Question submitted by Hillary Henderson, Los Angeles, Calif.
Trip Doctor’s Answer
First things first: let’s discuss fantasy versus reality. We’ve all experienced the disappointment of arriving to a room that doesn’t live up to the one we dreamed about. I find that the user-submitted photos on TripAdvisor go a long way toward managing unrealistic expectations. That said, we’ve all also experienced the frustration of discovering that our room simply isn’t what we were sold: the view’s obstructed, there’s a weird odor, the place has just flat-out gone to seed, or (as I encountered on a recent trip to Berlin) it’s set right above a Metallica-playing nightclub.
I consulted about a dozen hotel insiders—from front desk staff to general managers—to get their perspective on what to do in this situation. Their first piece of advice: speak up right away. According to Jack Naderkhani, the former general manager of L’Ermitage Beverly Hills and founder of the Mithra Group consultancy, “most well-trained staff are already aware of their hotel’s shortcomings. They’ll know what the problem is and should react.”
At larger hotels, bring your concerns first to the front desk manager and then work your way up to higher authorities (rooms division, guest services, and hotel managers) as necessary. At a smaller, more exclusive property, you can usually go straight to the front desk staff—they should be empowered to help you. In both situations, you can turn to the general manager, though he or she may be more receptive if you’ve already spoken with other staff about the problem.
Your approach is key. Keep your complaints specific, honest, and polite (it should go without saying). Be prepared to point out precisely how the room does not meet your expectations. Remind staff of your loyalty to the property or brand. Tell them if you are a rewards-club member or if you are a frequent corporate-account visitor. (Hotels say they treat all guests equally, but when it comes down to it, loyalty is rewarded.) And get them to empathize with you. Speak plainly about why this trip is important: you’re meeting clients at the hotel; this is a special family vacation. Do not lose your cool. As tempting as it is to resort to threats (exposure on Twitter or TripAdvisor, say), they generally don’t get you any further than a simple pleading of your case—plus, threats may be noted in your guest profile. (Social media can be useful, however, as a way to make yourself known to the hotel before you arrive. Voicing your enthusiasm for your upcoming stay on Twitter and a hotel’s Facebook page will help you stand out from the crowd.)
If it’s an easily remedied situation—like proximity to an elevator bank or a lack of natural light—you’ll likely be moved to another room in the same category. But if there’s a serious problem, most good hotels will consider an upgrade as a gesture of goodwill and an apology. Bear in mind, though, that another room may simply not be available (as happened to me in Berlin). In that case, ask for a different room for the following night or if perhaps there is something else they can do for you: an upgrade for a future stay, cocktails at the bar, or even credit at the property’s restaurant. If that doesn’t entice you, most hotels will let you out of your reservation without making you pay a penalty—just be sure there’s a room elsewhere before you walk away.
You’re More Likely to Get Upgraded If...
- You are a rewards-club member, booked through a preferred travel agency, or are paying a corporate rate as an employee of a large company.
- You are not already paying a discounted room rate and you booked directly through the hotel.
- You arrived late in the day and are staying for only a night or two.
- The hotel is large, undersold, and has several categories of rooms.
- The hotel is new and particularly eager to woo return guests.
- Let the hotel know if you’re in the loyalty club. Returning guests are what hotels covet—and court—the most.
- Send the general manager a thank-you note if the hotel comes through for you. And pipe up on social media as well.
- Avoid sounding off on social media—complaining on Twitter may get you immediate attention, but it burns bridges in the long run.
- Never exaggerate a problem just to get an upgrade; hotels will note your “boy who cried wolf” tendencies in your guest profile.
Have a travel dilemma? The trip doctor is in. Send your question to Amy at email@example.com.