How Not to Be a Jerky Hotel Guest

Hotel Sevilla, Incheon, South Korea

Hotel Sevilla, Incheon, South Korea

I’m not the most well-travelled guy in the world but I am old enough to have accumulated my share of hotel time in Canada, Jamaica, and South Korea. I’m not very demanding, either as a hotel guest or otherwise. Give me a non-leaking roof, a bed without creepy-crawlies, a T.V., a temperature between 15° and 25° C, and a Western Hemisphere-style sit-down toilet and I’m pleased as punch, especially if the room doesn’t cost as much as a trip to the dentist. I guess the relative novelty of the whole experience, my deep respect for others, and my easy-going nature makes it hard for me to understand how some people act the way they do in hotels.

Because I do not travel as much as I would like, I want to make the most of the time I am away from home. I have never been a part of a tour group, preferring to mingle with the locals. I am not a burly, UFC-built person, so I try not to wander into alleys or open-air human organ bazaars while overseas. So my safest bet for experiencing the local colour while avoiding being the inspiration of a future consular travel advisory pamphlet is to talk it up with hotel staff.

I tend to be a night owl so I spend a lot of time hobnobbing with the overnight guys. As luck would have it, the night guys at hotels are usually socially deprived because of the odd hours they keep and, therefore, they are pretty chatty. This is where I got a lot of info for this piece along with stuff I’ve seen with my personal eyes and ears (heard with the ears, that is) and stuff I’ve found on the web.

First of all, the term “hotel guest” was not my idea. That’s what the hotel industry calls us, except for in South Korea where they refer to you as “sookbakin” (meaning “hotel person”) and possibly in Jamaica, where it took me several days to machete my way through the accent so I don’t know exactly what they call us guests. “Hotel mon”, I suspect. If you have ever consumed anything from a hotel mini-bar, you might think that we should be called something else, like “suckers”, for example.

I object to the term “guest” — a “guest” in my home would never have their every whim met, nor would they get an itemized bill upon departure for the few whims that were satisfied. And anyone staying at my house who tried to pull the kind of crap I’ve seen and heard about would be evicted forthwith. With bruises.

We temporary hotel dwellers should recognize that even though we pay through the nose for not a whole lot more than a night’s access to a heavily-used mattress, that does not entitle us to be demanding pains in the neck. Unrealistic guest expectations is one of the primary causes of conflict between guests and staff and/or other guests.

Another major cause is that hotels seem to attract total jerks. While in the minority, there seems to be some natural law in effect that dictates that there must be at least one total jerk (or several semi-jerks) in any hotel on any given night. They can usually be found in the room next to mine.

So instead of trying to describe each and every variety of hotel jerk, here are a few pointers on how not to become one.

Do Your Research!

I once saw on a major hotel review website a complaint from someone who was disappointed that the hotel they stayed at didn’t have a bar or a sprawling garden, but nowhere in the hotel’s literature did it claim having those things. Check to see what facilities a hotel offers before you book.

If the hotel’s marketing materials show a lovely view of the ocean, you can bet your bottom dollar that very few rooms will actually have that view unless the hotel is the only building on a very small island. If the hotel is in a the downtown area of a major city, most rooms are likely to have views of the backs and sides of the buildings next door and behind. The rooms in the front of the hotel will offer majestic views of the buildings across the street, at best.

This is why God created Google Earth with Street View… Mary and Joseph once got shafted big time on their accommodations, you know (in the year 1 A.D.). Check out your hotel on Google and see if any rooms face something that you’re not interested in seeing, like a panda branding facility.

Simply put, don’t complain to the hotel staff about things you should have known about the hotel before you booked your room and things clearly beyond their control. Very few hotels are willing to go the extra mile and demolish every building that is getting in the way of the view you want — it’s just not cost-effective.

Check Your Confirmation!

Verify the details closely to make sure they have you down on the dates, in the room type, and rate you want. Misunderstandings and mistakes can occur and all the screaming in the world might not prevent you from being evicted because your reservation was in the computer for one night even though you asked for two. Bring a copy of your reservation confirmation with you and make sure the same terms are on your registration card (the thing you sign when you check in). During the busy season, there may not be a vacant room in town so make sure everyone is on the same page right from the get-go. When travelling across the International Date Line, make sure the dates are correct according to local time.

