I have stayed in some pretty ridiculous hotels in my life. There was the one in Alice Springs where the carpet was literally Astro-Turf, the one in Abu Dhabi with its own man-made, creepily deserted beach (in a desert), and the one in Italy that was inside a prison. I am, for better or worse, an expert on space-age shower fittings, incredibly small towels, opening windows that haven't cracked in 25 years, and hotel thermostats that talk to you. I know all the stuff you just shouldn't do at hotels (and what you might get away with).
Hotels have been around for much of humanity's recorded history; ever since we settled anywhere, we've found that we need to go to other places for entertainment, trade, and pilgrimage. The Romans were particularly good at hospitality, but it was the establishment of the Ritz and the Savoy in London in the late 1800s that made five-star luxury hotels a reality and a status symbol. Now, with Airbnb, couch-surfing and local house-stays providing cheaper or less fussy options, hotels seem rather quaint and old-fashioned, but the hotel industry in North America racked up a staggering $163 billion in sales in 2013-14. Clearly, we're not abandoning the whole idea just yet.
Unfortunately, as homes away from home, hotels also see some staggeringly bad behavior. Bestselling book Hotel Babylon , a concierge's roman a clef about a London five-star, reveals cocaine-covered bathrooms, terrible tipping, robbery, and general entitlement. But even if you're not Lindsay Lohan on a bender, it's still possible to make mistakes that mean you pay more, offend the staff, or make your stay more difficult than necessary — and they're pretty common.
Here are the top 10 mistakes to avoid in hotels to keep everybody happy.
1. Pushing For an Upgrade.
There are situations in which an upgrade or compensation can be expected; for instance, if your room is unavailable or flooded, or the hotel has buggered up in some way. But if you're just feeling like you deserve a better deal, haranguing the reception staff is not going to work. Hotels are complex games of Tetris; they frequently overbook the rooms to compensate for no-shows. Your smiling face will not induce them to rebalance everything.
(If you really want an upgrade, there are lots of good guides around, but: book by phone, dress well, consider tipping the desk staff, be a member of the hotel's loyalty club, and be impeccably polite. My family was once upgraded to the Presidential Suite in a Munich hotel because the Chinese President arrived unexpectedly and they had to kick us all out for two days. We got it because we were the nicest about it.)
2. Making Life Difficult For The Maids.
These are people that you are paying to pick up your mess, make your bed, and clean your bathroom. They are letting you revert to your childhood. Don't be horrible to them. Basic courtesies include: cleaning stuff off bathroom surfaces so that they can be wiped; flushing the toilet; putting all rubbish in bins; taking stuff off the floor; following the hotel's policy about towels (in the bath usually means new ones); and not leaving obstructions in their way.
Oh, and don't leave valuable documents or items around, lose them, and then throw a fit insisting the maid hid them somewhere. You're an adult. Put them away.
3. Using Debit Instead of Credit Cards.
This one is actually about protecting your bank account from getting a walloping fee. Hotels need protection, so they often have a deposit policy about debit cards to prevent fraud, or getting stiffed by insufficient funds. You'll get the deposit back, but it might mess up your budgeting a bit, so try to pay by credit card when you can. And don't use cash — wave a wad of cash in a receptionist's face and watch how much he's trying not to hate you.
4. Expecting an Early Check-in Time or a Late Check-out.
Check-in and check-out times are not there to mess up your schedule or make you lug your bags around a foreign city. They're for cleaning and fixing the room in preparation for the next visitor, which usually takes several hours. So unless you're a regular customer, the hotel's basically empty, or your stay is a month and a half, stick to their timetable. Most places will put your luggage in their luggage room to minimize your inconvenience.
5. Fiddling With the Minibar.
OK, number one, just don't touch the minibar, period. Unless you're trapped inside in a snowstorm, I guarantee there will be somewhere reasonably close by that doesn't charge you $5.00 for a water. Two, don't pick things out just to see how much they cost, gasp, and put them back in again. Most minibars these days are sensor-activated, meaning that they automatically charge you when things are removed, to prevent fraud. Yes, minibar fraud. It's a thing. Just leave it alone.
6. Taking Anything Beyond What's Free for Guests.
You can safely assume that the toiletries in your room are free. Pens and paper are also probably fine, as are brochures. You cannot assume the same of towels, robes, slippers, cushions, linen of any kind, coat hangers, ash trays, or kettles. While many hotels these days don't mind if you bring items from home with you, like candles or your own pillow, they're strict about their property staying on their premises. Some American chains now actually tag their luxury linen and robes with an alarm. Keep your fingers to yourself.
7. Blaming the Hotel For Things They Can't Control.
If the weather is terrible, there's a bus strike, or the event or attraction you're visiting is off limits, some people decide to take it out on the people closest to the problem: the hotel. Hotels are neither psychic, nor are they your mother; you need to do your own research before coming to a location, so that monsoons, political uproar, or seasonal shutdowns don't come as a surprise.
8. Using a Bad Review As a Bargaining Chip.
The rise of Tripadvisor and other crowd-based review sites has meant that some people assume they can wrangle a better deal by mentioning they're planning a detailed post about their stay. Hotel staff, rightly, often view this as a threat, and while it may get you what you want, it certainly won't improve your relationship with them. If they've been truly abysmal, a report to the Better Business Bureau is far more effective.
9. Not Tipping.
This changes from country to country, with tipping being far less common in Europe, and people disagree as to whether hotel workers should be tipped "just for doing their jobs." Generally speaking, however, whoever went above and beyond to help you during your stay deserves a small gratuity. Maria Shriver's even started a campaign to remind guests to tip their cleaners. Think of it as a personal gesture to make your mark and reward good service.
10. Assuming All Staff Are Interchangeable.
If you mention a problem to one staff member and it hasn't been fixed, assuming that another staff member will automatically know about your complaint will not help, particularly if they're from different sectors of the hotel. All staff aren't briefed about all issues; most reception people try to fix a problem directly rather than making a note on your account. Also, know what different people can and cannot do: cleaning staff cannot make upgrade decisions, and the concierge is there to help you navigate the city, not procure more towels.
Image: TSG Entertainment