News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Greg Morago, The Hartford Courant, Conn.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jan. 2, 2004 - Upgrade. The word is like music to my ears. I live for the business-class bump-up, the better-positioned table, the superior room. Especially the suite talk.
But just how does one upgrade from basic digs to deluxe? It's not science. There are practical and logical forces at work when it comes to getting a better room in a hotel. Here is some of what I learned about how to turn your three-star accommodations into five-star memories:
Never accept less than good. Let's say you walk into a hotel room and the air conditioning is broken or the TV's not working or your view is of an air shaft. Do you simply make do? Absolutely not. March right back downstairs and tell the front desk the room is not acceptable. Be courteous but be specific. Also take into consideration your options. If you're staying at a motel with cookie-cutter rooms, you're not going to get a bigger room (although you certainly deserve a working air conditioner and perhaps a better view). If you're staying in a large, full-service hotel, there are many room grades and configurations. A reputable hotel always will apologize for putting you in a room that doesn't come up to snuff. And chances are high that you will be upgraded into a better room if one is available. Don't, however, be an unscrupulous whiner (the world is full of them as it is). In other words, don't complain if there's nothing wrong with your room just so you can get a better one.
Be loyal; become a regular. In the competitive world of hostelry, loyalty is everything. Like airlines, hotels know you have a choice about how you spend your travel dollars. That's why it's worth joining a loyalty program with one of the large hotel chains or becoming a regular at an independent hotel.
A membership with a frequent-stay program like Starwood, Marriott, Hyatt or Hilton immediately identifies you as a loyal customer. The benefits vary but you almost always will get better service and a better room if you have a membership account. In the case of Starwood (my favorite; it includes Westin, Sheraton and W hotel chains), there is a separate check-in desk and once you reach the gold or platinum levels, upgrades are automatic.
If you don't have a guest membership account, always mention that you frequent that chain of hotels when you check in. Independent and boutique hotels always like to hear that you are a return guest. When making the reservation and when checking in at the front desk, mention that you are a return guest and what you liked about your last stay. A good reservation agent or front-desk clerk will note this and a better room may automatically come your way. At a boutique hotel, jot down the name of the person who helped you; the next time you return to that hotel, drop the name or remember the face. Believe me, it makes a difference.
Make friends. Remembering names and faces helps. It also helps to write letters. If you experience outstanding service, write a note to the hotel manager and name names. Your name will be remembered for doing so. Similarly, ask to speak to a manager at checkout and tell him/her about your experience. Be sure to get a card. The next time you return to the hotel, e-mail the manager or drop his name at check in. It never hurts.
A handwritten letter still carries weight. Hotels that pride themselves on service love hearing how they did. A thoughtful letter (whether pointing out a deficiency or praising a staff member) usually results in good will from a hotel. You may receive an upgrade certificate or bonus points on your frequent-stay membership for your efforts.
Be flexible. Arriving at a busy hotel before check-in time and demanding a room will work against you. You will be given the most basic accommodations if one is available. However if you check in and cheerily tell the clerk you'll store your bags and come back later, chances are you'll get a better room.
When the front desk clerk is searching for rooms, be sure to speak up that you are flexible. Mention that you absolutely don't have to have a smoking room if a better non-smoking room is available. Or that you'll take a handicap-accessible room (bigger rooms with bigger bathrooms). Or that you don't need two beds since you're traveling alone. Your willingness to be flexible might just reward you with an upgraded room.
Don't be shy. Talking to the clerk and speaking up about your likes and dislikes can only work to your advantage. If you are celebrating a birthday or an anniversary, let them know. If you've been looking forward your entire life to staying at a grand hotel, let them know when you check in; they might just want to "wow" you even further.
Similarly, being vocal about your likes and dislikes is important. If you don't like street noise or you require lots of sunlight or need a bathroom with a tub, tell them. The more specific you are (especially for business travelers) the better shot you have at not being disappointed with your room. A smart clerk will hear your needs and recognize you as a business traveler or knowledgeable leisure traveler. This can sometimes result in a better room.
Also, ask about upgrades. A simple, "can you do something better for me?" results in a nicer room. There might even be on-the-spot upgrades for a few more bucks. On a recent trip to Las Vegas, suites were available for $25 more a night. That's not much money for such an upgrade. But I wouldn't have known unless I had asked. So speak up.
Be nice. A recent travel study showed that rudeness is on the rise. If you're a frequent traveler, you know exactly what we're talking about. Well, just imagine the staff at a hotel. They've seen it all where rudeness is concerned. They're people, too: They want to be respected and liked.
Genuine kindness may be your most valuable upgrade tool. When you arrive at a hotel, greet the personnel. Say good morning or good afternoon. Ask them how their day is going. Smile and be pleasant. You might just be the ray of sunshine in an otherwise bad day, and you better believe they're going to look for a nice room for you. On a recent trip I stood several people behind a man who had a fit because the check-in line wasn't moving fast enough for him. He yelled. He demanded to speak with a manager. He yelled some more. When I got to the clerk who took the brunt of his rudeness, I touched her arm and said, "Are you OK?" Clearly rattled, she said, "I think so." I told her a joke, made her laugh, assured her that not everyone in line was like that man. When she looked up a room for me, she said, "I have something really nice for you." When I got into my room it was a mini-suite. Something tells me the Old Yeller didn't get a room with a sofa, a fireplace and a view of the park.
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(c) 2004, The Hartford Courant, Conn. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. HOT, MAR, HLT,