Skip to content

These Are the Worst #HotelFails — and Easy Ways Hotels Can Fix Them

Feb. 16, 2019
13 min read
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Whether you're splurging on an overwater villa in the dreamiest of destinations, or scoring a sweet find at a Category 1 hotel for a last-minute overnighter, expectations are straightforward: You're trading cash (or points) for a place to relax, to sleep and to call your temporary home away from home.

However, some hotels seem to miss this all-important point. Whether it's flawed layout, bad forethought for the customer experience or just poor service and upkeep, there are some universal dealbreakers when it comes to hotel fails.

TPG Lounge members shared a number of their biggest pet peeves, and we took the liberty of brainstorming some easy-fix solutions. Hotel brands, please take note.

Bad sleep

E. Joseph Cossman once said, "The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night's sleep." For travelers on the go, hotels that jeopardize that precious shut-eye deserve to be on the naughty list.

Cause: Alarm clocks with bright lights or loud ticks.

In this day and age of digital timekeeping, there's absolutely no place for an alarm clock that emits noise until it's supposed to. And with our growing awareness of the effects of artificial light before bedtime, bright clocks that can't be dimmed also have no place in hotel rooms.

Solution: Whatever happened to those fun, glow-in-the-dark dials of our childhood alarm clock days? Alternatively, hotels could offer plenty of bedside plugs so travelers can have their cell phones fully charged and ready for alarm clock action. Or, hotels could openly encourage guests to utilize the front desk's wake-up call functionality. Or... you could just invest in some better-quality, less-invasive clocks.

Cause: Thin walls and doors without soft-close functionality.

Yikes. Not all of us sleep in our hotel rooms, but the vast majority of us don't want to hear what's keeping our neighbors up. From snores to snacking, to all sorts of alternate activities, hearing sounds through thin walls eradicates our sense of privacy, making us painfully aware of the fact that we aren't alone.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Solution: If possible, hotels should soundproof the building from the get-go. If not, sound-dampening materials such as curtains, textiles on the walls and acoustic ceiling materials go a long, long way toward creating a quieter environment without too much additional expense.

Cause: Rooms without blackout curtains.

This issue incurs similar complaints to the previous two, also with good reason. Wanting to be able to block out sunlight isn't just about "sucking it up and dealing with it." Some travelers may be dealing with jet lag, or trying to recover from an illness or make up for a poor night's sleep elsewhere. Perhaps they have an all-important meeting in a few hours and need a quick nap in between big events. Some people just prefer to revel in the glory of a completely dark sleeping environment. Whatever the reason, blackout curtains not only help eliminate unwanted light, but have the added benefit of providing additional soundproofing.

Solution: Blackout curtains or shades don't have to cost a fortune. If you're a hotel with a limited budget, begin with your east-facing rooms first, please.

Cause: Weird mood lighting.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, some hotel rooms out there are really dark. Whether it's due to cost-cutting measures or a misguided attempt to be trendy, some rooms lack overhead lighting altogether, or offer such dim side lighting that some travelers told TPG they can't see well enough to get anything meaningful done.

Solution: Make sure that the bulbs in hotel room lamps can be turned up brightly enough to allow for normal activities without strain on the eyes. Trendy lighting is fine, but it also never hurts to have bedside light switches with master control, so that guests don't have to get out of bed in or order to get to bed.

Cause: Loud or weak central heating and cooling systems; thermostats with poor or non-functional design.

Some people love the feeling of an ice-cold hotel room with thick blankets to snuggle under. Others prefer to stay comfortably warm, even in the dead of summer. Whatever one's personal preference, all travelers agree that central air systems should be responsive, functional and easy to use. TPG readers griped about high-falutin thermostats which only activate upon sensing motion, necessitating a bedtime run out into the hallway. Others complained of noisy, outdated air conditioners rumbling throughout the night.

Solution: Whether it's replacing outdated equipment or installing fancy new ones, please remember the Golden Rule: Would you want to sleep in this room yourself?

Poorly-timed housekeeping.

