Be nice to the hotel, and it will be nice to you

How to make friends with the clerk at the front desk


January 11, 2004|By Greg Morago | Greg Morago,Hartford Courant

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 an account.

In the case of Starwood (my favorite; it includes the Westin, Sheraton and W hotel chains), there is a separate check-in desk, and after 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 like to hear that you are a return guest. When making the reservation and checking in, 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; when you return to the hotel, drop the name or remember the face. 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 or 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 nonsmoking 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.

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