With Hotels, It Never Hurts To Ask
There's an old saying that goes something like, "It never hurts to ask." It may be a cliché, but it's nevertheless a useful tip when it comes to hotel stays. Often a simple request can create a more comfortable stay or lead a property to bend its rules a bit, and today I want to go through three recent examples of this very strategy working in my favor.
When An Amenity Isn't Available
The first example came on a recent one-night stay at the Hilton Munich Airport. My wife, daughter and I were traveling in from Miami via Madrid, and even though we were in business class, we knew we would be tired from the transatlantic flight, layover and short connecting hop. We decided to book the Hilton Munich Airport thanks to its location (connected to the airport) and for the ability to take an evening swim to relax after a long day of travel. I redeemed 58,000 points to book directly into a junior suite for the one-night stay.
However, the month before our trip, I logged in to my Hilton Honors account to check my reservations and noticed the following message at the top of the confirmation page for our Munich stay:
"Please be informed that our swimming pool and whirlpool will be closed from November 11, 2017 for approximately 4 weeks for maintenance work. Our sauna and fitness area will be open for you without any limitations. Please contact us at email@example.com with any questions or for more information."
This was obviously quite disappointing, as my wife and I had explicitly discussed taking a swim upon arrival. I understand that maintenance is part of keeping a hotel up and running, but this was a significant amenity that would no longer be available (and which wasn't disclosed when I booked the room in July).
I decided to send a message to the above email address to respectfully note my disappointment and request one of two things:
- A partial refund of the points I had redeemed
- A complimentary upgrade to a one-bedroom suite (the next category of room above the one I had originally booked)
Within just a few hours, I received a response from the front office manager:
Dear Mr Ewen,
Thank you very much for your valuable comments that my team has kindly forwarded to me. I can very well see your concern about the closing of our pool area.
To make up for you the inconvenience and in an effort to restore your confidence in our brand I would like to offer you the complimentary upgrade to the King one bedroom suite. I do apologize for the short notice of the maintenance.
Thank you very much for loyalty in staying with Hilton and we look forward to welcoming you in Munich.
I immediately wrote back to thank him for the quick response and willingness to address my concerns, and we wound up having a fantastic stay. I highly recommend this property for its convenient location as well as the friendly service we encountered, not only related to the pool closure but also once we arrived. Had I not sent this simple request, we likely would've remained in our original room.
When You Need to Cancel a Nonrefundable Stay
The second example happened just a few days later, while we were still on our European vacation. I had originally planned a mid-week overnight getaway with my wife to celebrate her birthday in December at the fantastic Vero Beach Hotel & Spa, just 30 minutes from our house. The property was offering a significant discount for booking a pre-paid, nonrefundable rate, and since I didn't expect anything to come up, I decided to take advantage of it.
Lo and behold, just three weeks before her birthday, I got word of a work trip to New York that fell during the same dates. I would be able to bring her along but would need to miss our planned stay in Vero Beach and would lose the $200+ I had already paid...or so I thought. Figuring that it didn't hurt to at least inquire, I called the hotel directly, explained the situation, and asked if it would be possible to receive a refund given the fact that I was a repeat guest (having stayed there several times over the last three years). The agent looked up my information, confirmed my stay history, and cancelled the stay without any penalty. A refund of the prepayment posted to my credit card just a couple of days later.
In this case, a simple request coupled with my loyalty to the specific property opened up an exception to the published rules of my reservation, one that again wouldn't have been possible without simply asking.
When You're Exhausted, Stressed, Sick, and Would Like a Comfortable End to Your Trip
The third (and final) example came at the end of the same trip. While we had a blast visiting sites across Germany and Austria, the last couple of days of the trip hadn't gone as planned. I tripped and sprained my ankle visiting the Stiegl Brewery in Salzburg; my iPad vanished from our Airbnb; and our daughter appeared to be coming down with a stomach bug as our train hurtled across the Swiss countryside en route to our final night in Zurich and flight back home to Miami in Swiss business class. Needless to say, no one in my family was in a good mood.
In the interest of convenience, I had redeemed Club Carlson points for a family room at the Radisson Blu Zurich Airport, which, like the Hilton Munich Airport, is connected to the terminal. However, I wondered if the hotel would be willing to bump us to a much larger and more luxurious one-bedroom suite. I sent a quick note to the hotel's generic email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) from the train, explaining our situation and politely asking if an upgrade would be possible. I received the following response just a few minutes later:
Many thanks for your mail.
We will offer you a free Upgrade to a Suite today cause you are a club Carlson member and it’s your final night.
We also include the soft drinks and snacks from the minibar and give you our super breakfast buffet free of charge.
We are looking forward to see you this evening.
Once again, I immediately responded with my profuse thanks, and the stay was fantastic. This is another hotel that I highly recommend; my daughter was especially mesmerized by the Wine Angels show in the lobby bar, and you can't beat the convenience of a five-minute walk to check-in. As in the prior two examples, this wouldn't have been possible without a simple request.
Other Important Notes
While these three stories are just examples of how it doesn't hurt to ask, there are many other situations where you can unlock additional perks or additional flexibility when it comes to your hotel stays. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when utilizing this strategy:
- Don't lie. Call me a boy scout if you'd like, but I'm not one to make up a story to score an upgrade or otherwise trick a hotel into giving me additional freebies. In all three of the examples above (as well as my past experiences with special occasion upgrades), I simply told the truth. If that wasn't good enough to get what I wanted, then I'd simply move on.
- Be polite and respectful. Over my years of travel, I've seen too many disrespectful travelers to count. Taking an attitude of "I deserve this and you should do it NOW" is a quick way to get nothing, and in all three examples, I went out of my way to phrase my requests in a polite and respectful fashion. This crosses into the next tip as well...
- Be prepared to be told "No." Whenever you're asking for something above and beyond what should be allowed, the hotel has every right to say no. If you don't get what you want, that's no reason to drop the politeness, as a property doesn't have to do anything if it's beyond the terms and conditions of the program with which you are staying.
- Elite status (and past stay history) helps. In all three of the examples above, I wasn't a nobody. I have Hilton Honors Gold status and Club Carlson Gold status through co-branded credit cards and have stayed with the Vero Beach Hotel & Spa several times. While one or more of the requests may have been honored without those things, I'm guessing that they helped.
Many travelers are looking for tips and tricks to make the most of your hotel stays, which is likely a key reason you're reading The Points Guy. In my experience, one of the simplest strategies to use is to just ask! Even if your request goes beyond what is typically allowed by a hotel or a loyalty program's terms and conditions, the only possible negative outcome is to be told no. That's a very minimal risk compared to what could be a big reward.
Special kudos to the Hilton Munich Airport, Vero Beach Hotel & Spa and the Radisson Blu Zurich Airport for their willingness to honor my special requests. In this age of consumer commodification, it was great to see these properties understand my needs as a traveler and be willing to bend the rules a bit to fulfill them. Hopefully you'll be able to successfully replicate this strategy on your next trip!