The Inside Scoop on Hotel Stays From a Front Desk Supervisor

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TPG contributor Jason Steele returns today to dish on the ins and outs of how hotels work with one of his friends who has experience working with several national hotel chains. 

Why do some guests get upgraded rooms, while others get assigned terrible ones? How can you get fees waived like parking and Internet service, even if you don’t have elite status?

I sat down for a Q&A with a friend of mine who has worked at several properties belonging to major hotel chains to get the inside scoop on answers to these burning questions and more:

Front desk, where the action is.
Front desk: where the action (sometimes) is.

Q: Tell me a little about your experience in the hotel industry?

A: Unlike many of my co-workers, I have a bachelor’s degree with a major in Hospitality and Event Management. So in addition to my time in school, I have worked at Hyatt, Hilton, and Marriott properties for a total of three years, mostly at the front desk. I currently work as a front desk supervisor.

Q: So let’s get right to it, who gets best rooms?

A: Each hotel checks their bookings in the morning and pre-assigns its rooms. It’s no surprise that the best rooms are assigned to the top tier elites of the hotel’s loyalty program. However, front desk staff can override these assignments when you check in, based on the availability of the room type you requested and whether the hotel is sold out. Calling the hotel on the morning of arrival is also the best way to request a room that is available for early check-in.

Q: Okay then, who gets the worst rooms?

A: Its a 50/50 toss up between bookings taken by 3rd party reservations systems like Expedia, or it could just be assigned at random using the hotel’s auto-assign program each morning. It also depends on the agent who checks you in. Sometimes they try to get rid of bad rooms first, while others (like me) try to use up good rooms first.

Want to aboid
Want to avoid the worst rooms? Ring once.

Q: How can I avoid being assigned the worst room?

A: I would try to call in the morning of the arrival date and ask for your preferred bed configuration, and to be assigned a quiet room away from elevators and any mechanical rooms. Non-adjoining rooms can also be quieter, as there’s less soundproofing between the doors that connect adjacent rooms. Once the front desk agrees to assign you the room you want, request that they place a “do not move” note in your reservation. That way, only a manager can move you from that room.

Another tip is to simply join the hotel’s loyalty program in advance. Even though you will have no points, stay credit, or elite status, just joining the program indicates that you are a potential repeat customer, and the front desk staff will be less likely to assign you an inferior room.

Q: Can you talk your way into an upgrade, whether or not you have status?

A: Sure, just ask at check-in. They could say no, but they’ll probably at least look for a better room. Employees at many properties get commissions and may try to sell you upgrades rather than comp them. I would also try to politely remind them of your elite status (if you have it). Those with the highest levels of elite status will have upgraded rooms pre-assigned, but those with mid and low tier status are given upgraded rooms based on availability, so they must request it.

Guests who partake of extra services (like spas and dining) are more likely to get fees waived.

Q: What are some tricks to getting fees waived, such as parking, Internet, and breakfast.

A: Frankly, just plead ignorance. We tend to offer comps to people who seem genuinely surprised about having to pay for something they thought was included. They can likely waive the fee if the parking facility is owned by the hotel, but not if it’s operated by a third party. Another effective strategy is to have a good story about travel hardship and frustration, lost luggage, etc. When a weary traveler shows up late after flight delays and cancellations, we usually try to help them recover by waiving a fee or two.

Also, keep in mind that the more nights you’re staying, the better your chances are of getting fees waived. Full service hotels are more likely to waive fees because they figure you might be a source of other revenue like room service, dining, or spa treatments.

Q: Instead of getting fees waived, which doesn’t help people who are being reimbursed by their employer or client, can you get the hotel to give you some points instead?

A: Sure, we can offer points when there’s a service failure such as assigning a customer a dirty or pre-occupied room. If there are multiple service failures, we can offer points equal to a free night at that property. So, the higher the property ranks in the loyalty program, the more points we can offer you.

Q: Do award bookings get treated differently from reservations made with cash?

A: The front desk agent will know the room is booked as an award, but he or she should still recognize the guest’s status either way. Aside from status distinctions, guests should be treated the same.

Don’t be shy about tipping to show your appreciation for good service.

Q: How can you get an award room at a property where all of the “standard” rooms available for awards are already booked?

A:When no “standard” rooms are available, Hyatt’s central reservations can contact the property and request a points redemption, but you have to ask. Most of the time these requests are granted. When rooms are unavailable during conventions or other events, try checking for availability within 30 days of arrival, as groups typically must submit their final room blocks 30 days out. So, if a convention blocks 100 rooms, they might come back and say they only need 85, leaving 15 available for awards at 30 days out. This trick works with Hilton and Hyatt, but Marriott properties don’t generally release their blocks. In fact, Marriotts also tend to be a lot less generous with waiving fees or discounting room rates upon request.

Q: Interesting, so when can you request a discounted room rate?

A: If you contact the front desk directly the day of arrival, they’ll have a very strong incentive to offer you a deal if they are not full that night. But for some reason, Marriott properties tend to instruct their front desk staff not to discount rooms.

Q. Is there anything else you’d like guests to know?

A: When you have great service, you can show your appreciation to the staff that helped you in several ways. You can mention it to the manager, but companies also put a lot of weight on survey responses. In addition, you can mention an employee by name on social media such as Trip Advisor. In fact, Hyatt actually gives us a $25 bonus for specific employee mentions online, so don’t just say “Bob at the front desk,” say “Bob T.,” since there might be more than one “Bob” working there. Finally, we can’t solicit tips, but we can accept them.

Do you have experience working at hotels, or other insights about the industry?  Please share your tips and comments below!

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