Hotel secrets? Perhaps you, like me, consider yourself to be a smart traveler. Even sophisticated in terms of getting places and finding a place to sleep. For over a decade, I’ve maintained “elite” status with my preferred hotel chain. I thought I was Pretty Hot Stuff when it came to manipulating the hotel staff.
An insider explains it all…
Until I read Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality by Jacob Tomsky.
Tomsky was a Front Desk Agent (FDA) for a long time, in some big cities, including The Big Apple. Finally, he reached the burn-out phase, and decided to let us all in on the secrets of what goes on under the pretense of providing us with “customer service” and “hospitality.”
His first observation: “Hotels are methadone clinics for the travel addicted.” This struck a deep, and rather embarrassing, chord in me, someone who has been known to do at least one “mattress run” each year, in order to maintain my status. (A mattress run is when you book a room for the sole purpose of getting points to keep your status. Usually done at local or inexpensive properties in the hotel chain.)
Bring some crisp cash
Here’s what Tomsky promises upfront: “Due to the fact that I just don’t care anymore, I will offer easy and, up till now, never publicized tips and tricks. Want a late checkout? Want an upgrade? Guess what! There are simple ways (and most of them are legal ways!) to get what you need from a hotel without any hassle whatsoever. It’s all in the details…Need to cancel the day of arrival with no penalty? No problem. Maybe you just want to be treated with care and respect? I understand, dear guest…okay, now put some money into it…very good…thank you. Now, that’s a proper hospitality business transaction.”
Yes, cold hard cash can determine many, many things when it comes to how well you are treated during your hotel stay. A $20 bill can rock your world.
I learned so much from this book! Did you know you can watch a movie and then have it removed from your folio? Feeling peckish? Raid that mini-bar, then deny you ever opened it. In fact, even if you don’t touch the mini-bar, an FDA can–and will–help him/herself to those macadamia nuts.
Bellmen know all
Now. About those bellmen. Again, perhaps you, like me, think they are a nuisance. To a degree, Tomsky agrees: “People drag their luggage through their own house, down the driveway, into their car, up to the airline desk, off the luggage carousel, into the back of a taxi, through the revolving doors, and now, now some guy with a crew cut wants to help? You’ve taken it twenty-five hundred miles, and this dude wearing gloves wants to jump in for the last twenty feet and get tipped for it?” Yep, that pretty much captured my feelings and opinion, too. But now I know better.
On the other hand, bellmen are the symbol of service for a high-end hotel. Please be aware: They see and know everything. They have a special relationship with the FDA. For a few dollars on your way in, they can be your best friend, even if you decline assistance with your bags. “It’s okay. Just be polite about it. I even once saw a guest tell a bellman, ‘No worries, but thank you,’ and still give him two dollars, just for not helping.” Guess how that guest got treated? “It was almost more effective than if he had taken the help and dropped a twenty in the room.”
Make the right kind of reservation
How you make your reservation plays heavily into what kind of room you will get. Book directly? You are Golden. Book on Priceline or Expedia, and don’t be surprised with a no-view room next to the ice machine. But all is not lost: “…it comes down to your direct interaction with your personal FDA at check in. Kindness, being polite, and expessing a positive desire for a nice room can once again shift your crappy discount reservation into a corner suite, and off you go.” That, and…a twenty. Hand it over and say, “Give me something nice.”
BUT, be warned! If you are rude to the bellmen, mean to your spouse or children in the lobby or at the desk, or make a racist remark about your taxi driver…you are doomed. That’s how much power the Front Desk Agent has.
Along with the hints, there is plenty of humor. Regarding the family of seven who all brought their own pillows: “It’s a standard hotel worker pet peeve to see BYOP guests. This is a hotel, not a summer camp.”
Tomsky’s personal story is interesting, and is woven throughout. His style reminds me of David Sedaris, with the ability to jump back-and-forth, yet never losing the thread. We follow his unintentional entry into the hospitality industry all the way to the frustrating finish.
Do this, not that
At the end, he really dishes out the hints. Here are a few things guests should never, ever say or do:
- “My credit card declined? Impossible. Run it again.”
- “‘They’ told me I should ask for an upgrade.”
- Do not continue your phone conversation during the entire check-in.
- Do not snap the credit card down on my desk.
- Do not ask your husband to ask me something when I can hear you asking him to ask me because I am standing right here. So, bring a few extra twentys and singles–see what happens. “There is always, always a better room.”