Some of the Good and Bad of Hotel Hospitality

Hack My Trip outlines his hotel annoyances and I found his list a bit anachronistic, but at the same time it was useful in prompting my own thinking about the features and services at hotels that matter to me.

So allow me to share some of his dislikes and my own thinking on each, perhaps an odd exercise for Christmas Day.

I don’t like room service. It takes just as long as going to the hotel restaurant and usually has the same menu. I’d rather sit at a real table and eat my food in comfort.

I do like room service, and if you’re pressed for time try ordering ahead, I occasionally ring up the hotel enroute from the airport if it’s late and ask to have room service delivered at a specific time.

Sometimes you’re just too tired and would like to change and get comfortable, more so than you’d want to be seen in public, while getting some sustenance. Or you want to eat while getting ready in the morning, you can multitask where you couldn’t carve out time to spend in the restaurant.

Or multitasking may mean taking a conference call for work or working on a presentation, which the restaurant isn’t as good for.

I don’t like designer toiletries. I am not a cool person and have never heard of these companies. All I want is something that lathers, rinses out, and is easy to open.

This is just personal preference I suppose. I love high-quality products, and discovering new products, the variety across hotel chains is great and the things I do like I bring back into my daily life at home. Some will scoff, I’d imagine.

I don’t like hi-tech rooms.

I think what he actually means is that he loves technology that’s done well, but if the technology isn’t intuitive or serving a purpose then it isn’t valuable. No one has ever complained they didn’t like a room because it had too many outlets. I like interacting with a hotel electronically, but then I’m shy, if I can order room service off a tablet instead of picking up the phone I’ll do that.

I don’t like no lines at check-in. Again, let me qualify. I don’t like waiting, but I also need to know where to go. At boutique hotels, the whole sit-down-and-have-a-drink aesthetic unsettles me.

The very best check-in is where you don’t need to do anything at all or at the very least can handle whatever formalities in the room.

The check-in desk is a convenience to the hotel, not to you. You queue up while they process you in the manner most efficient for their staff. But they could pre-check you in and have keys made already, they have a credit card number on file.

Walk up, hand a key, no time at all. Or they take you straight to your room and deal with paperwork there. So you’re on your way dropping your bags already if you have any.

I don’t like mini bars, with local treats or otherwise. The local idea is nice; charging isn’t. You could give me a free $2 granola bar and I’ll be happy. But charge me $12 and I’ll never eat one.

I’ve had the great fortune of being an Intercontinental Royal Ambassador for about 7 years, the most famous benefit of which is complimentary drinks from the minibar. At first that novelty seems like the Greatest. Benefit. Ever. You have parties up in your room. You shove all the mini-bottles into your Ziploc Freedom Baggie to cart back home.

Then after awhile the novelty wears off, at least it did for me, and I realize that what I really value is having free bottled water in the room, though I’d be happy with bottled water that’s just not pricier than what I would buy at the airport. Since I can’t carry much water with me given the liquid ban.

I often grab a couple of bottles at the airport once I’m through security so I can go straight to my hotel and still have water for the night. That minibar water, at an Intercontinental or an Andaz where it’s free, is really nice.

The rest of it I could do without I suppose. Some people really value an empty refrigerator. I wonder how many people run up big minibar tabs and pay them, my fascination with the Intercontinental benefit was precisely because they seemed such a forbidden fruit. I’ve heard that minibars aren’t actually a profit center when you factor having to monitor and stock them, so I wonder if hotels couldn’t be a bit innovative here.

Resort fees are stupid, no matter how you justify them, and should included in the advertised rate

Hear hear! I have an upcoming stay booked where the hotel has a $50 per night resort fee, which I didn’t know until I returned to the hotel website some months after booking. It includes internet which I’d get free based on status anyway, and valet parking but I won’t have a car. A ‘resort fee’ is part of the price unless it is optional, and breaking it out from the price is a deceptive practice and should be roundly shamed.

I do think we’ve begun to take for granted many of the good things about hotels, the things that have been real improvements over the past decade or so.

Hotels have paid a lot more attention to their beds, I think that Starwood was especially revolutionary here beginning with the Westin Heavenly Bed (they promoted themselves as ‘better in bed’ and got a ton of mileage out of the consistent quality sleep they offered) and then rolling this out to other brands, the Sheraton Sweet Sleeper is really good athough I think they somewhat lost steam with the ‘Four Comfort Bed’ at Four Points.

Other chains mimicked this to varying degrees, but overall the quality of beds and bedding is greatly improved.

Starwood tried to match its heavenly bed success with the heavenly bath, but mostly fell flat. Still, the curved shower rod is a simple but meaningful innovation that’s gained broad currency across the industry.

And thank goodness for e-mailed receipts, for free internet (still not everywhere of course), for late check outs… and for the arms race that has been hotel loyalty programs. It used to be tough to use your points for reward nights, now most chains make most standard rooms available on points. And suites are much more accessible to elites than ever before.