Don’t squawk at check-in if the hotel got something wrong months before and the error was right in under your nose in the confirmation.

The Secret Vacant Room that is Held for VIPs!

There isn’t one, unless you’re in Monaco where royalty and the occasional international oil sheik find themselves in dire need of a $7,000 per night room because their yacht is in dry dock for an emergency de-barnacling. Hotels are in business to sell rooms, so they would not hold out on you.

Don’t bother asking if someone who has a reservation hasn’t shown up yet because the hotel has already taken a deposit on all the booked rooms so if the guy doesn’t show up, the hotel has his money and they won’t have to pay housekeepers to clean the room in the morning. Letting you take someone else’s room and then turning away a late arrival who has a reservation is really bad for business, so they won’t do that either.

If you’re going to breeze into town without a hotel reservation, make sure your car has reclining seats.

The Deep Discount Late-night Walk-in Rate!

Doesn’t really happen as often as you’d think, except maybe in Mom and Pop sorts of places. Basically, the hotel sets a “walk-in rate” for anyone who shows up wanting a room without a reservation. Usually, it’s a set percentage off the usual full price for that time of year and it’s not a huge discount… you can expect something of the order of 10% off a regular room rate. Showing up really late at night doesn’t get you a better price, it just decreases your chances of finding a vacant room.

There’s no advantage for a hotel to sell you a $400 per night room for $50 or $100. It still costs them to throw a breakfast down your throat in the morning, the cost of labour to clean your room will be the same, and the linen cleaning service doesn’t prorate their bill according to how many hours the guest actually slept on the sheets.

Hotels don’t want people returning and demanding some rate they got by badgering a night guy a few months before. They also don’t want you yapping over breakfast  to your travelling companion about what a sweet deal you got, only to be overheard by the couple at the next table that stay at the hotel several times a year, with reservations, and paying full price.

Once the front desk staff quotes you a lower price, that’s the lowest they’ll generally go. They get no bonus points for selling to a walk-in if they’ve ignored management’s pricing policy. You’re a world-class cretin if you browbeat someone into giving you a great price that will cause them strife with their boss. Either take the first discounted price you are offered or find a cheaper place to stay. If the clerk quotes one price, you try to knock it down, and the clerk tells you it’s the lowest price, don’t kick up a fuss saying that every other hotel clerk you’ve ever dealt with would have cut the price even lower. Maybe the clerk was being a nice guy and offered you the lowest price right off the bat.

Staff ≠ Management!

It’s easy to tell the difference… management types wear normal 21st century street clothes, more or less, and the staff usually wear get-ups that look like something you’d find on a really bad Japanese cos-play website.

The staff have iron-clad guidelines to which they must adhere under pain of being demoted to a job in a department where they’ll have to wear even more humiliating uniforms.

Managers and supervisors get bigger paychecks they don’t want to lose, so they walk a narrow line between not angering guests and not angering their superiors.

Many hotel guests believe that with this knowledge they can get whatever they want, but sometimes it can blow up in their faces… sometimes staff and management are under orders to get noisy and demanding dummies off the property as quickly and as quietly as possible, even if that means using stun guns and Soviet choke holds, to maintain the hotel’s high-class reputation (even in not so high-class hotels). In some really snooty hotels, the staff noisily ejecting a working-class guy with an attitude and a Wal-Mart cowboy guy antenna accessory on his entry-level Chevy counts as a floor show to the old-money regular guests who are sipping vintage wines in the lobby.

The staff is just regular folk with jobs that doesn’t even guarantee them holidays off. Give them a break. Generally speaking, people working at hotels want to give you whatever will make you happy but they cannot give away the store or they’ll get reamed by management. If something went south with your reservation, they’ll try to fix it if they can. Demanding to see the manager doesn’t usually fix your problem any better than talking to the front desk guy… it usually just means that you’ll be getting the bad news all over again from a better-dressed dude (or dudette).

Are You Related to Steve-O?

Let’s say that you actually get a room at a hotel. Remember, it’s a hotel, not a staging area for the party of the century, unless that’s what you asked them for when you booked your reservation. Be respectful of the guests who are occupying the rooms surrounding yours. Some might have little kids, some might be trying to get a little sleep before an early flight in the morning, and some might be police in the hotel for a convention on how to painfully subdue intoxicated and belligerent A-holes without leaving a mark.

