Traveling Tangents

10 Things to know about staying in hotels: thoughts from a seasoned traveler.

Posted on October 28, 2008. Filed under: Traveling Tangents |

ThisYearStays

( Total Nights for 2008 as of 10/26/2008 )

Caution: Knowledge is power, however, ignorance is bliss. Just remember that!

 

Being a seasoned traveler, I’ve stayed in MANY different brands of hotels. Not inclusive to just the Hotel Brand shown above (which I frequent at), I know and have noticed some very interesting things. My caution above will hold true as some of these things may make you a bit squeamish, but knowledge is power right? I also want to note there is a reason why I’ve stayed at the Hotel Brand shown above. It’s not for their point program, it’s not for their reputation, it’s because it’s generally the cleanest branch.

In the last year, I’ve stayed at the following hotel chains:

If The Ritz-Carlton (or alike Luxury Hotel) would like to contact me do a review of their hotel chain, I’m more than happy to entertain that notion — preferably somewhere tropical 🙂

Never Have I Ever

This section contains items which may seem intuitive to some, but for the others might be a complete shock. For the record, I am not "germ phobic" and regardless of what I’ve stated below, I’m still staying in different hotels every week. I’ve just learned to deal with the problems stated:

1. Never take baths / Never use a Jacuzzi 

While relaxing while on vacation is necessary, I don’t suggest taking a bath or enjoying a Jacuzzi. Jacuzzi’s and Bath Tubs do not have chlorine or bromine to kill the bacteria and micro-enzymes. The safety behind public pools and public spas are that there are high levels of chemicals introduced to kill bacteria and other micro-enzymes that cause skin irritations. Hence why sitting in stagnant bathtub and Jacuzzi water makes me very itchy!

A good article on this can be read here. Excerpt below:

"Microbiologist Rita B. Moyes [Texas A&M University] tested 43 water samples from whirlpool bathtubs — both private and public ones — and found that all 43 had bacterial growth ranging from mild to red-level dangerous. A whopping 95 percent showed the presence of fecal derived bacteria, while 81 percent had fungi and 34 percent contained staphylococcus, which can cause deadly staph infections."

So the story: Jacuzzi Seasoned with Nachos Supreme! – In an unfortunate accident in a hotel, Nachos Supreme happened to be dumped into the Jacuzzi and run through the jets. I have to leave specifics out of it as I didn’t get fined from the hotel for the unfortunate accident. I did my best to clean the tub out and run the jets a few times to be certain of cleanliness! Thinking at the time everything was fixed, I forgot about the filtration system that was in the Jacuzzi. Imagine the wet, non-chlorinated Nachos sitting in the filtration system. Now imagine using this Jacuzzi three weeks later after the bacteria has had the opportunity to come to full fruition!

There are countless other things that can get into the filtration system and sit stagnant until your next use. That’s why I suggest just don’t use them!

2. Never drink from the glasses in the rooms

A wonderful regional director at Wavelink forwarded this video to me knowing that I’ve been spending a lot of time in hotels.

 
(Video Compliments of You Tube)

Now to discuss the video, while I’m sure they selected the worst of the worst for this broadcast, there is much truth to this. Watching the cleaning personnel at the hotels (with glass and ceramic cups), they don’t merely have enough glasses for each room in the hotel. A good hotel chain should take the glasses regardless of their use and wash them EVERYDAY!

0708081834 0709082214
(Image Compliments of my hotel stay in Mt Laurel, NJ) (FOGGED glasses in bathroom after shower)

(Both Images have been modified (blurred logos) to maintain anonymity of the hotel branches discussed in this article)

I’ve also been at hotel chains with glasses / ceramic cups that have paper covers over or under the glass (image taken above). While this seems great, what’s to say that someone isn’t going to use the glass and place the cover back on top of the glass? The truth of the glasses on the right are that I used one of the two glasses to fill up the iron in the room. Human nature was to place the glass back where I found it so who is to say that someone wouldn’t drink from one and place it back. Even worse is the condensation buildup on the glasses in the bathroom. With fecal disposal in the room, in addition to these humid conditions, it’s very apparent that these glasses are NOT sanitary for human use. The result is stagnant water in a cup, growing bacteria, and making for a not so healthy drinking apparatus. Other hotels, I’ve frequently stay at have moved to using plastic cups with plastic covers on the outside. Perhaps a much safer choice?

