What Makes a Great Hotel Room, and How Can They Ruin It?

God Save the Points asks what makes a great hotel room. His list includes well-located power ports; plenty of bottled water; fast wifi; motion-sensing night lights; luggage space; amenity kit; and working quiet air conditioning.

I’ve given a lot of thought to what makes a hotel great, and how simple design flaws can ruin a property. More often though great physical properties can be ruined by poor service execution or short-sighted cost cuts.

Hoteliers: ever wonder why a property with great facilities and a competitive room rate in a good location isn’t getting the level of midweek repeat business it might expect? It may come down to something simple.

Mandatory Resort Fees

Hotels taking part of the room rate out and burying it in fine print is fraud. We get up in arms over airfare displays when already those are pretty clear and clean, it’s hotels where the worst behavior happens.

These are not optional charges, so they are part of the room rate. Not including them in the room rate is disingenuous. In 2012 the Federal Trade Commission warned hotel chains that mandatory resort fees may be illegal. Venetian and Palazzo in Las Vegas were sued over their resort fees. Some Florida properties no longer charge resort fees as a result of a settlement with that state’s attorney general.

Yet mandatory add-on fees have been spreading to city locations. The idea of the free $50 a night long distance call and access to the hotel gym is no longer limited to resort hotels.

Billing Guest Credit Cards For Additional Charges After Checkout

When a hotel decides to charge you for something that wasn’t on your folio when you checked out, by just billing your credit card, they should have to email to let you know they are doing it and identify the item(s).

By all means, you should pay what you owe, but a huge pet peeve is additional (usually small) charges showing up on my credit card statement days later. If I didn’t comb through my statements I wouldn’t even know they had done this. And then I have to get in touch with the property to find out what this additional charge is even for.

If a hotel’s systems and processes are too poor to identify charges before checkout, they should at the very least proactively reach out to the customer to explain they’re hitting the card for more charges and send a statement detailing those charges. Don’t leave it to the customer to notice they’ve been hit, and then have to do research to understand why.

A Hyatt property once billed me for the cash portion of a cash and points award five months after my stay.

At another Hyatt they always they tell me in-room bottled water is complementary for top tier elite members and then they bill my credit card for it after I’ve checked out.

They’re happy to remove the charge when called on it. But since it doesn’t make the final folio, it requires followup — which is more costly in my time and theirs than the actual charge itself.

How am I supposed to submit an expense report for a charge I don’t know about? Why make me spend more time tracking down these charges than the charges are worth? And why put me in the awkward position of submitting expenses for an old, closed-out trip?

Lack of Coffee

Hotels should have 24 hour coffee available and access to real milk and cream.

  • A business hotel needs to be able to provide coffee 24 hours a day.
  • There are lots of ways to do this: in-room machines, club lounge, lobby, and even room service.
  • The coffee needs to be drinkable, and that includes making it possible to get the real milk or creamer of your choice.

That’s just basics. Hotels without in-room coffee, and a lobby option, and that do not offer 24 hour room service are a complete and total fail. Claiming to be an upscale or full service property, and aiming at business travelers, they’re completely missing the point.

I’ve been to too many properties where there’s no coffee before 6 a.m. That’s great, until:

  • You’re coming in from another time zone, and getting up at 4.
  • You have an early flight.
  • You need to get up early to work on a presentation.

Morning coffee can set the tone for the whole day, and entire stay.

The coffee bar at the Hilton New York JFK.. more than once I’ve shown up half an hour after opening to find no one working, this time I got lucky!

I once stayed at what was then the W San Diego and rang up the “Whatever Whenever” line at 5 a.m. They were supposed to be able to get Whatever you want Whenever you want it. I wanted coffee at 5 a.m.. They told me no, coffee isn’t available until 6.

If there’s a coffee shop or coffee stand in the lobby, it needs to be open at its posted time. If the coffee shop opens at 6 then gosh darnit it should be staffed at 6… not 6:15 or 6:30.

The Coffee Stand in the Lobby of the Hyatt Herald Square Opened 30 Minutes Late So I Went to Starbucks

A Hotel is For Sleeping

Walls should be thick enough not to hear your neighbor, or the elevator. And connecting rooms are for families traveling together. Please don’t assign one to me.

Natural light is great, but not when a guest is trying to sleep. A room should be able to get light, but also keep out the light.

And do not disturb means… do not disturb. If I’ve got do not disturb on, housekeeping shouldn’t knock on the door. Don’t call me an hour after arrival, either, to see how I like the room? If there was a problem, I’d have let you know. And if I’m off an overnight flight, I may be trying to take a quick nap so I can power through to dinner and adjust to the local time quickly.

Valet Parking Purgatory

A hotel should help get you on your way. If they can’t get your car out of mandatory valet parking within 15 minutes they shouldn’t charge.

Hyatt Regency Houston Downtown

Or better yet: a hotel can usually project its occupancy levels, and is aware of the conferences and events it is hosting. Staff appropriately relative to occupancy.