If you think the stuff in the hotel vending machines is expensive, try causing any damage to your room and see what they charge for cleaning the rug or getting the smell of your cigar smoke out of a non-smoking room (you might also get a municipal fine).

If you spill something on the rug, call the front desk to arrange to have it taken care of right away. Same goes for overflowing toilets, nachos on the upholstery, etc. Remember, “A stitch in time saves nine”, whatever that means.

Even if you’re just there with your family, don’t leave the room in a state that you would not want the public seeing. The housekeeper assigned to your room is allocated only a certain amount of time to ready the room for the next guest. If you’ve spent four days in the room, not allowed housekeeping to come in and clean during your entire stay, managed to work all kinds of chip bits, crackers, broken glass, raw monkey flesh, and soft cheese into the carpets and upholstery, you’ve just made her day really interesting.

Don’t Be a Screaming Me! Me!

Stuff goes wrong at hotels. It must be an incredibly complex task to coordinate a huge staff to clean everything to spec, make sure all the dinner reservations are at exactly the time the guests want, get the shuttle to where people are waiting on time, feed everyone, bill everyone to the penny, and get the baby poop out of the lobby rugs.

If you check in and head to your room only to find that it isn’t the Taj Mahal you had envisioned, be reasonable. If you find a gum wrapper under your bed and surmise that nothing in the room has been cleaned, ever, you’re probably wrong. Call down to see what they can do remembering that if you checked in at the regularly scheduled check-in time, there are a zillion other guests trying to get into their rooms at that very moment. Staff is limited and they might take a while to get around to you.

Some guests believe that by having a tantrum in front of a lobby full of other guests waiting to get into their rooms, this will somehow embarrass the staff enough to upgrade them to the Presidential Suite, give them a voucher for a free meal, and God knows what else. Well, you might get an upgrade to shut you up, but the staff will avoid you like the plague for the rest of your stay so you might not be told of something special going on, like an evacuation due to a raging fire. You might not get the stuff that the nice people get, like wine vouchers, surprise pastries to your door (for free), and respect from the staff and other guests.

The people who work in hotels have limited powers to grant a free stay to a guest who has found a mosquito in their room. If you’re going to act like a spoiled, overreacting brat in a hotel lobby in this age of video-enabled cellphones, you just might find yourself featured on YouTube!

Another thing I found while doing research for this piece is that the brats that kick up a fuss of biblical proportions sometimes write a bad on-line review of the hotel even though staff and management apologized, rectified the problem, and gave the guest some sort of compensation in the form of a discounted room or meal, a bottle of wine, or whatever! If you accept the apologies and compensation, you lose the right to trash the hotel publicly. If you want to trash the hotel in some public forum, then don’t accept the comps. It’s that simple.

Hotels are now almost universally computerized in terms of reservations, etc. Were I prone to tantrums, I would wonder if this was being recorded in my file and might influence the rate I’ll pay if I chose to darken their doorstep again. Staff just might be afraid to offer stuff to you in case you find something horribly wrong with it and spark World War Three.

If you find that they didn’t put a new roll of toilet paper in your room and the pillows are foam instead of feather, this is not license to berate a fellow human being. If you reacted the same way to minor transgressions on the road, you’d get a ticket for road rage. Grow up. If you feel the need to pay for a hotel room just so you can have someone to scream at that won’t bop you one, there’s medication for that. Or just spend your money on whatever the submissive opposite of a dominatrix is called.

No, You Didn’t Win the Shampoo Lottery!

The shampoo, conditioner, Q-tips, batteries in the remotes, etc. are there for you to use during your stay. They are not there to be harvested on a daily basis so you’ll have some stocking-stuffers for your dear Aunt Lefty next Christmas. Not only are you making more work for the housekeeping staff, but everyone who knows about it are talking about what a cheap bozo you are . You’ve just paid $200 for a room and scored $2 worth of amenities. Bravo!

Tip Everyone in Sight!

