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Why can't hotels have rooms ready for families upon arrival? Here's how to increase your chances

Aug. 10, 2022
7 min read
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Long travel days with kids can be, to put it nicely, challenging. No matter how prepared you are with snacks, toys and games to make the journey enjoyable, by the end of the day, you probably can't wait to open the door to your hotel room, drop your bags and get everyone settled in for bed.

Unfortunately for families, it's all too common that those plans are thwarted when you realize the crib, rollaway or sofa bed linens you requested are nowhere to be found.

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Lost in translation

TPG director of content Nick Ewen recently had such an experience at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel in Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ).

"After a nearly two-hour delay plus another 55 minutes waiting at baggage claim, we arrived to our room and found only a fitted sheet on the sofa bed and one pillow in the closet," Ewen recalled. "What was I supposed to do with that?"

Ewen called the front desk and appropriate bedding was delivered to his family's room swiftly, but it wasn't the ideal way to be welcomed to the property — and hotels are not always able to immediately get you what you need.

TPG executive editor Scott Mayerowitz has dealt with similar situations on multiple occasions.

"Basically, nobody seems to get this right. Even when I call ahead that morning and follow-up an hour before arrival, they just can't seem to have the room properly set," Mayerowitz said.

At first, it was a crib for his daughter. Now that she's 7, it is the lack of sheets for a sofa bed or a rollaway bed in a suite.

Related: 43 real-world family travel tips that actually work

(Photo by ljubaphoto/Getty Images)

"It's not like the front desk clerk isn't reading the notes in the reservation. They often note the special request at check-in. They just never seem to have passed that message on to the housekeeping department," Mayerowitz added. "There is nothing worse than arriving late at a hotel with a tired and cranky kid and then having to wait an extra 45 minutes for somebody to bring up sheets and pillows for a sofa bed."

Other staffers recounted similar tales of squeezing their teen and tween children into one bed while waiting for a rollaway bed or waiting hours for a pack-n-play after arriving to their hotel at midnight with a baby in tow.

Related: Tips for booking hotel rooms for large families

However, TPG senior writer (and frequent family traveler) Lori Zaino has noticed that generally, smaller, boutique hotels tend to have a better follow-through rate than the big-name hotel brands, though she's regularly come across missing items during her travels, too.

"One of the best experiences I had was at the Hodelpa Nicolás de Ovando in Santo Domingo [in the Dominican Republic], where they had the crib in our room at check-in and also had a sound machine set up so our baby could fall asleep to the sounds of rain or lullabies," Zaino said.

(Photo by Westend61/Getty Images)

Zaino has tried to preempt a hotel's lack of preparedness by requesting a crib when making the reservation and calling to confirm the day before or the day of her trip. She also confirms the request again at check-in, but she still finds the request unfulfilled at check-in about "80% of the time."

To be fair, many of us here at TPG have also arrived at our hotel and found the crib or rollaway bed we had requested ready and waiting for us. The real issue is that it can't be counted on. You never know if the items you requested will be waiting for you when you open the door to your room or if you'll have to call the front desk and wait an undisclosed amount of time for the sleep essentials you need.

So, what's a family with cranky, crying tired children to do?

(Photo by Jasper Cole / Getty Images)

Does the hotel brand make a difference?

We went straight to the source and spoke with representatives from major hotel brands to better understand how they handle these types of requests.

Karen Cole, director of corporate communications for InterContinental Hotels Group, shared a breakdown of how some of IHG's family-centered brands process these requests.

"While our hotels focus on preparation efforts before guest arrivals and do the best to ensure requests are honored, they are not always possible," Cole said. "Our advice for traveling families is two-fold — make your request at the time of reservation via our IHG app or phone, then on the day of arrival, call the property directly with your estimated check-in time to better ensure requested items can be placed in the room beforehand."

(Photo by Onfocus / Getty Images)

All IHG-branded hotels require cribs to be available, with the exception of Candlewood Suites, where they are optional (meaning you'll want to check with the property before making a reservation if you require a crib).

Having the cribs available doesn't necessarily mean it is required to be in your room when you check in, but Holiday Inn Express-branded hotels do require cribs to be in the guest's room prior to arrival when requested in advance. At IHG properties, rollaway availability can vary from location to location, so you should always confirm the property stocks rollaway beds before making a reservation.

John Wolf, vice president of global communications and public affairs for Marriott International, shared a similar stance.

He stated that the daily complexities of operating a hotel may prevent requests from being fulfilled prior to check-in, but he encourages guests to contact the hotel prior to arrival by phone or chat to reconfirm the request. You can also use the Marriott Bonvoy app to complete mobile check-in and enter your expected time of arrival.

A representative from Hilton declined to comment on this topic.

It's certainly understandable that due to inventory restraints and the intricacies of turning over a hotel room in the few hours between checkout and check-in, it may not always be possible for a hotel to honor every request before you arrive.

Related: 9 best hotel amenities for babies and toddlers

Tips and tricks

Families are justified in expecting items they requested to be available when they check in, especially after a long travel day.

While there are no guarantees, there are things you can do to increase the likelihood of your room being ready with the items you requested when you check in and quickly resolve issues that may arise when requested items are missing:

  • Communicate your request for a crib, rollaway, sofa bed linens, etc. when you make your reservation by phone or online.
  • Reconfirm your request before you check in, and let the hotel know what time you plan on checking in on the day of your arrival.
  • When you do check in, confirm again whether your requested items are already in the room or can be delivered right away.
  • If all else fails, pack a portable crib or pack-n-play that will, unfortunately, take up precious packing space but will give you peace of mind.

Bottom line

Because there are so many factors that go into securing family items for rooms, from your arrival time to the hotel's inventory to communication between departments, it appears there is no way to guarantee your room will be ready for both you and your kids 100% of the time.

While there is no clear solution (and trust us, we wish there was), know that if you have run into a similar situation, you are not alone. We feel your pain.

Featured image by Hotels like the Peninsula Beverly Hills offer specialty childcare services. (Photo courtesy of Peninsula Hotels)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
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