Staying in a hotel can be fun, right? You can swim in the pool, try out all the free toiletries, order room service -- and someone else will even make your bed in the morning. A weekend getaway can be very relaxing.
But there are things about hotel life that can sometimes make your stay less enjoyable, like high prices or rooms that aren't exactly spic and span.
Never fear, we've got some tricks for you to try. Being aware of these 10 things -- which hotels would almost certainly prefer to keep under their hats -- can save you money, help you avoid unpleasant surprises and give you have the best hotel stay possible.
It's Pretty Easy to Find Discounts on the Web
The advent of the Internet has meant great things for travelers looking to save a bit of money on hotels. At the very least, it's easier to compare the rates on different dates, or see which days of the week are generally less expensive.
Web sites like Kayak.com automatically show you the rates of different hotels based on how much you're willing to pay and what amenities you need, in addition to the dates of your trip. If your travel plans are flexible, check out the "deals" section of the Web site -- you can often get higher savings by combining airfare, hotel accommodation and other amenities.
You Might Be Able to Get a Better Rate
If you've got a specific hotel or chain in mind, don't call the 800 number to make a reservation. Instead, do a little research about their published rates, and then call the hotel front desk directly.
Ask what specials the branch has right now, and whether it honors discounts like AARP or AAA. The clerk will be able to tell how many reservations the hotel has for that particular block of time, and if it's not very full, the branch probably will be to give you a better rate to ensure a reservation. If you're a member of that hotel's rewards club, be sure to mention that -- if you aren't, ask about signing up to see if that lowers the price even more.
Take Advantage of Free Amenities (and Watch Out for Ones that Aren't)
It's easy to spend a lot more than the flat nightly rate at the average hotel, between the minibar, parking and who knows what else. Take advantage of the free amenities, like continental breakfast, and see if there are any deals to be had on the rest. For example, if you notice that the parking lot is full, ask the staff if they'll give you a discount on the daily rate.
Some hotels charge a "daily amenities fee" that covers a wide variety of services, like access to Wi-Fi, complimentary cocktails, printing and newspaper delivery. If your hotel charges a fee like this, be sure to ask for a list of the included amenities when you check in. That way, you can be sure to take full advantage of what you've already paid for.
Your Room Isn't as Clean as It Looks
One of the side benefits to staying in a hotel is that it comes with service. You don't have to make your bed, vacuum or clean the bathroom -- someone else does everything for you. But as tidy as it might look, is it really clean? It's important to remember that hundreds of people pass through an average hotel room over the course of a year, and that it's practically impossible to erase all evidence of a room's prior occupants. On the whole, that's nothing to worry about. But there are a few places in your hotel room that merit a bit more caution.
Drinking glasses, for example -- you might not want to trust that they've been properly cleaned. Fox News reported in 2007 that a hidden camera investigation of several Atlanta hotels revealed that glasses often go unwashed, or else treated with potentially harmful substances.
Save yourself the worry and bring along your own cup.
You Might Get Better Service if You Tip the Housekeeper
Hotel housekeepers have some of the most underappreciated jobs in the hospitality business. They are also among the lowest paid, according to a Market Watch report. So, leaving a tip for the person cleaning your room is a nice way to supplement his or her income. Most housekeepers probably won't give you exceptionally poor service just because you don't leave a tip, but you might get exceptionally good service if you do. Depending on how expensive the hotel is, and how messy you're leaving the room, anywhere from $2 to $5 is appropriate.
Remember to leave a tip every day, as opposed to just when you're checking out. You might have different housekeepers over the course of your stay, and you want to tip all of them equally. Also, be sure to leave your tip on the pillow, or on the table with a clearly marked note. That way the housekeeper knows it's for him or her, and not just change you've left on the table.
Your Valuables Aren't Necessarily Safe in Your Room
Remember that you're not the only person who has access to your hotel room. Nearly every member of the hotel staff is able to enter your room without your knowledge. So, when you leave the room for any significant amount of time, don't leave anything valuable behind. Some hotel rooms come equipped with small safes, but not all of them are insured against theft. If you do need to travel with valuables, ask the hotel management to place the items in the hotel safe, and to provide you with a receipt. The main hotel safe will be insured, and it's accessible to a much smaller number of staff members.