You’ve splurged and are spending your anniversary in a lovely hotel with all kinds of posh touches, like solid gold gargoyles, hand-carved teak toothpicks, and Russian fish in the lobby aquarium that poop out real caviar while wearing Tiffany necklaces. How much do you tip, and when, and to whom?

It boils down to tipping for just about anything that is done for you personally, with a few exceptions.

The Hiltons don’t work in hotels, they only own them. The people working in hotels, even the finer establishments with Italian marble floors, platinum door handles, and bidets that squirt Champagne onto the upper crust’s pampered behinds, make something only slightly north of minimum wage — they rely on tips to pay their bills and feed their kids. If you’re going to spend the night at a hotel, tipping is not optional. If you don’t want to tip, stay home.

There’s a simple formula to clarify this whole tipping thing:

T = Uh x Jg x W x ((|S|/10) +1) + B, where T is the tip, Uh is the humiliation factor of the staff member’s uniform, Jg is the gag factor of the job done for you, W is the weight carried, |S| is the absolute value of the number of stairs travelled (not applicable to elevator trips), and B is for for a service something beyond what you could reasonably expect from a wage-earner.

For you weary travellers too jet lagged to figure this out, let me spoon feed you the basics of how to use this formula.

In the case of Uh, the employee’s uniform’s humiliation factor, you score this according to how much you would like to have to wear the employee’s uniform at your high school reunion. The more humiliating the uniform, the bigger the tip you have to shell out. You might think that the housekeepers’ uniforms are cute, but I once suggested getting my wife a French maid’s outfit for Valentine’s Day and she was not impressed. OK, the one I picked out was much more see-through and skimpier than your typical industrial maid’s uniform but I felt her coming to bed for the next ninety days wearing flannel PJs with a steel cable drawstring was a bit of an overreaction. I now know my wife is not into “adventure wear”. Because management wears normal, non-fetish attire, they score a zero here and because the tip formula is based on multiplication, you never tip them a dime (unless they qualify under “The B Factor” we’ll come to last).

Jg is the gag factor — how disgusting the service performed would be to you. The grosser the job, the bigger the tip you leave and it doesn’t have to be some extraordinary thing, like getting your kid’s vomit out of the ceiling fan. Just think how lovely the housekeeper’s routine is, wiping your personal hairs from the rim of the commode. Leaving 37¢ and a subway token won’t cut it. If you are not dirtying the room much, you have to leave two or more bucks per day. In posh places where housekeepers have to spend more time getting the room up to spec, leave a bigger tip. The more people in the room, the bigger the tip you’ve got to leave. Oh, and tip the maids daily… the same person doesn’t necessarily work the same rooms all the time and does get the occasional day off. If you’re there for a few days, not tipping daily, and the same person who’s been cleaning your room all along gets a day off on the one day you intend on leaving a tip, you’ve cheated her out of a portion of her income.

A quick note about tipping in South Korea… tipping his not as common over there as here in North America. I once tried handing a chambermaid a tip and a look came over her face like I was giving her money for services that may or may not be legal in that part of the world, if you catch my drift. I went to the front desk and had them write an explanation on an envelope in which I put the maid’s tip. If you are a North American traveller, leave a tip even in other countries unless you know it for a fact that tipping is seen as an insult or something. Even though I know that tipping is not common in South Korean hotels, I still leave one, with an note, because perhaps the custom there might obligate the guest to leave the room in some special condition that I don’t know about so the tip is some small consolation to staff that have to deal with me, an ignorant foreigner.

W is the weight in kilograms. At a buck per kilo, a 22-pound bag will cost you a $10 tip unless the luggage in question is on wheels, then you knock off 50%. This weight tip not only applies to baggage but also to room service and anything else someone has to haul to your room. Minimum tip for anything you call to have brought to your room, even something as small as a toothbrush or hand towel, is $2.

|S| is the number of stairs that you witness, or reasonably understand, your stuff has been carried. The two straight vertical lines on either side of the “S” means that it doesn’t matter if it is up or down the stairs. You pay a buck for every ten stairs, rounded up to the next multiple of ten. You don’t tip $1.10 for 11 stairs, you tip $2. If your bags are on wheels, either your bags’ built-in ones or if they’re hauled to your room on one of those hotel luggage carts with the monkey bar, you pay half bearing in mind the effort to get your stuff on and off the cart and any stairs (or the equivalent incline). Don’t want to tip? Carry your own stuff. Next time, pack lighter.

