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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Travel

Enjoy your stay

Susan Todd Newhouse News Service

Traveling is hectic enough without unexpected snafus.

Most travelers, even experienced ones, never expect to lose a hotel room to overbooking or to find themselves wrangling with a desk clerk for a two-hour extension on checkout day.

But after flying for hours and navigating a strange airport and a new city, they can find themselves climbing back into a cab for an unexpected ride to another hotel. Others may be forced to change their clothes in the hotel spa because they couldn’t manage to keep the room key for a few hours beyond the late-morning checkout time.

For their part, hotels want to minimize the number of disgruntled guests.

“Hotels are trying to be more service-oriented,” said Joseph McInerney, president and chief executive of the American Hotel and Lodging Association, a trade group.

“It’s a tough business out there keeping your market share. They never want to lose a customer. If they can keep them happy, they’re the best type of advertising.”

Here are four tips to make a hotel experience more accommodating and possibly even less expensive:

Overbooking: Overbooking is an unfortunate reality of the hotel business. While managers try to calculate the percentage of likely no-shows based on past patterns, it’s not a perfect science.

Calling ahead to alert the staff of your arrival time – especially if you expect to be late – can provide some assurance that you won’t be counted as a no-show guest.

Most hotels will hold a reservation only until 6 p.m. Even a credit card doesn’t offer absolute protection against the expiration of a reservation as the night wears on.

The individual traveler and the nonrepeat guest are the most susceptible to losing their rooms as a result of overbooking, said Stephen Stearns, who spent 40 years in hotel management and now works as an industry consultant.

When overbooking does occur, most hotels have a specific procedure to follow for accommodating the guest, Stearns said. Typically, it includes finding a comparable room at a nearby hotel, paying the cab fare to get there and possibly even a complimentary stay for another night.

Travel agents insist overbooking rarely affects their clients, but if it does, they immediately become the traveler’s advocate.

Adrianne Daly of Rainbow Cruises and Tours in Westfield, N.J., said overbooking has affected only two of her clients, one of whom was vacationing at Disney World.

“We got the customer’s money back for all three nights, but I had resources behind me,” she said. “You don’t have that on the Internet.”

Internet shopping: Everyone has their own method of shopping for the best rate and booking a hotel room. A growing number of people, especially young travelers, are choosing to use the Internet to do both.

McInerney, who represents the hotel industry, said an increasing number of people are going to hotel Web sites in a quest for the best rate.

“If there’s a better price, the hotel usually says they’ll match it,” he said.

That’s not always the case, though, according to a recent survey by research firm KPMG. Only 43 percent of the 330 hotels guaranteed to provide the guest with the best Web rate, and only 27 percent delivered on the promise.

The majority of the cheapest hotel rates, though, still are found on the Internet, the survey said.

“I do rate-shopping myself,” Stearns said. “I go through AAA because I find they have the best rates. But I always make that little search first. There’s usually a lot of similarity, but nothing lower.”

Still, the Internet does have some shortcomings. People aren’t always certain what they’re getting – even if they settled on the best price.

Some experts, including Eric Clemons, a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, believe travelers may get the best prices using Expedia.com or Hotels.com, but they sometimes wind up with the worst rooms.

McInerney doesn’t agree.

“There’s a fallacy out there,” he said. “In most cases, the clerk has no idea who has made the reservation.”

Special requests: Remind the hotel of special requests. If you need something special during your stay, whether it’s a crib or a small refrigerator for prescription medicines, send a reminder by fax machine a day or two before your arrival, said travel agent Daly.

“It’s too much of a transient industry for them to remember everything,” Daly said.

The same technique may be useful if you’re traveling to Europe and expect to arrive early in the morning.

“The hotel doesn’t necessarily know when you’re arriving,” she said. “This way, they can have your room ready.”

Checking out: The end of a business trip rarely coincides with the typical 11 a.m. checkout time. A last-minute request to extend your stay by two or three hours can result in the hotel charging you for another half-day.

“Alert someone the night before,” Stearns said. “Generally speaking, they will be amenable.”

Even seasoned travelers like Stearns sometimes find themselves in a bind. During a recent stay at a luxury hotel in New York City, he was stubbornly refused an extended checkout.

“That’s unusual,” he said. “It’s an important guest need and an opportunity to show their service culture.”

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