Conclusions:

Thirsty? Drink the bottled water provided in the room, or bring your own bottled water.

Want caffeine? Go to Starbucks, they need the business / bring your own coffee cup.

Need to wash out your mouth? Wash your hands with soap, dry your hands, then use your hands; probably cleaner than the glasses shown in the video and pictures above.

3. Never sleep in anything less than pajamas

mites

(Image Compliments of Wikipedia)

Hotel beds are notorious for being dirty. I always prefer to sleep in a shirt and sweat pants / long pajamas. This has to do with the little microbial organisms called mites. Mites are carried on the human skin and get transferred to the hotel bed sheets by sleeping in the sheets. Some mites find their way through the weave of the fabric and onto the mattress. Now imagine thousands of people transferring their friendly mites to the bed sheets (and thus into the mattress); a variety of mites for you to carry!

So what’s the problem? First hand experience — After I started to sleep in hotel beds in just my boxers, I found that I started to get rashes / bumps on my legs, back, and chest. I thought it was odd but I didn’t think twice about it being bed mites. After watching a TV special on microbial organisms, it dawned on me that it was mites that were producing the rashes / bumps on my legs, back, and chest. I changed my sleeping clothing to jogging pants and a T-shirt it reduced the number of rashes / bumps significantly (maybe one in a weeks stay).

Alternative Solution: Certain UV light solution providers claim that a scan of the bed with a intense UV light can kill the microbial organisms including the really nasty bacteria that might be on the bed. If any manufacturers would like me to review their UV light, I’m very open to product testing.

4. Green Initiative Accidents – Not So Comforting

Many hotels have instituted the "green" policy. This means that if you don’t throw your sheets on the ground, they will re-use the sheets on your bed for two days up to the entire duration of your stay. This is a "green" friendly solution, but it has it’s inherent flaws. Here are common situations that might get you perfectly used sheets in your room:

  1. Early Check Out – If the house keeping staff has already gotten to your "room to be" and the person prior to you did an early check out, there might be a chance you get dirty sheets. Why? If the hotel is at capacity, the time it would take to revisit all of "the early check out rooms" would take too long. If PersonX Checks out at 1:00pm and you check in at 3:00pm, I hate to say it, but you have a strong possibility of getting dirty sheets.
  2. Long Stay Assumptions – If you so happen to land yourself into a "frequent stay" room where the same person has been staying in that room for a long duration of time, there is a possibility that the sheets haven’t been changed. Why? Housekeepers learn who are the long term customers. It generally is assumed that the long term stay customers return to their requested room after the weekends. To save time, the housekeeper just make the beds instead of changing the sheets (read first hand experience below).
  3. Luxury Comforters – In some luxury hotels, the comforters come without a protective outer layer. This means that the comforter you get in your room has been used many times before. Hotels can get away with this as the under sheet and the bottom sheets are "protecting the comforter" from contaminants. The cost of cleaning each comforter every day would be astronomical so they have different cleaning schedules (if ever) to get these cleaned for use.
  4. Dirty Bath Towels – Yes, as displayed in #2, there is a chance where you can get a dirty towel. Enough said.

Another first hand experience — I once spent 6 months in the same hotel and flew home every weekend. Everyone, even the housekeepers, knew that Room 709 was Brent’s room and that I would be back on Sunday every week. One Sunday, a significantly delayed flight got me into my hotel room around 2:00 am. I immediately went to my room and hopped into bed. No more than 5 seconds of laying in bed I had this overwhelming smell of old woman perfume. I smelled my pillow and I figured out that it was on my pillow. I grabbed a new pillow out of the closet and went to my bed. Again 5 seconds later, I smelled the old lady again. This time I started to get a bit uneasy. Smelling my sheets, it was the perfume and formaldehyde smell of an old lady. Coming close to vomit from sleeping with my grandma, I grabbed a hooded sweatshirt and slept on the chair. By this time it was 3:00am and it would have taken too long to have them switch my room and all that jazz. ** I do have to say management was extremely responsive to the incident and put in had ALL new sheets and pillows on my bed for the next night stay (it helps to be in the Top 2 of spending the most money at that branch). I had an apology on my voicemail from the housekeeper, hotel manager, and general manager. This issue NEVER happened again.

 

It pays to be a GOOD customer!