B in the formula is “The B Factor”, or something someone does for you that is beyond what one would expect a stranger to do for you, even in contemplation of a tip, and you can offer money to a member of management if they personally provide the service. In fact, “B Factor” services are the only ones that you should ever tip management for. Services in this category would be if someone alerts you to a great restaurant that’s inexpensive and not owned by the hotel, saving you big bucks. Or if someone takes a genuine interest in you and listens to you drone on and on about your problems or attempts to get your iPad to meld with the hotel’s wi-fi network. Or if you squelch your undergarments and someone runs around town to find a “big and tall store” (or circus supplier) and returns with a suitable replacement. Or if you lapse into unconsciousness and the only way to rouse you is to perform some form of first aid involving personal contact behind your zipper.

So, there you have it. Follow these rules and when you die, St. Peter will give you a comp upgrade to a swankier part of Heaven!

Have you any weird hotel stories to tell?

About HoaiPhai

I'm up late digging up the dirt. View all posts by HoaiPhai

10 responses to “How Not to Be a Jerky Hotel Guest

  • Redneckprincess

    All extremely good advice, you should meet The Hook, he is an expert on all of this, and he is extremely funny, check him out here 🙂

    Have a great Sunday 🙂

  • hotelnerd

    I’m a hotel manager and let me just say, this is a marvelous post. I talk a lot on my own blog about crazy and or difficult guests and what happens behind the scenes, and you’ve gotten a lot of it right (polices and practices differ a little from hotel to hotel and brand to brand).

    “Do Your Research!” – I couldn’t agree more. So many disappointments and headaches could be avoided by people having accurate expectations of where they’re visiting. In the last year we received a 2 star online review because we don’t have a bar or restaurant on property. We also have a very large spa and a very popular pool, and every weekend we get upset people who drove for 2 – 3 hours to reach us thinking that the pool was open to the public when it’s clearly not on our website. When asked they’re response was “well, no I didn’t look at your site before I left. But you were open to the public 20 years ago.” Lots has changed in 20 years!

    “Check Your Confirmation” – Read it and bring it with you! Back in the day when email wasn’t so prevalent we used to send our confirmation letter via snail mail. Since not everyone had a credit card then and debit cards weren’t wide spread, we would also hold a room for 7 days while they sent us a check for their deposit. No check in 7 days we cancel and send them a cancellation letter. I had at least 2 people show up with a letter from us in a sealed envelope and their cancellation letter safely inside. Issues still arise today even with email confirmations, of course now people usually say they never got the confirmation. We’re not mind readers, we can’t know that you didn’t get your confirmation letter unless you let us know. And check your spam folder, random stuff ends up there sometimes that you actually need.

    “The Secret Vacant Room” – This is and isn’t true. That “secret vacant room” isn’t really a secret, it just cost $900+ a night, I’ll quote it to you and you’ll walk away. The property I work at now, we keep one of our most basic rooms on hold in case of maintenance emergencies until about 5 PM each night, but this is the first place I’ve worked that has done that. It has save us a number of times, and we have a high enough “walk in” rate that we generally always sell it for the rack rate without discounting it.

    “The Deep Discount Late-night Walk-in Rate!” – You’re right, this usually happens mostly at Owner/Operator type properties, especially small ones, where ever room night counts. The truth is that If we discount the room too far then we under value our product, which causes issues when you become a return guest. When you walk-in, the rate might have been discounted already, but either way it’s as low as it’s going to get at that point. Mostly because the Front Desk doesn’t want to negotiate with you, and they don’t want to quote too high and have you just walk away. They’re going to quote the best rate they have. Also, don’t forget to ask about legitimate discount programs that you might be eligible for (Like AAA or AARP or military or government). We’re in the business of saying “Yes” to people as frequently as we can, if for no other reason than it makes our jobs easier. I still remember the lady who tried to talk me into giving her a room for 15 minutes for free so that she could go screw her boss because he kids were back in her room and his wife was back in his. I hope she got her promotion, because her 4 kids ended up sitting out in the hall for 2 hours that night while Mom was “taking dictation”

    “Don’t Be a Screaming Me! Me!” – When I worked for a larger corporate property we essentially had a “black list” of troublesome guests. No one was ever specifically banned from the property, but we knew when they were coming, we were on our guard, and they didn’t get the benefit of the doubt from us ever. I work at a smaller family (not mine) run property and the owners have no problem asking you to leave if you’re causing a scene, being abusive, or are just trying to run a scam. And for us, you really won’t be welcome back. We’ll flat out refuse your reservation.

