What to Ask at Hotel Check-In to Snare the Room You Want

Hotel Mistakes You Didnt Realize You Make

By Robert McGarvey

When you are standing at a hotel front desk, signing into a room, you have precious seconds to ask a few key questions and if you don't speak up, you may have blown your chance to snare a room that meets your particular wishes.

One question not to ask: can I see the room first? Indeed if you are checking into an albergue -- a shared sleeping space -- while walking the 500-mile Camino in Spain, you definitely want to ask to see the room first. Quality varies widely. Ditto for hostels and similar budget accommodations. Ask to see the bed before you take it, and your regrets will be fewer. But at hotels in America, Europe and major Asian cities, nah, no one has asked to see a room first in a long time.

Yet there are excellent questions that demand asking before you agree to take a room. Remember, too, noted travel blogger Chris McGinnis, "a lot of times, people think hotel rooms are all the same. That's not so, especially at older hotels." At a Ramada Inn Express on the highway, yes, rooms may be much alike. But check into an historic hotel like Taj Boston -- built in the 1920s, across from the Public Garden -- and the rooms weren't necessarily standardized to begin with and, over the years, renovations added more differences.

Asking questions at the desk saves surprises and discomfort down the line. Road warriors are quick to offer their favorites.
  1. How far is it from the elevator? That's a favorite for McGinnis and, depending upon the individual traveler, the right answer can go either way. Some like to be a far remove from what they perceive as the hubbub of an elevator. Some do not like the long walks down sometimes dark hallways.
  2. When was the last time the room was renovated? That's what advice columnist April Masini -- aka Ask April -- likes to know and her thinking is that at many hotels, renovations are done in stages (often a floor or two at a time). You do not want the room that hasn't been touched in years. If you want a fresh room, the answer you get will tell you if this is the room you want.
  3. What is the view? That's the question from travel blogger Johnny Jet who explained that in places like Hawaii, one set of rooms have gorgeous ocean views -- while the other rooms look out at dumpsters and worse. You may have to pay a little extra for the ocean view, but at least make this a conscious choice. A plus of avoiding the dumpsters, noted Jet, is that you will also avoid the noisy 4 a.m. garbage collection truck.
  4. What floor is the room on? Frequent traveler Ryan Geddes likes that question, because rooms on higher floors generally are quieter and, if a view is involved, the view is better.
  5. Is there a connecting door? Blogger Road Warriorette explained that she likes to not have such a door - usually in a room so that several rooms can be joined together in a suite -- because, she says, "It feels less safe, honestly. Plus in my experience you can hear what's going on in the adjoining room much more clearly than if there is no door, which can make it hard to sleep." Connecting doors just seem to let in a lot more noise from the adjoining room, and that's bad if you are a light sleeper or you are hoping to get some work done that needs real concentrations.
  6. Can I get a late check-out? That's the question from business travel expert Joe Brancatelli who blogs at JoeSentMe. Most hotels want you out at 11 a.m., sometimes noon, but many will let you stay several hours beyond that, at no charge, if you ask in advance.
Ask just those six questions and, generally, you have eliminated the unpleasant surprises that come with getting a room in a location you don't want and with features you despise.

Word of advice: if there is a line behind you in particular, be sure to ask your questions because, noted McGinnis, a harried desk clerk -- seeing the frowning faces behind you -- may want to move you along as soon as possible. If that means giving you what you want, so be it.
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