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The Critical Points: These small things can make or break a hotel stay

Sept. 13, 2019
6 min read
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Once you spend enough time hopping between hotels, you begin to pick up on all the small things that differentiate the endless check-in counters, elevators and lobbies — which can quickly blur over the course of a few travel weeks. While most major chains do their best to give you standardized experiences, there are several things about a hotel stay that can irrationally make me sour on — or alternatively fall in love with — a property within 15 minutes of entering.

Here are all the small things that can make a hotel stay great.

Elite check-in actually used

We've all walked into lobbies of chain hotels and have seen the elite check-in line cordoned off — or at the least designated by a sign at one of the check-in desks — where elite-status holders should have priority. The problem in my experience is — outside of Vegas or other resort destinations — these lines are either rarely staffed or improperly utilized (if not both). Standing in line an extra 10 minutes to get your key typically isn't a big deal, but sometimes when I'm running late, it'd be great to have these elite lines ready to go.

(Photo by Katie Genter / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Katie Genter / The Points Guy)

I checked in to the Washington Hilton in DC earlier this week and was already running late to catch the end of a speaker's keynote for a conference. There was no one at the bell stand to store my bags, and there was one front desk station staffed for the very large hotel. It took 10 minutes for that person to call me over from the elite check-in line, most notably after helping three people in a row from the non-elite line. This isn't a big deal in the vast majority of cases, but the times where this would be helpful always makes we question why these elite check-in lines even exist.

The elevator situation

We take speedy, working elevators for granted. That is, until you check in to a hotel where there are not enough elevators or working ones that move incredibly slow. Earlier this year, the Sheraton Universal City had one working elevator and it took 20 minutes to get downstairs from the 21st floor. If you pick a boutique hotel in New York City (or the Hyatt Place Midtown) that has a good number of floors, the one or two elevators can quickly make you regret your decision. Elevators are an afterthought, until they aren't.

Mini toiletry bottles are a good thing

I know it's all the rage to get behind hotels eliminating the small, single-use toiletry products. I just don't agree with nor do I like the move. There are a few reasons I don't really care for the large dispensers. First, they are rarely cleaned. Trust me when I advise you not to look behind them at the wall mounts, which will be covered in black slime from having never been scrubbed. Second, it's too easy to put whatever kind of product in the dispenser you want and then pass them off as a higher-end product. Third, the supposedly "tamper-proof" tops are not (in fact) tamper-proof, and guests can put whatever they like in these bottles.

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(Photo by Eric Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Rosen / The Points Guy)

I think single-use, plastic products should be eliminated and replaced with recycled or biodegradable, single-use containers. This move of going to bulk mounted products is really just an easy excuse for the hotels to cut down on costs and disguise it as making an environmentally-friendly move when there are other, eco-friendly alternatives available which will maintain the individual products — ones I greatly enjoy.

Power outlet location(s)

Everyone traveling in 2019 has something that needs recharging. I find it particularly convenient to charge these items at night when I'm sleeping. I also enjoy having my phone next to the bed at night so I can have an alarm clock, a light or quickly respond to "goodnight" and "good morning" texts. It seems many hotels don't recognize this need, as I routinely embark on scavenger hunts and furniture re-arranging stints in order to find an outlet close to the bed. I've even visited newly-remodeled hotels that still don't have power outlets near the bed. Even worse are when rooms have no power outlets on the desk or provide the kind which are not flush with the outer desk surface meaning bricks or Macbook charging blocks won't fit in the space and cannot plug in. It absolutely boggles my mind that this is still a problem in 2019.

Iron condition

I typically travel with a carefully-packed carry-on suitcase or garment bag, and my slacks and work shirts need ironing before heading to the office, a meeting or conference. I could actually write an entire column about the world of hotel irons and ironing boards, but nothing makes me more irritated then opening up a bent ironing board that's 2.5 feet off the ground with an iron that leaks more water than it can hold. Add in some past, who-knows-what substance permanently seared into the bottom of the iron — which can ruin your shirt or pants — and the pressing experience can quickly make me sour on a property.

The Wi-Fi situation

There are multiple aspects to the perfect hotel Wi-Fi experience, and foremost among them is (of course) the speed. In a perfect world, you'd open your computer, select the hotel network and quickly navigate the a pop-up box to connect. The seamless process wouldn't require hotel status, an additional expense or resort fee to access what should be a basic hotel amenity in 2019. At the TWA Hotel at JFK earlier this summer, I was booted from the Wi-Fi every 15 seconds. At a few boutique hotels, I've been left fighting a 24/7 phone support agent to try and connect. If there is one amenity a hotel should get correct for today's traveler, it's the Wi-Fi.

Bottom line

The above items are the small things that can make or break a hotel stay for me. Of course, these are all on top of the basics — a hotel's location, material condition, cleanliness and price point compared to the value it provides. Is my stay ruined if one or two of these are wrong? No, but having all of these small things go right can certainly turn a run-of-the-mill hotel stay into an excellent one.

Featured image by (Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)