    “Tip Everyone in Sight!” – I just wrote about this on my own blog a few weeks ago. Housekeepers usually aren’t in sight, but they’re woefully under tipped in the industry as a whole. I just caution, only tip when someone has actually delivered on a service to you. When someone “tips” me because they want to get an upgrade, that’s not a tip, it’s a bribe and I don’t really enjoy it.

    Anyways, that’s a great post, and I’m glad to see someone on the opposite side of the Front Desk from me is sharing some of my opinions. Get the word out there, because you’re right there are far too many ass holes out there.

  • HoaiPhai

    Thanks for your overall approval of my views. As I said above, I don’t get to stay in hotels very often but I always enjoy myself, even in poorly-rated places. My expectations are basic cleanliness and the fundamentals. Anything beyond that is gravy. The Hotel Sevilla, in Incheon, South Korea was a comp because my flight was cancelled but the place really exceeded my expectations. There was a holder for the room keys just beside the door and when you left the room and removed the keys from the holder, the A/C, TV, and lights all went out and when you returned and replaced the keys in the holder, everything turned on the way you left them. The staff there was very helpful and professional, telling us about a Korean BBQ place just around the corner because my wife is Korean and we wanted one more authentic BBQ before we headed home to Canada. They could have pushed the in-house restaurant, but their help got them a snack from the place they recommended.

    I was thinking about doing reviews here on this blog of the few places I’ve stayed at but I’m not sure of the value they’d hold for your average, more-demanding-than-I traveller. I’ll say it again…if something doesn’t charge out from under the bed and bite me (breaking the skin) and the people in the next room are not noisy, I’m a happy camper.

    • hotelnerd

      Doing reviews on your blog is good. I just recommend that you make sure eyes at the hotel see your review. If it’s negative, a good hotel needs that feedback so that they can improve. People who run & work in the hotel rarely get to stay in their own product. The same goes for positive reviews as well. I don’t recommend using people’s names from the staff when you’re writing an online review, but if you’re emailing the hotel directly I absolutely recommend including feedback about specific staff members. Positive comments about an employee that actually reach management’s ears is great. The staff member usually gets a pat on the back, but it also affects their performance reviews and can help them move up in the company if that’s what they want to do. And negative comments are equally important, I just suggest with negative comments that you be as specific as possible about what happened, otherwise it’s really hard to do anything to fix it for you or for future guests.

      • HoaiPhai

        I have a certain fascination with hotels…. people from all corners of the world, intersecting at a common hub, and then heading off somewhere else. I love people watching and loitering in a lobby is a great place to do it! It’s like two schools of fish, the guests and the staff (with management manoeuvering independently within the staff school). Do you think hotels would mind a non-guest like me just buying a coffee and hanging out in the lobby?

        As I said in the post, I am rarely a guest at hotels — the last time was a one-nighter in Incheon in late 2009. I don’t remember the great (and not-so-great) people’s names I’ve come across over the years. I’ve been thinking a bit about my doing reviews on my blog but being so easily pleased, I cannot think of anything really bad to rant about and I’d have to issue a caveat to readers that my reviews were more like impressions, and since some of the hotels I stayed at over a decade ago, any info might be completely out-of-date. I’ll start thinking about this and eventually write a single piece with a few paragraphs about each hotel.

  • The Hook

    HOLY COW! Awesome post. If only the douchebags I deal with every day were as intelligent or as thoughtful as you!

    • HoaiPhai

      Thanks ever so much for the whopping great pat on the back. I certainly hope the hotel staff members I’ve talked to death and diverted from their duties consider me an intelligent and thoughtful douchebag!

  • Big ‘Uns « HoaiPhai

    […] – How Not to Be a Jerky Hotel Guest [4009 words] – Another rant, although not quite as frothy as some of my others. If […]

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