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Woman checking in at front desk of hotel
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Hotel Front Desk Secrets: 9 Ways to Improve Your Stay

Ever wondered what the person at the front desk is really thinking when checking you into a hotel? I spoke with half a dozen current and former hotel front desk staffers who shared their pet peeves, offered insider advice, and revealed how (and how not) to get an upgrade. Below are nine important things to know.

Two women working at concierge desk at hotel
Kadmy | Adobe Stock

Hotels Have Stuff Most Guests Don’t Think to Borrow

You’ve probably hit up the hotel front desk for simple toiletry items you left at home, but Sarah Dandashy, who serves as concierge at the London West Hollywood at Beverly Hills and blogs at Ask a Concierge, notes that many properties have a whole treasure trove of other things you can request. Her list includes “phone chargers, adapters, safety pins, umbrellas, Band-Aids, tampons, nail files, hair ties, lint rollers, razors, and, funny enough, earplugs. Every hotel varies, but I’ve even loaned out bowties and cufflinks!”

Samantha Firth of Travelling King, who spent five years behind the front desks at various Hilton, Hyatt, and Four Seasons properties, notes that many hotels offer pillow menus that aren’t always advertised in the rooms. She also says some properties offer hair straighteners, pod-style coffee machines, and even PlayStation consoles for kids.

Don’t Count on Getting Into Your Room Early

Multiple staffers told me that guests demanding early access to their rooms was among the biggest pet peeves of hotel front desk employees. “Yes, we know you’re a platinum member who travels 350 million days a year, but we can’t go around waking up guests to get you a room,” says Stephanie Rodriguez, Front Office Manager at Residence Inn/Courtyard by Marriott Phoenix Downtown.

“If the room is ready, we will grant early access—after all, we want to provide a good service,” says Pedro Richardson of Travel with Pedro, who worked in the hotel industry for 12 years. “But this is not always possible due to high occupancy the previous night.”

It can help to let the hotel know in advance when you’ll be arriving, advises Richardson; that way the staff can prioritize the cleaning of your room. But this strategy isn’t foolproof.

“If you know you’re going to be really tired on arrival and want a guarantee that you’ll be able to check in right away, book the room from the night before and inform the hotel you’ll be arriving in the night or the early morning,” says Cat Ekkelboom-White of We Are the Wanderers, who spent four years working at the front desk of a hotel in Innsbruck, Austria. “That way, you know your room will be ready and waiting for you.”

Ask, and Ye May Receive

While upgrades, discounts, and perks are never guaranteed, the hotel front desk staffers I spoke with say it never hurts to ask. “If the guest calls the hotel to make a booking and simply asks for a better rate nicely and politely, many will be prepared to offer a small discount,” says Richardson. “It’s that simple.”

Dandashy agrees: “The power of asking nicely is huge! Just be sure to communicate if you are there for a  special occasion and ask for what you are looking for. Being specific helps. Ask if you’d like a room upgrade, or if they can send up complimentary chocolate-covered strawberries and Champagne for special occasions. Front desk agents get asked for things all the time. Just be straightforward and nice, and they might even throw in another amenity!”

Not all hotel front desk staffers are equally empowered to dole out things like free amenities, room credits, or upgrades. “If you feel like the front desk is a little limited in what they can offer, you can always politely ask for a manager,” says Dandashy.

For best results, put your request in as early as possible—preferably during your initial booking. It helps the hotel to know in advance that you’re hoping for birthday Champagne or that you’d prefer a room away from the elevators.

You Get What You Pay For

Shopping around online for the cheapest possible rate might land you the price you’re looking for, but it will also likely score you a lesser room. “Not every booking platform is offering the same quality of rooms,” Ekkelboom-White warns. “If you see a ‘double room’ on two different websites for two different prices and they seem to be the same, the more expensive one is likely to be a better room.”

Being a Frequent Guest Pays Off

If you travel frequently to a particular city, it’s worth staying in the same place each time and developing a relationship with the hotel front desk staff there. Richardson says that regular guests often get extra perks: “All hotels where I worked had a program where the guest would get a treat every five stays, or every few days if it was a long stay (more than a week).”

Firth notes that regular guests are often first in line for upgrades if a hotel overbooks a particular room category.

Hotel Front Desk Staffers Appreciate Tips, Too

Most guests know to tip the concierge and the housekeeper, but it might not occur to you to leave a few bucks for the person who checks you in at the front desk. “If a front desk agent was able to do something extra to make your stay an amazing one, give them a tip as a thank you,” recommends Dandashy. “My rule of thumb for tipping: Tip AFTER an agent (or anyone) has helped you. A tip beforehand seems like a bribe. But a tip afterward is a lovely thing.”

Here’s What Does—and Doesn’t—Work When Requesting an Upgrade

As noted above, it’s useful to point out if you’re celebrating a special occasion or simply to ask politely for an upgrade if one becomes available. It doesn’t hurt to get creative either: “The best way to get your way is to be nice—or come bearing chocolates,” says Rodriguez.

Firth concurs: “Cookies are great bribes!”

What’s not so useful are rude behaviors such as making demands (instead of asking) and acting as though your loyalty status or your job title (“I’m a CEO!”) entitles you to endless perks.

Hotel staffers also don’t take kindly to manipulation. “I have handled a few guests who eagerly search for shortfalls in a hotel while seeking perks,” says Mokshta Chauhan, who blogs at Miss with Migratory Wings and has worked at five different hotels in India. “They’ll say something like, ‘Your bedsheet has a stain; this is not acceptable in a hotel of this class. [You can make up for it] by upgrading me to one of your suites.'”

Hotel Front Desk Staffers See Some Crazy Things

When I asked front desk workers about the worst guest behavior they’ve encountered, they came up with some doozies. Richardson once had a guest who threw a hissy fit over a dysfunctional keycard: “The guest broke the keycard in front of me, [screamed profanities], and threw the card pieces on my face.”

Chauhan had a bad encounter with a guest who had to wait an hour to get into his room due to high occupancy. “When I approached this guest and handed over the key to him, apologizing for the wait, he replied, ‘I’m not happy with that apology.’ He wanted me to feel miserable for making him wait and demanded that I apologize to each of his family members.” Chauhan did so, but the guest still wasn’t satisfied. He pointed his finger at her and told her not to show her face to him for the duration of his stay.

Firth not-so-fondly recalls a drunken guest who smashed a glass table in his room and threatened to sue the hotel if it wasn’t cleaned up within five minutes. “The guest refused to be moved to another room (he was also offered an upgrade). The general manager had to be called in as the guest become highly abusive, screaming and shouting in the lobby while sitting on the floor in a puddle of his own urine.”

A Little Kindness Goes a Long Way

While most guests aren’t as boorish as the ones above, hotel front desk workers see their fair share of rude behavior—so they’ll often go the extra mile for guests who are friendly and kind.

“The job isn’t an easy one,” says Dandashy. “We stand on our feet all day, and we work unconventional hours and even most holidays. Sometimes it’s hard to even take a break in the middle of a busy day, and we find ourselves running to the back office to scarf down a bite to eat in five minutes or less. So be kind. It is VERY appreciated!”

Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

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