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. @Nic it totally depends on the trip/hotel… for instance, when I was at a resort last month in Langkawi Malaysia I spent a ton of time on property — on my balcony overlooking the beach reading, on the beach itself, at the spa, etc etc. Later in the week I’ll be in a major European capital city, and though at a very nice hotel I’ll spend much more time out and about, the draw of the trip isn’t the hotel itself.

  2. Yup. I love the beds at most hotels I’ve stayed at this year, so I have no complaints with that one reason we all go there: to get a good night’s sleep.

    And you’re right, I get more annoyed at poorly implemented features than the features themselves.

  3. I find having two bottles of water for free is one of my favorite amenities that I value far more than their value.

    What I hate is high-tech lighting in hotels room that takes forever to figure out how to turn on and off.

  4. In Europe NH has pioneered the free minibar gimmick. Of course then the minibar tends to have less good stuff.

  5. I am a faithful reader of your blog, and other blogs, as well. I appreciate the tips, etc.

    I am often amused by the write ups of hotel bath amenities, first class flight amenities and experiences, pictures of foods on planes, etc. Frankly, it’s nothing I care about. As for views from hotel rooms, I generally don’t care about this either, as I’m usually experiencing my destination and not staying long in my hotel room. I’m more of a Rick Steves-type traveller.

    But that’s me.

    We all have our travel preferences, our own priorities, and our own perceptions of quality and meaningful value.

    Happy Holidays!

  6. Totally agree with you here Gary.

    I love room service breakfast. there is always a choice. But if i’ve had a long night and a rough morning, room service is great. Order food, snooze, shower, and eat your breakfast in the bathrobe.

  7. While I generally think the govenment has over regulated our lives, I find the new airline pricing laws a great relief. No more ads for $150 flights that end up costing $300 after taxes and fees. It’s time for that in hotels as well. Voluntary would be nice, but probably won’t happen. Not sure why not, as the tacking on of resort fees, parking fees, and internet fees surely leaves a sour taste in the mouths of their customers. Why the hotel would want to alienate their customers is a mystery to me.

    As for mini-bars, as Hilton Gold I had a free one at the Amsterdam Doubletree last summer, which sounded great. Until I found out all it contained was 2 small water bottles 2 Heiniken, and some sodas which I never drink. Even better for me is a mini bar that is large and empty. Bottles of wine kept cool, even doggy bags from dinner preserved for lunch the next day, is really something I value.

  8. Gary, which card do you use for international SPG hotels? The SPG Amex or CSP? I’m trying to figure if the foreign transaction fees are worth it.

  9. Merry Christmas Gary. My wife is watching the Downton Abbey Christmas special so that’s two hours of blog reading / surfing the web for me.

    1) Room service – I used to travel alone for work quite often and I’d almost always rather sit in my room and relax over some room service than sit in the hotel restaurant and eat the same thing. When the meal is over, I can relax rather than having to wait for the bill. That may sound small but over multiple nights, the little things add up. Of course if I want to go elsewhere I can.

    2) Check-in – I often wonder why self check-in machines really are few and far between.

    3) Room service – charge me twice the price for a can of Diet Coke and I’ll probably take you up on it for convenience. Charge me the GDP of a developing nation for a couple of drinks and some nuts and I’ll pass. There’s obviously a sweet spot out there when it comes to price and I’d like to think they constantly review it, but I often wonder.

    4) Resort fees – they are to (predominantly) American chains as fuel surcharges are to British Airways except here everyone, award or cash, gets stung!

  10. There are so many issues here; I’ll this to check in and room service: Check in CAN be easy, for too often is a pain. If you’ve made a reservation, the ALREADY HAVE your personal details. Short of establishing your identification (one document) and payment method, (usually one question) that should be it; any more suggests horrible management systems.
    Room Service: I should love it, but I hate it. Even with an advance order, it is late about 75% of the time. Piss-elegant cart service does not compensate for cold food and cold coffee. (Yes, Virginia, there are ways to keep both warm from the kitchen to the room.) Overly ‘fussy’ wait staff, sucking up for tips or wanting to make chit-chat: Please, deliver it, accept my signature and note of “TIP=$nnn” or TIP=nn%” and leave. If I’ve *pre-ordered* a late meal for delivery upon arrival, the check-in process should be enough to trigger delivery within 15 minutes and without multiple telephone calls. If a cold sandwich is the best available at the late hour, that’s perfectly OK, but I should know it when I place the pre-order; don’t accept my order for hot food if you cannot deliver it at my expected arrival time, perhaps after midnight. And lastly, let’s visit breakfast again. If I have the time, I prefer to eat breakfast in your dining room. Good food and fast service are important. If I use room service, solve the COLD coffee and COLD food problems. There ARE ways to do this. Roll in the cart, get your signature and leave; as long as everything is on the cart, I prefer to pour and serve myself.
    The other issues mentioned are valid, but beyond the scope of this post. Guests in the better hotels should arrange check in and any room service details ahead of time and, having done so, have every right to expect those details to be honored. Some houses do, but most fall short. And that last-minute upsell attempt? You had your chance when I made the reservation. I requested what I needed and passed on the rest. If I want more, I’ll ask for it, thank you. Why some hotels don’t get it is beyond my understanding. Those who do get my repeat business. Simple enough?

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