Only One Soap in the Bathroom

When I get into a hotel room, usually the first thing I do is wash my hands. I’ve been traveling.

That means unwrapping the soap. It goes into the soap dish beside the sink.

So in the morning I get into the shower and find there’s no soap and I have to get out of the shower and put the soap from the soap dish beside the sink into the shower? That’s an early morning fail.

Upgrades That Aren’t

Over the years the surest way to know I haven’t been upgraded is when I’ve received a sticky note on a key folio that says “You’ve been upgraded!”

If a hotel has to tell me my room is an upgrade, if it’s not something I’m going to notice myself, then it isn’t an upgrade. And if they have to outsource it to a written note, because the front desk agent either won’t notice the room I have is better than standard or is going to be too bashful to tell me my room over the HVAC is an upgrade, then it isn’t one.

A simple corollary is that an executive floor room is not an upgrade. Executive floor benefits are. But especially if you’re entitled to those anyway, the room itself is rarely any different than one on another floor. Telling guests that it’s an upgrade doesn’t make it one.

If you aren’t going to upgrade me, I understand. Play by the rules, hotels sell out, or have too many elites and I accept that. But don’t lie to me and tell me my room that’s just like the others is special just for me because of my status.

Unreliable Airport Shuttles

An airport hotel needs to be able to reliably get you to and from the airport.

The whole point of staying near the airport is to get into bed as quickly as possible once you land, and to be able to sleep in the next morning and leave the hotel later than you’d have to if you were staying downtown.

If you have to wait half an hour for an airport shuttle, or you can’t rely on the time the shuttle will leave the hotel and therefore have to present yourself downstairs early to make sure you get a seat or don’t miss it, you give up that time advantage.

    The Shuttle End Times Came at the Sheraton Gateway LAX — These Were the People Who Were Left Behind.

And you’ve wound up trading a nicer place in a better location for a nondescript airport property — without the countervailing benefit of proximity (timeliness).

Not Enough Outlets

“This room has too many outlets” said no hotel guest, ever.

Older hotels often have no or very few outlets, and those that are available are badly placed. They’re in use for lamps, they’re behind the bed, or blocked by a large desk.

If a room is meant to accommodate two people then assume that both people need to charge a laptop, a phone, maybe a tablet or a wireless internet device, and an external battery.

There needs to be outlets available at the desk, and also by the bedside. Many people want their phones beside the bed. I only want mine there when there’s no easily visible alarm clock.

So there need to be multiple outlets, in multiple places, conveniently located.

You Have Late Checkout, But Keys Stop Working at Noon

I know not everyone has had perfect experiences with guaranteed 4pm late checkout for elites (outside of resort or convention hotels where it’s subject to availability) but it’s never been denied to me at a hotel where it’s a benefit.

I especially value Hyatt properties where I find I’m nearly universally proactively offered late checkout when I’m checking in.

Clearly it’s part of their procedure. So when a guest says, “yes I’d appreciate a 4pm checkout” they should code the keys for a 4pm late checkout.

I’ll usually remind them to do this. But I don’t always. And every time I fail to offer the reminder I’ll go back to my room on my day of checkout at, say, 2pm and find that my key doesn’t work. So I have to go down to the front desk, where they’ll make me a new key, and then it’s back up to the wrong. This one doesn’t seen to be that hard to get right.

Last fall not only didn’t my key work at the Hyatt Regency Dallas but my belongings had been taken, too.

The Light That Won’t Turn Off at Bedtime

At midnight at the Hyatt Herald Square I wanted to go to bed, so I went about turning off the lights in my room. Only I could not figure out how the light on one side of the bed turned off.

There was a simple light switch on the other side. Easy. You’d think the lamp on the other side of the bed would work the same way. But it didn’t.

I walked around the room looking for light switches, and couldn’t find one that would turn it off.

There were two switches beneath the light, next to power outlets.

I tried each of them, and neither turned off the light. My first thought then was that the switches must control the outlets. Since they didn’t turn off the light. Flip the switch on the right, the light was still on. Flip the switch on the left, the light was still on.

It took me 15 minutes to figure out that you have to flip both switches in order to turn it off.

The last thing I wanted to do was deal with getting help from the hotel at midnight. Wait for help from the hotel at midnight. To turn off a light in my room. But I knew I’d need to, because as much as a part of me was wondering if I could just fall asleep like that, I knew it was a bad idea. I’d fall asleep, but then I’d be up in an hour. And sleep off and on through the night.

Hotel room design must be intuitive. Turning lights on and off in your home is iterative. Since you turn the same lights on and off over and over you train yourself in a way that it’s second nature. But each light in a hotel room is used once or a handful of times by a person approaching it for the very first time — every single day or every few days. Everything in a room needs to be intuitive.

What Are Your Pet Peeves? What Have I Left Off the List?

Are my pet peeves peculiar to me? What are the basic things hotels get wrong that keep you away from repeat stays? What are your must haves and pet peeves you’d like to fix?

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