Craig Platt names his 10 biggest gripes with staying in hotels.
Despite the impression Fawlty Towers might have given, running a hotel shouldn't be that difficult. Yet many establishments seem to get it wrong when it comes to basic parts of their service. Here are 10 of the most annoying things hotels consistently get wrong.
1. Breakfast is served … from 7.30am to 7.45am
This is a particular problem in Australian hotels, motels and B&Bs. You're on holiday, but if you actually want to get that breakfast that was included in the room rate, you've got to be up at the crack of dawn or risk missing out. Some hotels have gotten the message in recent times and extended breakfast hours through to 11am, but plenty of others are lagging behind. I still look back fondly at the B&B I stayed at in Valparaiso, Chile, where the proprietor looked at me, perplexed, when I asked what time breakfast was served until. “What time do you want it?,” she asked. “You're on vacation, if you want it at 1pm, you can have it then.”
2. Bathroom nightmares
A decent bathroom should be a simple thing for a hotel to achieve, but consistently hotels fail on little details that become major pains. Poor design is one. I've stayed in places that offered nowhere to place your toiletries in the bathroom, other than on the floor, or put the soap holder outside the shower, instead of in it. And while the cleaners might get the tiles clean, they never seem to do anything about the blocked drains, leaving you standing in a pool of manky water by the end of your shower.
3. Hidden fees and charges
This is a speciality of North American hotels – the fees are there to cover certain 'extras' that the hotel provides, but there's no way to opt out. I recently stayed in a Miami Beach hotel that carried an additional charge for the room safe. The safe is built into the room of course, so not paying the fee wasn't an option.
4. Do not disturb? What does that mean?
Why do so many hotel cleaners ignore do not disturb signs? So many times there has been a knock on the door, waking me from my deep slumber, despite my putting up the 'privacy please' sign. I'm on holidays: no means no!
5. Internet is free, unless you're paying $400 a night
It's slowly beginning to change, but one of the big pains with high-end hotels is their expensive internet charges, whether in-room or at the business centre. Rarely can you pay by the minute or half-hour – it's normally a 24-hour minimum at an exorbitant price. The irony is that if you stay in a cheaper place – like a backpacker hostel – there's normally free wireless or at least a couple of free computers available for use.
6. Check-in/check-out times
Late check out is becoming increasingly common in the hotel industry and this is a welcome development. But plenty of places still want you out by 10am on the dot, regardless of how busy the establishment is. Even worse are the places that threaten with charging you for a half-day's stay if you happen to oversleep and overstay by 30 minutes. And the downside of more late check-outs is that check-in times have also become later. 2pm used to be standard but increasingly this has been pushed back to 3pm. There's nothing worse than arriving on an overnight flight early in the morning to be told your room won't be ready for another seven hours.
7. Bigger doesn't mean better
With so many guests, personal service often goes out the window. Stay in a mega-hotel with hundreds of rooms and you may find yourself stuck on hold when trying to contact the front desk or queuing up for ages in the lobby to ask a simple question.
8. Thin walls, noisy corridors
This is a real problem in buildings that were not designed as hotels. That grand old room that is now three separate guest rooms is likely to be divided by a paper-thin bit of plaster, meaning you can hear your neighbours rolling over in bed – or worse. And the location of windows facing loading bays, foyers or bars can lead to a sleepless night or rude awakening in the early hours.
9. We hear your complaint, but we're not going to do anything about it
They'll thank you for bringing it to their attention, but you're crazy if you think they're going to do anything about. After all, you'll be gone in a day or two and then a new guest will arrive – and they might not notice what you were complaining about. I recently stayed in a hotel where the window leaked during a day of rain, soaking the carpets. Despite telling the staff and then leaving on a tour for the whole day, I discovered there had been no attempt to dry the carpets in my absence. Naturally, the room was getting a bit whiffy by now, so I demanded another. The hotel complied, but still gave no indication it was going to dry out the musty carpets.
10. How many pillows do you need?
It's a more minor gripe (which is why it comes in at number 10), but why do high-end hotels insist on burying their beds beneath so many pillows? I've stayed in places with as many as nine pillows on the bed, so after a long day you've not only got to remove most of them before you can hit the sack, you've also got to find somewhere to put them all. Please managers, two per person is more than enough.
Craig Platt is online travel editor.