Not having to make your own bed or tidy up around the place are some of the perks of hotel living. But when should housekeeping stop in? Personal preferences vary: Some people appreciate prompt, attentive service that resets the room in the morning for a fresh start. Others prefer to sleep in and enjoy the opportunity to indulge in restfulness.

Whatever their preferred timeframe, travelers tend to be unanimous on the consensus that housekeeping should make sense. If the door sports a "do not disturb" sign, most people do not appreciate waking up to a knock on the door and a muffled inquiry of "Housekeeping?" And it's a special no-no for housekeeping staff members to enter "literally two seconds after they knock," per a TPG reader.

Solution: Consider collecting guest housekeeping preferences at check-in. Some travelers like having a room cleaned as soon as they leave in the morning; others don't mind as long as they come home in the afternoon to a neat room.

It isn't always possible to accommodate everyone, but the little details go a long way toward leaving a good impression with guests. At the bare minimum, train staff members to wait five to seven seconds (and knock again) before barging into guest rooms.

And remember: As a traveler, there's not a lot you can do if you're stuck with a sleeper-unfriendly room for the night. But traveling with a sleep mask and soft foam earplugs can help you make the best of it. Even if you don't use them regularly, the items can live in a small corner of your carry-on luggage without taking up too much space, and may just save your day (or night). You may not be able to avoid sound and light when it's least wanted, but you can always block it out.

Sad showers

Although sleep is of paramount importance in a hotel room, showers are a close second: TPG readers had a lot to say about showers that stood out for all the wrong reasons.

Low showers.

Obviously, low-set shower heads are a big pet peeve for The Points Guy himself, who is six feet, seven inches tall and designed the TPG Shower Test using himself as a measuring stick.

While there is no hard requirement for shower head heights, several design sites state that the industry standard is around 80 inches, or six feet, six inches, from the ground. Many savvy hotels recognize and accommodate their facilities for taller guests, who may be inconvenienced or at the bare minimum, uncomfortable in showers that are too small for them. In the meantime, that means all the rest of the hotels out there just aren't truly prepared to welcome people who belong in the Six-Foot Club.

Solution: Remember that many taller guests may have spent the day traveling in uncomfortably tight seats. Placing shower heads just a few inches higher will go a long way toward making customers happy, relaxed and appreciative of your hotel.

Poor drain flow.

Poor drainage isn't just a gross-out inconvenience; it can be a sign of something worse. While not all drains are going to erupt with raw sewage at a moment's notice, slow or stopped drains in showers, tubs and sinks can lead to overflow, damaging guest belongings as well as creating long-term damage to the hotel itself.

Solution: Get ahead of drain issues before they strangle business. Make sure to regularly maintain the drainage system, from individual rooms all the way down to the main drain line. It might seem like a drag, but consistent maintenance will protect from expensive repairs and customer ill-will.

Showers with poor water pressure or lukewarm water.

Few life experiences are more satisfying than stepping into a perfectly hot, steamy shower after an exhausting day of meetings or travel. Conversely, nothing thwarts that anticipation more than a tepid trickle of water from an indifferent shower head.

Solution: Install shower systems with adjustable, clearly-marked water temperature control. And make sure to descale shower heads on a regular basis to avoid mineral deposits and water build-up, which can clog up the nozzles and impact water flow.

Dirty rooms

While many hotel pet peeves revolve around design flaws, which can be costly and unfeasible to address, there's simply no excuse for an unkempt hotel room, especially one with another guest's used diaper left in it! TPG Lounge members have offered up an extensive list of "the grossest things they've ever found left over in hotel rooms," but the complaint extends to poor housekeeping experienced over multi-day stays as well.

Bed bugs.

Ewwwww. It's possible that bed bugs may not always be a hotel's fault, since sloppy travelers may actually be the ones unwittingly transporting the vermin from place to place. But it's never OK for a hotel to not do everything possible to stamp out a potential infestation.

If you are unfortunate enough to discover bed bugs in your hotel room, make sure you notify the staff immediately so that the hotel can notify an exterminator right away. Your best bet for spotting bed bugs is by looking out for their excrement, which looks like little dots of ink similar to blots from an uncapped pen. If you find signs of them on your sheets, check out immediately and demand a full refund.

