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Checking In: How to Get a Better Room

Scott Vogel

Imagine yourself in the following situation. Your flight's just been canceled and you've been given a voucher entitling you to a free night's stay at the Red Roof Inn near LAX airport. (I know, pinch yourself!) Just before you enter the property, you notice that one side of the hotel faces a loud, constantly-busy freeway. The other doesn't. Rooms on the lower floors, you deduce, are probably loud 24/7. Those on the higher floors, not so much. As you approach the Red Roof reception desk, you are determined to ask for a room on a high floor facing away from the freeway. You are also aware that the Red Roof desk clerk will know exactly why you're asking for such a room and indeed why anyone would want one of those rooms.

What's the strategy for getting one?

The above actually happened to a friend of mine recently, and I'm pleased to report that she did indeed snag a high room on the Red Roof's quiet side. But before I tell you which tactic she used, a little background. As everyone knows, there are some truly terrible rooms in many of the best hotels, and even the most awful hotel has some rooms better than others. There are better and worse seats on airplanes and tour buses, better and worse cabins on cruise ships. In other words, at every turn, your vacation's success could potentially be held hostage by a stranger who may or may not be swayed by your charm offensive.

So when you walk up to the Red Roof counter, is your style of the sweetly interrogative variety?:
Would it be possible for me to have a room on the top floor, blah, blah, blah?

Or is a no-nonsense declarative approach more your style?
Give me a room on the top floor, blah, blah, blah.

It turns out that neither approach is optimal. According to my friend, who had recently undergone assertiveness training and therefore is to be trusted above all others, the proper approach might be termed the love child of the above two versions.

With utter charm and bonhomie, you say:
I'd like a room on the top floor, blah, blah, blah.

This combines the politesse of number one with the aggressiveness of number two. Put another way, don't give the gatekeeper the option of saying no by phrasing your request as a conditional, but don't put them off by issuing a command.

And that's how my friend got the best room in the house. At the Red Roof Inn at LAX, that is.

What strategies have worked best for you in similar situations? Short of greasing an employee's palm, what can you do to ensure you get the best room, seat, cabin, etc?

By Scott Vogel |  April 10, 2008; 9:25 AM ET  | Category:  Scott Vogel , Travel Survival Tips
Previous: Insta-Q&A: Planes, Trains and Great Danes | Next: Insta-CoGo: Flight Cancellation Rights

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The only time I have been successful snagging a premium room is when I check into one specific hotel. I spent enough time at this hotel over the past year to get gold status with the chain's points club, and the desk staff knows me by sight. The last couple times I checked in, my preffered room was not available, but they switched me with someone who had not yet checked in.

I think this is totally based on that one hotel knowing me so well, as I have been to other hotels in that chain and have ended up with terrible rooms (facing the airport, non-working hairdryers, etc). Maybe it will change in the next year as I will hit platinum status with the chain. My father-in-law is a platinum Marriott member, and he always gets the really nice rooms. Then again, I've never had a bad room in a Marriott.

Posted by: RT | April 10, 2008 10:46 AM

Should we expect a fare sale from American after all this mess is said and done? Yeah, they are losing money hand over fist with the canceled flights, but they are also losing customers. Think they will try to woo them back with a nice sale? (Yes, I haven't bought my summer vacation tickets yet LOL)

Posted by: Unrelated question | April 10, 2008 11:11 AM

I ask nicely, and if I get the brush-off, I remind the desk employee that I have been a [Hotel company name here] member for [number of years here] and that I would appreciate an upgrade. That usually works for me :)

Posted by: AAA | April 10, 2008 12:31 PM

Being polite and asking nicely but firmly always works for me.

Posted by: RJV | April 10, 2008 12:50 PM

My family's phrase is:

"I'm sorry, that's just not acceptable."

Recently, my husband and I used this to great effect at the SF Hilton. We had booked our trip over six months in advance, and the first clerk we had said he only had a queen room to give to us, despite the fact we'd booked a king. He wouldn't budge, no matter what, so we took the room.

We got up there and if that bed was anything more than a double and the room was barely large enough to contain it, I would eat my laptop.

We went right back downstairs, got a different agent, pointed out the number of Hilton points my husband has a business traveler, and politely stated without any rancor that the tiny little room with no view right near the elevator was not acceptable for a 5 night stay booked so far ahead of time.

