After giving up my career in luxury hospitality to glamtrek around the world, I figured it was about time to give up some dirty secrets about what hotels don’t want you to know. Working in a hotel makes you operate a little differently than the average Joe while on vacation. You know what to say, who to talk to, and how to express concerns “the nice way.” Trust me on this, there’s no one better to get hotel tips from than an ex-hotel worker.
1. Bow down to your front desk agent.
Believe it or not, the fate of your view and room size lie completely in the hands of your hotel front desk agent. There will always be days when the hotel is legit sold-out, but more often than not the hotel will have a room that will make you happy.
What hotels don’t want you to know is that the earlier you arrive the better your chance of an upgrade is. That early check-in you’re hoping for might not be available, but you’ll have a better chance of getting the upgrade earlier in the day. Try not to ask for upgrades while you are near other guests. If the front desk gives it to you, they have to give it to everyone else within an earshot too.
More often than not, people in hospitality got into the hotel business because they like making people happy. It doesn’t hurt to ask if any upgrades are available at check-in (covertly) because, honestly, if you don’t ask we probably won’t give it to you. Be sweet to us and we’re going to do everything we can for you. If you’re nice to us and we still tell you no, then we honestly don’t have it available (but we might later, once housekeeping cleans it). If you’re still not getting anywhere, ask for a corner room or an ADA (handicap accessible – the only difference is a lower peephole and an extra bar in the shower) room. Both of these rooms are generally larger than their counterparts in the same room category.
Last but not least, don’t be miserable in your room. In hotels, they say “the worst guest is a guest that doesn’t speak up.” Hotels want you to be happy. They want you to give them all 10’s on their e-mail survey and they want a good TripAdvisor review. If you are genuinely miserable in your room for whatever reason, call the front desk (the nicer you are the better off you’ll be). They will most likely move you to a different view, higher floor, or larger room complimentary. If it’s genuinely not available that day, they will schedule a room move for you the next day. There’s no reason to feel like your trip is ruined or to have an adult temper tantrum (I’ve seen many over the years and they’re hilarious every time.).
2. Don’t pay $10 for a glass of Tropicana.
Luxury hotels are especially guilty of this. You’ll open up your room service menu and you’ll see “Assorted Freshly Squeezed Juices.” You call In-Room Dining and ask to confirm that the juice is freshly squeezed. Staff are trained to say, yes. What hotels don’t want you to know is that you’re probably still getting Tropicana, Ocean Spray, or Motts.
The reasoning behind this is because fresh juice separates and goes bad quickly. If everyone only orders orange juice one day, the other 5 types of juice are wasted. At the end of the day, businesses are about the bottom line.
Now, if the menu explicitly says “freshly squeezed juice,” chances are you can get it (though it might take a little extra time). It generally requires a quick call to the chef to confirm they’re able to make it on the spot, but it can happen. This one is big for me because I’m picky with my OJ, and honestly, I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay $10 for an orange juice that’s not freshly squeezed.
3. Travel with anti-bacterial wipes or a small bottle of multi-purpose cleaner.
For the most part, all housekeeping staff receive the same amount of training. Naturally there are people who pay more attention to detail and who have more pride in their work. These people are assigned to clean rooms on floors with the most VIP’s.
Because manager’s can’t show favoritism, this is how they make sure their best cleaners are taking care of the rooms that important people will be staying in. If your room happens to land on a floor with a lot of VIP’s, you lucked out. (And before you ask – no the front desk doesn’t know who cleaned what floor or who is good and who’s not. These are separate departments.)
The majority of the rooms will of course have fresh linens and will look extremely clean. After working in hotels, I’ve learned to carry anti-bacterial wipes or a small travel-size bottle of multi-purpose cleaner. I go over the door handles, the TV remote control, the room phones (buttons and receiver), and the tub. I like to relax in the tub after a long day and even the remote idea of soaking in an unclean tub ruins the experience for me. My friends think I’m nuts, but I stand by my methods!
4. Check for bedbugs before you put anything on the bed.
What hotels don’t want you to know is that even 5-star hotels can have bedbugs. In many cases, you have hundreds of people from all over the world in and out of the bed. It doesn’t mean the hotel isn’t clean. It means that someone who slept in that room came into contact with bedbugs somewhere along the line. The risk is higher when the hotel hosts a lot of business travelers that are in and out of hotels all over the world regularly. The more beds you’re exposed to, the higher the risk of transporting them.
As soon as I arrive in a hotel room I pull back the sheets and check the mattress seams and the headboard. Bedbugs look like little flecks of black pepper. The last few hotels I stayed in had pretty serious mattress covers on the beds, but still, I persevered. I can’t sleep until I know I won’t have bugs crawling on me and into my suitcase in the middle of the night.
If you see bedbugs on your bed, immediately put all of your belongings in the bathtub and call housekeeping. A manager will come to inspect the bed and they will call an exterminator to confirm the type of bug. At one hotel I worked at, we had a Scottish woman who insisted her mosquito bites were bedbug bites even after the exterminator checked her room. If your bedbug concern is legit, you will most likely get a super sweet upgrade and a million apologies.
5. Cover hotel furniture with a clean blanket.
Some people prefer to “not think about it,” but the fact of the matter is people are disgusting and they do disgusting things to or on hotel furniture. Do you really think the couch in your room is getting steam cleaned between each guest? Of course not! It might get a quick vacuum or spot cleaned at most.
