This is a topic made for nervous nellies. Stay away from the coffee maker in your room because who knows what's gone in apart from H2O. Truly? Bedspreads, blankets and doonas are rarely cleaned. Big reveal? It costs around $30 to dry clean a doona, want that added to your hotel bill? Hotel light switches and TV remotes are flagged as germ factories, worse than a toilet seat in a third-world slum the advice mongers will tell you, almost as bad as airline tray tables but really, are you advising that I swab every touchable surface with an antibacterial wipe? Germophobes – you can stay home in your bio-hazard suit, the rest of us have a life.
Here are 10 things about hotels you do need to know.
When you book a hotel room through an online travel agent their slice of the fee is between 15 and 25 per cent. It can even creep higher if the hotel wants more favourable exposure on the OTA's website. The person behind the check-in desk gets to see the OTA's cut but you do not, lest the words "rip off" should pass your lips. The big players are Expedia, which owns Hotels.com, Wotif, Hotwire.com, trivago, Orbitz, HomeAway and Venere among others, and Priceline, which owns Booking.com, KAYAK and agoda.com as well as several more. Between them Expedia and Priceline now control about 85 per cent of the online hotel booking market in Australia. In September the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission ruled that hotels can offer a lower price to guests but only if they make their booking by calling the hotel direct. The hotel is not allowed to advertise a price on its website which is lower than that offered by the OTA. The OTAs also benefit from the valuable guest data that comes their way with each booking, including email address and credit card information.
Just like airlines, hotels know that some guests who booked a room are not going to show up so they overbook to ensure a full house. If it should happen that all the booked guests arrive you might be out of luck. If the hotel behaves honourably, you should get "walked" to another property. While you're supposed to get a room in a hotel at least equal to the one that's been snatched you might feel you've missed out, in which case a letter to the general manager and a salvo on TripAdvisor is salve to the wounds. In a worst-case scenario you will simply be shunted out the front door, end of story. You'll get a refund, and in most countries you can take legal action against the hotel under consumer protection legislation but if you're from out of country, the hotel knows that's probably not going to happen. Also just like airlines, the guests least likely to be relocated are those who have displayed their loyalty to the hotel or brand via previous bookings.
Toiletries and toweling slippers, and by the way they're the perfect footwear for long flights, nab 'em. The hotel doesn't care, those slippers are not intended for more than one pair of feet and toiletries that have been partially used are replaced, never refilled.
You've scored a bargain deal at a great hotel in Hawaii, but when you show up at the front desk the hotel charges you another $25 per night to cover the use of the pool, the Wi-Fi, the gym and whatever else the hotel can think of. There's no dodge, you can't decline on the basis of no-use, no-pay. Resort fees work like a charm for hotels since they allow them to advertise a lower base rate that makes them look cheap alongside their competitors and since they're charged at the front desk, all the revenue goes straight into the hotel's pocket without an online travel agent trousering their cut. Resort fees have spread like wildfire in vacation spots in the USA such as Las Vegas and Hawaii and even into the Caribbean and Mexican resort centres. Despite consumer disquiet in the USA, the Federal Trade Commission has declined to take action to require that resort fees be fully disclosed on the hotels own websites, as well as on third-party booking sites.
"Tell 'em I sent you," says the concierge as he sends you on your way to a restaurant he's just recommended. "Red carpet treatment coming up," you might think. More likely that the concierge is getting a slice of the pie. That's not a reason to diss your concierge's restaurant, bar, tour or shopping recommendation. Any decent concierge will put quality ahead of kickback every time, their reputation rides on you having a good time, and an unhappy customer broadcasting their discontent in the lobby is death to them. The word of the concierge is not gospel, but they're on your side.
Even in a swank joint your time-pressed housekeeper does not replace cups and glasses with fresh, sterilised items supplied by the hotel kitchen. What he or she will do is rinse them to remove any visible signs of use, lipstick etc, buff them with a cloth or maybe even the used bathroom towel that's being replaced and voila, as good as new. I must have drunk from several hundred of these cups and glasses and guess what? The human body is a truly remarkable organism.
Staff talk. Those who tip are known. If you tip hotel staff, and there are some places such as New York City where you should, staff will often go that extra mile to add something special to your stay. The relevant time to tip is immediately after a service has been performed – the porter who totes your bags, the doorman who gets you a cab, the concierge – not when you're waving farewell.
Smoke detectors work
I was recently staying at a hotel in Hong Kong when the fire alarm went off at around 2 a.m. Sirens, fire engines outside, the whole shebang. I was staying on the 26th floor so I did what anyone would do and tried my best to ignore the racket since a long walk down the stairwell was a last resort. When I asked at the front desk next morning a smoker had triggered the fire alarm, busted big time, and contrary to hotel policy. The hotel would be adding HK$5000 to the guest's bill. I was still tired from the early wake-up call but schadenfreude is a great mood enhancer.
Been short changed by your hotel in some way or other and threatening to vent on social media? The hotel manager might care, the front desk staff probably won't. Most hotel staff will do their best to fix a problem but it pays to make nice. Threaten, rage, intimidate and you've blown it. Hotel staff can't get mad but they can get even, and they have lots of ways to do that.
Do not disturb
Hotel staff respect that sign. Activate that red light or hang the sign on your doorknob and they would need a powerful reason to even knock at your door. If you have any reason to suspect that your hotel security might not be up to scratch, that little sign could help keep your belongings safe.