This new clerk looked at the room number, immediately agreed, called over a manager, got us a new room, and told us to come right back down if we didn't like it.

It was a nice king room with a great view - what wasn't to love?

Maybe not at a Red Roof, but unless there's some sort of major inclement weather issue, you can usually get the room you want.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | April 10, 2008 1:22 PM

I typically put in those sorts of requests at the time of booking and generally they honored without any trouble. Most hotels have comments sections in their booking software where you can request things like high floor, far from elevator, city view, etc. ANd if you are a member of their frequent stay program there is usually a field in your profile for that info as well. Some even have check boxes for certain things like preferred bed size, pillow type, etc. The only trouble I have had recently was at the ANA Narita hotel which assigned me a room that was totally not what I had reserved. So I went straight back down to the front desk and they switched me to a different room which was what I had served and prepaid too as I recall.

I was upgraded to beautiful suites at the Sukhothai Hotel in Bangkok on my two stays there last year, primarily I believe because I used a travel agent that does a lot of business there. I think I probably paid a lot more money than most other were paying as well. I didn't have to ask for those upgrades, they just offered them to me at check in. The first time they said the room type I had reserved were all full so they upgraded me. The second time was totally out of the blue but it was on my return to the hotel after spending a few days upcountry. Unfortunately it was only 1 night and I had to leave for the airport at like 5 AM the next day so I didn't get to enjoy it as thoroughly as I would have liked.

Posted by: Glenn | April 10, 2008 2:49 PM

I've often found that the best way to get a room as far as possible from the elevator is to request a wheelchair-accessible room. I have no idea why this is, and if anybody out there has a clue, please share. The rooms are often near stairwells - maybe it's some arcane fire code issue? (Although if the room's on the 30th floor, does proximity to a fire exit stairwell really matter that much?) But it also means that mobility-impaired travelers can face a loooong trip to their rooms. Think about this kind of placement in a Vegas mega-hotel-casino tower and you'll see what I'm getting at. It's not bad for me (I am able-bodied) or my traveling companion, who uses an electric wheelchair, but for somebody with a walker or a manual chair it could be arduous.

As for snagging a generally better-than-average room, I rarely try, but I definitely think posters above who noted paying not-rock-bottom rates are on to something. I know I've found the worst room at more than one hotel by paying the cheapest rate in sight...

Posted by: BxNY | April 11, 2008 9:18 AM

Not a ton of experience in this area. I don't doubt paying more or being a member of a chain's frequent stay club would be helpful. But the best upgrade I've had was on a Priceline reservation at the Renaissance (if memory serves me right) in downtown Chicago. My dad booked the room and said something like it was his daughter's first time to Chicago and it would be great if we could get an upgraded room. Polite but straightforward is his usual strategy, and it seemed to work there. We ended up in a suite with an awesome view.

Posted by: non frequent flyer | April 11, 2008 9:38 AM

Per the accessible rooms:

I would think that they are located near the ends of hallways because the rooms generally have some major physical changes from a standard room (i.e. - lower closet bars, wider bathrooms, etc.). By putting them at the end of a hallway probably helps during construction - these non-standard rooms can be given a little extra room or a different layout created without disrupting the infrastructure layout of HVAC and plumbing too much.

That this makes absolutely NO sense from the standpoint of those who need accessible rooms? That never seems to enter into it (I develop accessible web sites, so I deal with clients constantly who try to marginalize the user experience of those with special needs - it's infuriating.)

Posted by: Chasmosaur | April 11, 2008 12:38 PM

I am often upgraded to a nicer-than-standard room. First, I make sure I am a member of whatever frequent stay club is offered; then I make my request in writing when I book on-line. When I check in all I have to do is ask if they have the kind of room I have requested. If I don't like the room, I return to the front desk and politely ask for another.

Posted by: Carol | April 16, 2008 11:57 AM

As a travel agent, I would suggest you find a good agent who cares about you and your comfort. I book the hotel and a day or two before they are to arrive I email the hotel telling them that my client is very important to me and would they give them a special room or reward them in some way. Personal attention and service is what we offer.

Posted by: Nancy Bogue | April 16, 2008 12:03 PM

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