When a hotel stay doesn’t meet your expectations, you may be inclined to slam the property on social media or write a bad review online, but that shouldn’t be your first move.
“The guest has a lot of power compared to before,” and hotels know that, according to Mehmet Erdem, an associate professor of hospitality at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “When things go wrong, it’s in the best interest of (the) hotel to take care of the issue, so it doesn’t grow.”
Hotel staff can often address common issues much quicker in person, but if they don’t, there may be reasons for that. From what to expect when hotel hiccups arise to how to avoid problems in the first place, here’s what you should know before your next hotel stay:
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What should hotel guests know before check-in?
Just because a hotel has a certain brand in its name, it doesn’t mean that’s the company that runs it.
“Is it an affiliated hotel? is it an independent hotel? is it an owner-operated hotel?” Erdem said. “It can be owned by somebody, branded by, say, a big name and managed by a second-tier management company.”
All those layers can impact the level of empowerment given to employees in handling issues.
“Depending on who’s managing what, even if the person wants to do something for you, their hands may be tied,” Erdem said. “There’s limitations because they can not go above corporate rules.” And those rules vary by company, unlike airlines, which are all required to offer certain types of compensation by the Department of Transportation when flights are disrupted.
What are the expectations of a hotel?
Guests should expect a reasonable standard of care from any hotel, according to Erdem. “It should be a safe environment. It should be clean. It should be reasonably comfortable.”
When issues arise, he said, “The hotelier’s responsibility is to make sure that they acknowledge the problem and address it as best as they can.”
Higher-end hotels may have more flexibility. Ritz-Carlton, for example, empowers staff with up to$2,000 in discretionary spending per guest, per issue to make things right or simply delight. Other hotels may offer discounted stays, parking fee waivers, or complimentary drinks at the hotel bar.
“It depends on how big the problem is and also what it is that the employee and the manager can do,” Erdem said, referring back to the hotel owner-management structures.
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What happens if a hotel loses your reservation?
In this day and age, Erdem says it’s pretty rare for hotels to lose your reservation.
Unlike years ago when reservations were relayed by fax or recorded in hand-written reservation logs, he said, “Everything’s on the cloud … Electronic reservation systems have a lot of checks and balances in place” as well as paper trails, like daily occupancy reports, for backup.
If, for some reason, the hotel isn’t able to access your reservation, be prepared to show a record of it, like a confirmation number or booking receipt. Travelers who book through third parties may receive multiple confirmation numbers and should make sure to have the one for the hotel. Better yet, Erdem recommends calling the hotel before your arrival to confirm the reservation and jot down the name of the person you spoke with on the phone.
What do you do if the hotel is fully booked and there are no rooms available?
“The hotel is almost always booking more rooms than they have,” Erdem said. “This is (a) common practice … because almost always there’s going to be people (who) cancel.”
When more people may show up than expected and there aren’t enough rooms, guests are traditionally walked to other hotels, meaning the hotel finds them somewhere else to stay.
It shouldn’t matter whether guests booked directly through the hotel or travel agency like Expedia or Priceline.
“Ethically speaking, they have to treat everybody equally because they’re paying guests,” Erdem said. “I worked front desk years ago, and you don’t care how the person booked. You just want to take care of the guest.”
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What is walking in a hotel?
When a hotel is overbooked, it’s common practice for the hotel to help impacted guests find a comparable place to stay nearby. This is known as walking.
Erdem said, traditionally, that also includes paying for transportation to the new hotel, but with today’s apps and mobile notifications, “You can notify the guests even when they’re at the airport waiting for their ride and say, ‘Hey, sorry, but we will not be able to honor your reservations. We had to move you to this hotel. Please go there.’ They may still call and complain, but at least you’re saving them the time.”
Hotels may also offer other types of compensation like a discount on a future stay, loyalty points, or food credit.
“You do something to show that, yes, we messed up, but we are taking care of you,” Erdem said.
What to do if the hotel room is not ready?
Hotels aren’t required to offer anything when a room isn’t ready on time, but they often will.
“Front desk agents are trained to offer some perks in such situations and by default should offer food credit or an upgrade, depending on the level of empowerment they are afforded with,” Erdem said.
He said it’s reasonable for guests to request that upgrade or at the very least, a waiver of resort or parking fees. Another option is points with the hotel’s loyalty program.
What can I do if my hotel room is not clean?
If for some reason, you are accidentally given a room upon check-in that is not clean, you should let the front desk know right away, and they can either move you to another room or if none is available, send up housekeeping and, hopefully, accommodate you while you wait.
It shouldn’t take too long, but Erdem notes hotels have struggled to staff housekeeping since before the pandemic.
“Anybody who’s done housekeeping (knows) – I have – it is back-breaking work,” he said, adding that it’s only gotten harder with fewer workers. “People are working overtime. They are not getting the breaks that they used to … Have some compassion toward the hotel employees.”
What is an acceptable noise level for a hotel?
The answer is subjective. “What is loud for you may not be loud for me,” Erdem said. The way hotels handle noise complaints also varies by situation.
If guests in nearby rooms are blaring music or holding a party, you can report them to the hotel staff, who will usually send up security to de-escalate the situation.
If the air conditioner in your room is too loud, hotel engineers can check it out. “However, because of the mechanics of how they set up the HVAC system, that may be normal noise, so when it turns on, you’re going to hear it,” Erdem said. “You can report it and next time they do renovations, looking at guest complaints, they could be able to do something about it,” but they may not be able to adjust the volume during your stay.
In the same vein, if a room is just poorly insulated, hotels can’t remedy that right away, but they may be able to offer you some sort of compensation as a courtesy.
If you’re just a light sleeper, you may want to pack earplugs just in case.
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How do I dispute a wrong charge?
“Word to the wise, before you leave the property, check your folio and make sure everything is OK,” Erdem said. “If it’s not, take care of it right now.”
Call down from your room or stop by the front desk before you leave the hotel. If you wait until you get home, you may need to go back and forth with the accounting department to get the charge taken care of, eating up your time.
The Golden Rule
When issues arise, Erdem says, “I always tell my students, you’re on a stage, right? So when it comes to the stage, regardless of what’s going on in your personal life, you’re going to put on that smile, make eye contact, acknowledge the person.”
But he has advice for guests too.
“We also have to remember that they’re human beings,” he said. “Of course, the guests have the right to expect what they’ve been promised, but be courteous … Treat people the way you want to get treated and understand that the hotel industry is doing everything it can with a lot (fewer) resources.”