Solution: The Hotel Management website lists four main steps for preventing a bedbug outbreak, which starts with making sure staff is always educated and informed on what to look for. It's also important to carry out proper documentation if an outbreak does occur, even just for customer complaints. Early detection is key, as is proper preventative action. Finally, make sure effective elimination methods are used under the supervision of professional exterminators.

Unvacuumed floors.

These days, more and more hotels are asking customers to help save the environment by cutting down on unnecessary towel and bedding changes. However, there's no case to be made for not vacuuming the floors in the name of helping the planet. Clean floors are a minimum requirement for hotel housekeeping, and travelers absolutely should complain to management if they find evidence that the staff is skimping on cleanliness.

Solution: Make sure housekeeping staff is well-trained and trustworthy. Log complaints from hotel guests, including dates and room numbers, and cross-reference which staff members were on duty during problematic days to identify employees who may require additional follow-up.

General thoughtlessness

From weird design, awkward delays, poorly thought-out customer experiences, and potential allergy triggers, here are a number of hotel oversights that our readers brought to our attention.

See-through bathrooms.

Ahh, those avant-garde bathroom layouts with frosted glass doors, shaded windows or even non-existent walls. They may seem fun and steamy for couples' getaways, but we're baffled by their existence in rooms clearly meant for non-paramours... such as rooms with double queen beds. Whether one is traveling with a coworker or a non-romantic family member, these weird washroom designs leave us with just one question: "What, pray tell, were you thinking?"

Solution: No, really. What were you thinking? At a bare minimum, no pun intended, please make sure every bathroom with see-through details has an opaque covering available.

Poor customer experience.

After staying at the St. Regis Aspen, one traveler told TPG, "You would think that [the hotel staff at a high-end place] would coordinate my 6am wakeup call with the shoe shine folks so that when I left at 6:30am for a meeting, I would have shoes to wear!"

Not every hotel is a St. Regis, and standards and expectations should vary accordingly. But every hotel, regardless of price point, should be prepared to identify and greet its customers. Whether it's elite travelers having to initiate requests for upgrades or status-included bonuses with the front desk, or simply forgetting to greet customers by name upon check-in, hotels lose points with their customers for not showing attention to the little details.

Solution: Train staff to apply the Golden Rule at every interaction with customers. What would make sense for a guest's experience with your brand?

Allergy triggers.

A number of TPG Lounge members told us that various scents, cleaning chemicals or residue from previous guests' pets can be devastating for their allergies.

To a certain extent, travelers must do what's best for themselves, and avoid hotel brands that may be particularly triggering. For example, a number of hotel chains are well-known for encouraging pets, so it's on travelers with animal sensitivities to take note and avoid booking with those hotels.

However, many other hotels explicitly do not allow animals in their rooms, while others are publicly committed to their eco-friendly policies, including sustainable cleaning products. Travelers deserve to have a reasonable expectation not to encounter animal residue or harsh chemical scents in these destinations, and do have a right to speak up when those expectations are not met.

Solution: Avoid using chemical-based scents where possible. And even in hotels where pets are allowed, thorough housekeeping goes a long way toward eliminating the dander, hair and other detritus left in the wake of furry friends.

Unjustified or hidden costs

We could talk all day when it comes to resort fees, charging for Internet access or mandatory valet parking when there's no reason to require it (like in parts of Texas, where there's land to spare for miles around). While the battle will continue for days to come, there's absolutely no justification for hotels that bury these fees or tack on additional upcharges. (Tip: While your mileage may vary, some TPG Lounge members have found success negotiating to have resort fees waived at some hotels.)

Solution: Transparency breeds loyalty. If service and facilities are truly worth what you're asking, charge a single, grand-total price and stand by it. Travelers will find a way to pay the rate, whether through cash or points, or book elsewhere. If bookings go down because the market believes a price point is too high, lower rates or increase the quality of the offering.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers