am generally at a loss when it comes to getting value from a concierge…

    I have tried AMEX Plat concierge a couple of times for event tickets, and like you, found their prices to be significantly higher than what I could easily get for myself on CL or Stubhub… I have not tried using them to book a dinner reservation – Opentable is sooo easy… (International might be a different story.)

    One very positive experience I had was at the FS Hong Kong (spectacular hotel! Thanks DavidO and Virtuoso!).

    On our last night in HK, my wife and I were putting our things together to pack and realized we had purchased more than our suitcases could hold! Need another suitcase, quick!

    We went down to the concierge (it was about 6:00 PM) and started asking about places that might be open at that time for us to go buy a suitcase. He started calling around, a couple of different options or if we felt adventurous we could make the trek to the Ladies Market… By the looks on our faces he could tell that we really did not want to be doing this… Our last night here, and we wanted to go hang out and eat dinner up the mid levels…

    Without my asking, he then said: Would you like us to go get a suitcase for you and have it here when you return from dinner? Yes! He asked a few questions – size, color, cheap or expensive, etc. and then said it would be waiting there when we returned.

    We were quite happy and relieved that we did not have to do this ourselves…

    Went out and had a nice dinner (the Tapas restaurant in SoHo), walked around for some excellent people watching, and headed back to the hotel.

    Went to the concierge and they had purchased exactly what we wanted! Medium sized, black, and cheap (we just really needed it to get our extra stuff home).

    That one experience was excellent, and I guess I need to think more creatively (especially at nice hotels) on what services I should engage the concierge for…

    But, then there is the most important question! How much do you tip the concierge?

  7. I’ve used hotel concierges more for recommendations than reservations. This seems to work reasonably well except near touristy areas when the hotel has some agreement to only refer you to a list of preferred merchants. If that’s the case then I go to Yelp, Urbanspoon, etc.

  8. As a woman who often travels alone for business, a concierge can be helpful. If I need a car service, for example, I can trust that I’m going to be in good hands — no driver wants to harm his/her reputation with a good hotel. Internationally, I use them to help me with directions, reservations, etc. when I don’t speak the local language. I tend to prefer smaller, local restaurants, and enjoy getting advice on where they’re to be found.

    A consulting colleague once told me that the key to extensive road travel was to learn to use the concierge for just about anything. Lark’s suitcase story is an example of this, as is the time I needed a haircut and didn’t have time to go get one. The concierge arranged for someone to come to my room and provide a great haircut while I was on a conference call!

    So, all in all, I think it’s less about major reservations and more about finding excellent local services when they’re needed.

  9. I was giving a talk at the Oberoi in Mumbai and realized I did not have dress shoes to go with my suit.
    i called the concierge, who sent up a pair of new shoes that they had in stock for employees, which i wore once and returned.

    A concierge in Guayaquil got me a bowtie in four minutes notice (though required I give the staff member from whom i took it $10 in collateral, which I was more than happy to do).

  10. I found out last year my Hyatt’s private line representative was not empowered to make reservations even at Hyatt restaurants. They do handle all other things Hyatt, the main value of which is calendaring future stays for potential rate reductions.

  11. I am a concierge ,the problem is we rarely get tipped anymore and make around $10-$12 an hour. We have to look sharp and have our suits pressed and dry cleaned everyday. I have been complemented many times in emails to my bosses about being helpful, the issue is i would do more however know Americans these days do not tip or tip poorly.

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