We love a good hotel, but there are plenty of things hotels have done as of late that are too easy not to love. From fees to bizarre “amenities”, there are many features at modern hotels that seem to strip the hospitality away. At one upscale property in Washington DC, we counted five items (the minibar counted as one item) that were for sale in the room. True, there is an inherent need for sale of any product, even in the hospitality business, but there’s a point when the sales pitch becomes a bit too invasive and the hospitality seems to take a back seat. While we appreciate certain for-sale amenities in guestrooms, they really ought to be a sanctuary where guests can relax and unwind, not a sales floor where everything has a price tag.
All right, our first major gripe is out of the way. Here are a few more, and please feel free to leave us a comment at the end if you agree or disagree with anything on the list, or have anything to add.
Nonsense room service charges
We get it: room service is a famously chicken-or-egg scenario for many hotel operators. It’s expensive because it’s not well-subscribed, but it’s not well-subscribed because it’s expensive. It’s offered because the competition has it, but nobody’s willing to make the move to get rid of it because of the competition (and it’s often required for star ratings from the various rating organizations like AAA). But the elevated pricing, added fees, and mandatory gratuity makes room service an expensive luxury.
Our suggestion: At the very least, dump the fees and bring pricing back down from the rafters; hopefully increased volume will make up the difference.
How to cope in the meantime: If unable to venture outside the hotel for a meal, try booking a club level room (pictured), available at many large chains, which serve everything from appetizers to more substantial meals (some have 24 hour food on offer). The cost to upgrade is often less than the cost of several room service meals. You can also look for hotels without the service fees (although room service policies are admittedly not very clear until one arrives at the property). With the advent of mobile ordering, in many cities guests can order from a local restaurant or pizza place and have meals delivered to their rooms.
Outlets in weird places
How many times have we had to crawl under a desk or wrestle a nightstand away from a preciously valuable outlet for our electronics? How often have the thoughtful outlets been on the across-the-room desk when so many (especially younger) guests virtually sleep with their phones? There’s a special kind of joy in finding a well-wired nightstand like we encountered at the Sheraton Dallas (pictured) and few other properties, but if one is traveling with any more power-hungry electronics than a single iPhone they may find themselves out of juice.
Our suggestion: Simple. Put outlets within easy reach at the bedside table.
How to cope in the meantime: The clock radios that many smartphones have replaced are a good item to unplug for a bedside outlet. Don’t forget to plug it back in and reset the correct time, or leave a generous tip for housekeeping. A travel extension cord also doesn’t take up much space in a carryon bag.
Resort fees are another one of those things hotels get away with because everybody decided to do them even though nobody really likes them. From a guest’s perspective, it makes comparison shopping more difficult.
If an ocean view room is $330 at one property and the resort fee is $20 per night, but the ocean view room at the property next door is $300 but the resort fee is $40 per night, and the third property is $360 per night with no resort fee, but charges separately for items included in the other properties’ fees, which is the best value? You did all that math in your head, right? Booking a free night award won’t get you out of paying the fees with many loyalty programs either, in many programs resort fees turn a “free” stay into a “fee” stay.
Hoteliers typically defend the fees by pointing out the value they provide, saying the fees cover popular items like fitness rooms, beach or ski amenities, WiFi, pool towels, local calls, etc. To be honest, that adds great value in many locations-if the fee is optional, but that’s generally not the practice. Once the fee is mandatory, you’ll end up paying for amenities you don’t plan to use, and it’s really just a part of the nightly rate that’s not really part of the nightly rate.
Our suggestion: Ditch the fees uniformly, and include everything in the rate.
How to cope in the meantime: Read the fine print before booking to make sure you’re aware of the amount of the fee, what amenities it covers (and whether they’re value-adds or throwaways in your opinion), and when it’s payable to the hotel (many hotels will only collect the fee on-property, even for guests who have prepaid). If there’s an acceptable alternative property that doesn’t charge a fee, stay there; if not, let management know your concerns, both locally, and if your resort is part of a major chain, write the corporate office.
Minibars are another infamous hotel tradition that threatens to be going the way of the dodo. Many hotels have switched to selling snacks and booze in shops near the lobby which are typically near the front desk and manned by the same employees. Other more upscale hotels prefer to provide room service in lieu of a minibar. Either way, we’re seeing those enticing mini refrigerators in many rooms being emptied and left for guest convenience, although the amenity could soon make a comeback. Virgin Hotels, whose first property in Chicago is now accepting reservations for early 2015 promises minibars with street pricing.
One bonus: Minibar liquor sales are 24/7, a handy feature in areas with more antiquated blue laws.
Our suggestion: We like the idea of the street pricing minibar and hope it catches on.
How to cope in the meantime: It’s really a first world problem (if running downstairs for a can of Pringles is too much hassle you deserve to pay $7) but if you simply must snack on the cheap, a concierge or front desk agent can usually point you in the direction of the nearest convenience store.
The dreaded bath/shower
The lowest common denominator in hotel bathrooms is the bath/shower (BS). Many hotels are removing the dreaded contraptions which can be understandably difficult in bathroom spaces designed for cinderblock efficiency in the use of space. Not that we’re against baths, but if one is going to luxuriate in a bath tub in a nice hotel, it should also be a nice bathtub, not the short, shallow annoyances that fit the bottom of the BS. Bravo to chains like Aloft Hotels that have only large tiled showers (shower stools are available for guests with different accessibility needs), and better still, to hotels like the Westin Riverfront Beaver Creek in Colorado (pictured) and Mandalay Bay Resort Casino in Las Vegas which have outfitted rooms with separate baths and showers.
Our suggestion: It doesn’t work for all things, but the maxim of “Separate but equal” should apply when space constraints allow. Give guests both a nice bath and a nice shower; the combination is simply too awkward a marriage for anybody to be completely happy.
How to cope in the meantime: Short of remodeling your room upon arrival, there’s not much to be done here, although many hotels have retrofitted their BS’s with curved curtain rods to alleviate shower curtain cling.