Room Rates Are Sometimes Cheaper at Night
If you haven't made a reservation, you might be able to score a lower rate if you time it just right. After 5 or 6 p.m., you have a shot at getting a cheaper room if the hotel still has vacancies. Some hotels do have policies that prevent them from discounting rooms, even if that means losing business. But you might be able to get a nicer room or suite for the rate of the average double room if you ask.
On the other hand, if it's 9 or 10 p.m., the hotel is much less likely to cut you a deal because the clerk knows that you don't have as many options. So, timing is everything.
There Still Might Be Rooms Available, Even if the Sign Says 'No Vacancies'
Well, not necessarily. In some cases, a room will be marked as booked in the hotel computer because of a maintenance issue. Ask the desk clerk if there are any rooms with more cosmetic problems, as opposed to a room with a nonfunctioning toilet. If it's a simple matter of a stained rug or scratched table, you might be able to persuade the clerk to let you have the room. If you ask nicely, they might even discount the room because of the (marginally) substandard quality.
Your Bed Has Bed Bugs
Beware: Bed bugs are on the rise. These pervasive insects are causing major problems in hospitals, apartment buildings and -- you guessed it -- hotels. Just because a hotel is expensive doesn't mean it's immune, either; bed bugs are difficult to spot, and they spread quickly.
Before you book a room, check out the Bed Bug Registry. This free service keeps track of bed bug incidents at all different kinds of locations, including hotels. The reports are dated, and in some cases feature responses and updates from hotel staff. So, you can judge for yourself whether the problem has been dealt with appropriately -- and if you feel good about staying there.
Don't Believe Everything You Read
Hotel reservations are usually made sight unseen. So, you have to rely on the information the hotel offers through its Web site. And of course, those Web sites are designed to make you want to stay at that particular location, so they might not be entirely honest.
Travel columnist and former hotel employee Amy Bradley-Hole advises potential hotel guests to do their homework, first. If a hotel is listed as "minutes away" from a particular attraction or location, what does that really mean? Plot it out on Google Maps to see if that translates to "60 minutes on foot" or "10 minutes in a cab." Figuring that out before you book can save you an unpleasant surprise once you arrive.
How can you plan a fun 'stay-cation'? Learn how to give yourself a much-needed break without breaking the bank by planning a fun 'stay-cation.'
- AOL Travel Canada. "The Dirty Truth: Your hotel room might not be as clean as it looks." April 10, 2011. (April 11, 2011)http://travel.aol.ca/2011/04/10/the-dirty-truth-your-hotel-room-might-not-be-as-clean-as-it-loo/
- Bed Bug Registry. "About the Bed Bug Registry." (April 9, 2011)http://bedbugregistry.com/about/
- Bradley-Hole, Amy. "A hotel insider dishes on industry secrets." Aug. 1, 2007. (April 10, 2011)http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20072620/ns/travel-travel_tips/
- Donahue, Raechel. "How to Negotiate a Lower Hotel Price." USA Today Travel. (April 9, 2011)http://traveltips.usatoday.com/negotiate-lower-hotel-price-10641.html
- Haslam, Chris. "Cheap tricks to use at a hotel." London Times Online. June 7, 2009. (April 8, 2011)http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/travel/article6437841.ece
- Independent Traveler.com. "Hotel Tipping." (April 8, 2011)http://www.independenttraveler.com/resources/article.cfm?AID=307&category=7
- Lainevool, Toivo. "Hidden Fees at Las Vegas Hotels -- Don't Be a Victim." (April 10, 2011)http://www.vegashotelspecial.com/index.php/2009/10/07/hidden-fees-at-las-vegas-hotels-dont-be-a-victim/
- Mommy Warriors.com. "9 Secrets That Hotels Don't Want You to Know." Jan. 28, 2008. (April 9, 2011)http://www.mommywarriors.com/blogs/?p=1780
- Montaño, Diana. "Housekeeper has challenging role in vital industry." Market Watch. June 18, 2009. (April 10, 2011)http://www.marketwatch.com/story/housekeeper-has-challenging-role-in-vital-industry
- MSNBC.com. "Worried about bed bugs in your hotel room?" June 7, 2006. (April 9, 2011)http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11877871/ns/travel-travel_tips/
- Savage, Peter. "Hotel Security for the Traveler." Magellan's. (April 10, 2011)http://www.magellans.com/store/article/423
- The Travel Insider.com. "When is the best (and worst) time to make your hotel reservation?" March 18, 2011. (April 8, 2011)http://www.thetravelinsider.com/howtobookbuy/negotiatehotelrates2.htm