**GRAPHIC CONTENT ALERT** I’ve seen walls and furniture covered in vomit, feces, and urine, and probably the most common fluid is from people having sex on the couch. The staff members at one luxury hotel I worked at had a video clip of a naked girl straddling the back of one of our couches floating around via text. Ask housekeeping for an extra blanket and drape that over the furniture to avoid contact with the fabric. Do you really want your kid playing on an old bodily fluid stain? Gross.
Another fabric tip: Before you arrive, ask that housekeeping only provide bedding that is washed either daily or between guests. I.E. No bedspreads or throw pillows. If people are doing nasty things on the furniture, you can bet your ass they’re doing it on the bedspread too.
6. Check the minibar seals as soon as you arrive.
Guests are constantly trying to get out of paying for minibar charges. They will do anything to not get charged $8 for a bottle of sprite. Always check the seals on all the minibar items to see if the guest before you happened to refill the bottles with another liquid.
You may think that housekeeping or the minibar attendant should be checking this, and they should, but what hotels don’t want you to know is that the housekeepers have to clean each room in a certain amount of time. If the people before you were pigs, they may not have time to check each and every bottle in your minibar. It’s better to take a quick look at the seals yourself than to accidentally take a big swig of clear liquid soap (or worse), or be charged for items your didn’t use.
If you happen to notice something off, call Guest Services and let them know to make a note on your folio so that you aren’t charged. Always make sure to double-check that it’s not on your bill at check-out due to human error.
7. Never assume glasses are clean.
If it looks like the guest before you didn’t touch the glassware in your room, it may not have been replaced during housekeeping service. The glasses also may have been wiped down with a not-so-clean rag to make it appear clean.
The easiest thing to do is ask housekeeping for paper or plastic cups. If you’re set on using glassware, I’d give it a once over with those anti-bacterial wipes you brought followed by a good rinse. I tend to do this when I want to drink wine from a wine glass in my room.
Another cleaning tip: It’s good to go over the ice bucket and coffee maker before you use it too. Many-a-drunks like to use the ice bucket or coffee maker to get sick in. Again, people are disgusting.
8. Bring your own candles & matches
Due to fire codes, hotels aren’t allowed to send matches to your room and they’re only allowed to provide flame-less candles for special occasions (such as a proposal). If you want to set the mood with real candles they generally won’t stop you, but make sure to bring your own matches and candles. If you happen to forget your matches, you generally are able to get some from the front the desk if you say you’re NOT using them in your room. This releases the hotel of liability in case of a fire.
If you do choose to use real candles, always be safe and make sure to blow out the candles before you leave the room or go to sleep. Or even better, purchase your very own flame-less travel candles!
9. Don’t trust your in-room safe with extremely valuable items.
Hotel safes are good enough to keep your iPad or car keys safe, but when it comes to items like passports or heirloom jewelry, you’re going to want a bit more security. The fact of the matter is that almost all security personnel in the hotel can access your safe. Someone in the hotel needs to be able to reset the safe’s password when guests forget how they programmed it, right?
While every security guard I’ve ever worked with in my hospitality career has been trustworthy, there are bound to be some who aren’t. If you have something extremely valuable, ask the front desk for a safe deposit box or ask them to hold it in their office safe. This is always going to be the safest option for your valuables and they are generally available free of charge (at least at luxury hotels).
10. Leave a tip for your housekeeper at each service.
If you’re staying at a 4 or 5 star hotel, there’s a good chance your room is being serviced in the morning and then again in the evening for turn-down service. Every service, every day is usually going to be a different housekeeper. Never assume you’re going to get the same person each time unless it’s by request.
Leave a small tip with a note, so the housekeeper knows it’s for them, and you can rest assured they’ll take extra care with your things. If you are very particular about how you like things done, call housekeeping and ask to speak with a manager. Explain exactly what you like and they will make sure to pass that information along to their housekeepers.
11. Never leave valuables stored with the bell desk.
Sure, 9 times out of 10 your stuff will be fine. But what hotels don’t want you to know is that they generally don’t have security watching over your bags. They’re stored around a corner somewhere, tagged, and held until it’s time for them to be delivered to your room. If you’re traveling with laptops, jewelry, or other valuables, carry them on you or put them in a safe deposit box with the front desk while your clothing and shoes are stored with the bell desk. Nobody wants to steal your underwear and stinky shoes (unless they’re in Louis Vuitton luggage).
Another bell desk tip: Some hotels do have a luggage storage area that is behind closed doors and under video surveillance. If you’re nervous about it, it never hurts to ask. Most hotels will be very accommodating with special requests.
12. Never book a non-refundable / non-changable rate if you might need to cancel.
Sure it might save you $10 a night, but if you have to cancel your reservation within 24-48 (depending on the hotel), you’re going to get stuck paying for the stay. If you book the regular rate, all you need to do is change your arrival date to any date in the future (outside of the cancellation period, of course). What hotels don’t want you to know is that once your reservation shows a future date in the hotel’s system, you can go ahead and cancel it free of charge. Since many hotels are run by huge corporations, you have to deal with corporate policies. This is an easy way around that corporate nonsense.