5. You have a record!

One thing that most people don’t recognize is that you have a "record" in hotel chains. Any complaints that you make, get placed on your "permanent record". Hotels can identify "problematic" customers who have a habit of destroying rooms and those who complain to be compensated for the rooms or other items. I’ve spoken with the hotel staff, at a popular branch, about a certain customer that has over 200 pages of complaints on their record. The staff member mentioned to me that she’d would be less likely to go out of her way for that individual based on the track record with complaints.

Permanent records aren’t always a bad thing. It also keeps track of my preferences while I am staying at certain locations. For longer stays, they always have a refrigerator with Diet Pepsi loaded in the refrigerator. They also know that I prefer a king-sized non-smoking corner room on the concierge level. I don’t always get this, but when I do, it’s wonderful!

Complaints might be necessary, and the Hotel understands this! Just remember when you complain about something you need to be reasonable for a resolution. Don’t expect to have your room paid for because your coffee maker or iron is broken. If room service is slow, don’t expect to have the meal for free. If something is really wrong with the room, get it taken care of.

Here is a list of things you should complain about:

  • Hair in shower / in room – This is gross but happens more than people expect. Reinforcing why we don’t take baths in hotels! Ask for the bathtub to be cleaned again.
  • Broken appliance – Equipment will break, especially after more uses than you do at your own house. Ask for a replacement. Good hotels will replace the equipment with NEW equipment, while others will give you a previously used appliance.
  • Rodents in room – Nature sometimes gets in our way of living… if there is a rodent in the room asked to be moved. Period. Do NOT threaten to sue the Hotel as acts of nature cannot be controlled and the lawsuit would have no grounds.
  • Excessive insects in room – Certain areas in the world have different insects that might find their way into the room. While it’s impossible to stop smaller insects from entering a room, if there are excessive amounts of insects, get a new room. 

Here is a list of things you should NOT complain about:

  • Elevator noise – If your fortunate to stay in a hotel with an elevator, more than likely you’ll hear the elevator echo through the entire building. I hate to say it but the elevators echo. To solve this, ask for a fan to which will provide white noise into your room to help you fall asleep. After all you are sleeping in an unfamiliar and people tend to pick out the small things that seasoned travelers don’t hear anymore!
  • TV volume of another room – While the front desk can ask to have the TV of the person next to you turned down, the truth is that it’s not their fault that the other resident’s TV is too loud. If noise bothers you, travel with ear plugs.
  • The Internet costing money – I’ve been in several $300/night hotels that charge $9.99/night for Internet. What a rip off right? Not really, they have to absorb the bandwidth costs of supporting 200+ residents. Home throughput may be cheap but for hotels, the business lines are much more expensive. If you NEED Internet that bad, pay for it or travel with a cellular card. Airlines don’t give free food anymore, hotels don’t need to give free Internet.

Be careful how many times you complain as once you’re tagged as "problematic", the hotel might exercise their right to deny service / lodging. Hotels know when people are looking for free stuff, versus genuinely having a problem. If you like to complain, remember, you are annoying more people than just the hotel staff!

6. Building Rapport with Hotel Staff

Most people complain at one point in time about their jobs. Hotel staff are not excluded from most people. The hotel staff (being the front desk, maintenance, house keeping, valet, restaurant staff, room service) will talk about the different residents staying in the hotel. Nicer hotel branches usually have a tight group of employees that talk about each of the different residents. It pays, sometimes very well, to be in good with the Hotel Staff. It is all in how you convey yourself and how nicely you treat everyone in the entire hotel.

Building a good rapport with hotel staff is important for them to help you out. First I’ll explain several things that were done for me over time at different branches and I’ll provide some tips to build rapport with the hotel staff.

Free Beverages (Must have Concierge Room/Level access)

At hotel branches that have a Concierge Room/Levels, I’ve been provided, numerous times, free beverages from the hotel staff after Concierge hours.  I just kindly ask the front desk what time the Concierge level closes. If the Concierge room is closed, then kindly mention "shoot I wanted to grab a beverage (usually state what kind you wanted) to take to my room". 9 times out of 10 I’ve been provided with several free beverages from the bar, or cooler from the back

Late Night Food

The hotel which I spent 6 months at treated me very good as I built a great rapport with the entire staff. I got off of a late flight and all of the local food establishments were closed. When I arrived at 1:00 am, knowing their grill and Concierge was closed, I asked the hotel manager if there were any food options other than the ones provided in the the hotel store. Since it was dead, the hotel night manager went into the kitchen and made me dinner (and a good one at that). He of course charged me full price for a meal, but I got food when I thought I had to survive on Doritos from the hotel store.

