"If only I'd known."
These are the all-too-familiar words spoken by all too many who have spent time in a hotel.
The first-time (or in some cases second- and third-time) traveler often discovers what he could have/should have done at a hotel only after the fact--that he could have gotten a better rate, a better room, better service.
In fact, as any concierge or hotel general manager knows, the difference between a great hotel stay and an average one is often determined by how well a guest plays the travel game.
Most of us know that there is a game being played. The problem is, we don't know how to play it. But what better teacher than a general manager? After all, who knows the hotel game better? What do they do when they travel to a hotel?
"A lot of it isn't classified information," says Raymond Bickson, general manager of The Mark hotel in New York. "It's just exercising common sense."
Herewith some advice, and a few secrets:
--Negotiating a rate.
"First," says Andrews Kirmse, general manager of the Hotel Nikko in San Francisco, "people look for hotel deals everywhere except the hotel itself." Specifically, Kirmse recommends that guests bypass the national toll-free 800 telephone reservations numbers and call the hotel directly.
According to Kirmse, the rates quoted through such toll-free numbers--usually clearing houses for blocks of rooms--are often much higher than discounted rates that the hotel can give directly. In fact, at many hotels, there can be as many as 30 room rates for each guest room, ranging from corporate rates to senior, student, weekend and, at some resorts, even an inexpensive midweek rate.
"Virtually every hotel has a corporate rate available," says The Mark's Bickson. "If you're calling a hotel yourself to make a reservation, always ask if they have one. You'll get it."
--Checking in, without losing your credit.
When checking in, most hotels will ask you to present a credit card so that the front desk clerk can make an imprint. What most guests don't realize is that the hotel at the same time is probably running an authorization process--asking the credit card company to approve a specific amount of credit for hotel charges you may incur.
Without your realizing it, this can reduce the available credit on that card. And it's not unusual for the front desk clerk to run the card for an amount well over your per-night room rate. For example, if you're staying four days at a hotel where your room is $150 per night, it's not unusual for the front desk clerk to run the card for $200 per night, or $800.
Later, when you go to use your card to purchase a meal or anything else, the charge could be denied because the hotel's preapproval charges could have put you over your credit limit.
"I always tell my friends about this," says Ivan Chadima, general manager of the U.N. Plaza Hotel in New York. "I tell them they should never present a MasterCard or Visa when checking in, since that preapproval charge could significantly eat up their credit limit."
Instead, use an American Express, Diners Club or Carte Blanche card when checking in, even if you don't intend to pay for your hotel bill with that card. Those cards have no preset spending limits, and that way, you can use your other credit cards during your stay without worrying about your credit limit.
--Getting a great room.
Getting a great room at a hotel your first time is usually a combination of luck and good timing. Getting a terrific room your second time is a combination of good planning and a phone call or two.
"The best hotel in the world is the hotel you're best known in," says Herbert Striessnig, general manager of The Savoy in London. "From a hotel manager's perspective, guest recognition is the key to keeping a guest coming back, but it should also be the key from the guest's perspective.
"Get to know the people who work at a hotel--the general manager, sales manager or key people on the front desk. On your next trip, make sure you either make your reservations through them, or if you make it through a travel agent, make sure the hotel people know you're coming independent of just making the reservation."
--Security and fire safety.
"Many guests ask for a room next to an elevator," says Wolfgang Hultner, general manager of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in San Francisco. "They've got the right idea except that if the desk clerk takes them seriously, they won't be able to get any sleep. Close to the elevator, yes . . . but not next to it!"
Additionally, many guests request rooms on lower floors because of fire safety concerns.
"This is less of a concern in U.S. hotels these days because of advanced fire safety and notification/alarm systems," says Guenther Richter, general manager of The Stanhope hotel in New York. "But overseas, fire codes don't really exist for practical purposes in many foreign countries. I always stay on the lower floors."
--Noise and other annoyances.