A month later, a similar situation came up where the grill closed and the room service were still around. Since I knew them all by name, I politely asked if there was any way possible I could get some sort of a sandwich. Mike made me a club sandwich with potato chips. Again, I paid for the meal, but I was able to get a decent dinner for the night! It also helped that I tipped over 20% on all my food at the hotel.

Building Rapport

When staying for durations of a week and over, it’s very important to keep the hotel staff very happy with you. Below are some suggestions that might make you stand out from the rest of the thousands of residents that come in.

  • Off Peak Check-ins – When checking in, it is best to check in 3:00pm – 5:30pm and after 7:40pm. When the hotel staff is busy, they sometimes don’t even recognize the frequent stay travelers as they are consumed with the long lines. Checking in during the Off Peak Time, provide a better opportunity to talk with the receptionist.
  • State Duration – Be certain to state your duration when checking in.  After stating the duration be upbeat and say "I’m looking forward to exploring the area, and finding a great dining place. What do you suggest for the best food in the area?" This opens a second conversation window for when you return or the next day you can talk about the dining experience.
  • Complaining with a Smile – If something is wrong in a room, don’t yell or be mean over the phone. Be nice and say "would you be able to address this when you have a second?". If it still isn’t done within an hour, then call back down and sarcastically mention "I was wondering if "room service" forgot about my request for XYZ.". Keep the conversation up beat and you will avoid getting the label of a nuisance.
  • Remember the staff – Remember the names of the staff and information about the staff (children, what they are doing later, etc). This provides a great opportunity for further conversation.
  • Tip appropriately – Don’t over tip, but don’t forget to tip. It is important to tip as it is a courtesy and will gain the attention of the hotel staff. I have a section below about tipping habits.

The truth behind the building of rapport is really being a good person and taking the time to know the staff. Hotel staff meet thousands upon thousands of people and you have to differentiate yourself from everyone else. If you take the time to know the staff, you are already miles a head of hundreds of others. Just remember showing humility, patience, and being personable is always a great start.

 

7. How to Get The Best Hotel Rooms

Ever wonder where what rooms the seasoned travelers ask for? While you are reserved a specific room, often times when the hotel isn’t at capacity (or fully booked), you have some options of where you can stay. While some items are for individuals are a bit preferential, there are several items which you may want to look for when checking in:

  • Corner Rooms – Ask for a corner room. Corner rooms are larger than the standard rooms and are often quieter. Corner rooms also typically offer better views as you can see out from two sides of the building and with two of the walls being outside, you will hear less noise of the people around you.
  • Handicapped Accessible Rooms – It is mandated in most hotel chains to have a certain percentage of handicapped accessible rooms in the hotel. These are usually kept open as they have to be available for those individuals who need to use them. These rooms are about as large as the corner rooms as and have larger bathrooms for wheel chair accessibility.
  • Stay away from first floor rooms – While first floor rooms are convenient, they are often much more noisier. It is typical for hotels to reserve the bottom floors for families with children. This is done as a courtesy for the other residents as children typically are louder than other residents and bottom floors always have the most foot traffic from arrivals and returns to the hotel
  • Adult Floors / Access Floors – Request if they have any rooms available on Concierge Level or access required floors. Certain hotels have elevators that lock out people from gaining access to certain floors. While the rooms are the same, good hotel chains reserve these floors for adults. This typically means you have a bit more of a quieter experience.

 

8. High Roller Want to Be!

Don’t be a high roller want to be! As you saw above, I’ve spent over 100 nights in just one hotel branch. When calculating it out, I’ve spent at about $250-$350/night at 100 nights totaling $30,000. Last year I spent another 50 nights at that same hotel branch putting in another $15,000. Just because you’re spending one night at $500/night does not make you a high roller. Even with spending over $45,000 in the last year, I’m still NOT in the top 100 for the high rollers in the hotel branch. It is common for hotel branches to have customers spend over $40,000 / year for over 10 years. You are not a high roller after one night in a hotel.

There is nothing more annoying for hotel staff than residents who spend $500 / night on a room and expect the staff to bend over backwards for them. While it’s great to treat yourself to a nice room, it’s not appropriate to expect the world from the hotel. All benefits that seasoned travelers get are EARNED through MANY nights at a hotel. My free Internet privilege came from spending over 100 nights in the same hotel branch.

Things NOT to expect from hotels (or things you need to earn):

  • Free Internet – As explained earlier, Internet is not free for the Hotel and only the top customers are granted free Internet access due to their prolonged commitment to the hotel.
  • Free Concierge Level Access – Spending 14 nights in a hotel chain shouldn’t get you access to the Concierge Level. That is equivalent to a two week vacation stay. Amenities like the Concierge level are benefits for those who stay many nights away from home to make them feel more at home. This is definitely earned.
  • Discounted Rates on Hotels – Don’t expect to get a significant discount in rates when staying 7 to 14 days in a hotel. I’ve booked a hotel room for three months and I had to fight very hard to get a rate reduction beyond 5% of the cost of the room! Think of it this way: 90 days will get you an 8% rate reduction.
  • Free Room Upgrades – Even as a Platinum Premier member at a hotel branch, I don’t even get free room upgrades. While they typically save their best rooms for their top guests, when nearing capacity, they provide any room they get.  While they do provide free upgrades on slow nights, it shouldn’t be expected.

9. Tipping Etiquette (Non-standard Views)

Tipping is very difficult to do these days. I have a slightly skewed view on how tipping should be done in hotel establishments. I’ve found the following to be very appropriate for every hotel I’ve visited.

  • Valet Parking – Tip the Valet no more than 10% of the cost of the Valet Parking, but no less than $1US. If the Valet brings your bags to your room then you should tip them the 10% in addition to $1US per bag.
  • Front Desk – I do not tip the front desk. However, at a hotel I frequent at, I did provide several members with Sushi (as they mentioned they loved certain items from a local establishment). I also tipped them with Salt Water Taffy from my other travels. I strongly building good rapport prior to gifting these individuals.
  • Baggage Assistant (Bellboy) – Same as the Valet Parking; Tip $1US per bag.
  • Concierge – I rarely have tipped this individual. The only time I would tip this individual is if they go well beyond their way to assist me. (like keeping a constant supply of Diet Pepsi at my table… or make me a special plate.) I’d tip no more than $2US for each item.
  • Dry Cleaning – I do not tip for Dry Cleaning.
  • Room Service – I always tip over 20% for Room Service. Room Service usually has gratuity included in the bill and I always tip on top of that. I’ve been known to leave 30% tip on a bill and it’s paid out VERY well for me. After building a rapport with hotel staff, I’d always get my food within 15 minutes of ordering it and they’d delay other orders to get mine up to me right away. LOL Yes, I’m the reason why your food is late and cold. 
  • Hotel Restaurant – I always tip 20% and UP for food in the Hotel Restaurant.  If the service is really really bad, I’ll tip 10% but NEVER under 10%. If I am only getting drinks in the restaurant, I tip as I do for bartenders.
  • Bartenders – I always tip $1US per drink and $1US per set of shots. I know this seems a little high but anything over this will be wasted money and anything under this will make the bartender ignore you. This metric seems to work well for me.
  • Housekeeping – I do not tip the housekeeping staff. I have a fundamental issue with tipping housekeeping. While housekeeping are usually the lowest paid individuals in the hotel, I do not like the idea of it being expected that money left around the hotel is "theirs as a tip". In this, eventually this will become assumed and you have to be very careful of leaving money around the hotel as the housekeepers will take it for their tips. I know a lot of people are now saying it’s good Etiquette to leave your housekeepers tips, they are doing the same job regardless and won’t do "a better job" because you leave money.   

One side note: If you tip well, don’t make the person receiving the tip look at the amount. It is much more classier to make them walk away and remember "room 101" gave me this great tip. When Freddie Sanchez of the Pittsburgh Pirates stayed at my hotel, he tipped the bellboy $50.00 for his family bags. The bellboy didn’t realize the tip amount until he got back downstairs. Freddie was definitely classy and the bellboy was on cloud nine!

 

10. Just about anything as long as it’s Moral and not Illegal.

So as the final tip, it’s mostly all encompassing.

Speaking with a maintenance manager at a hotel, he mentioned to me that the official rule on customer satisfaction is to "do anything for the customer as long as it’s moral and not illegal". Hotels are service oriented entities and are there to make your staying experience enjoyable so you return to the same hotel. While smaller $100.00/night hotels might not strictly adhere to this principle, the majority of the higher class hotels will follow this same philosophy. If you are uncertain of certain if a hotel accommodation, you’d might be surprised at what results you might be able to get. Just remember the answer is no until you ask.

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