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6 Hotel Tips

  1. Don’t depend entirely on the Internet.

6 Hotel Tips

The Internet is “undoubtedly a good tool to find bargains,” says Greenberg, but he recognizes its shortcomings. “The Web doesn’t think creatively. It thinks on a controlled, linear basis. It’s still price driven. It can’t tell you which room overlooks a courtyard where the trash is noisily picked up at 2 a.m. It can’t tell you which room has the best water pressure in the bathroom. And that’s just for starters.” The Web-savvy author says his first source when doing hotel research is “word of mouth. You start with someone you trust who has been at a particular hotel. If that’s not possible, you call the hotel directly and speak to a human being. Not someone in reservations but at the bell desk, the concierge desk, on the sales staff, or even in housekeeping. These folks know the rooms, good, bad, and ugly — and they also know the hotel.”

  1. A Ship, don’t schlep.

You’ll arrive at your hotel less frazzled, says Greenberg, if you “ship, not schlep,” your bags. Long before airport personnel scrutinized checked luggage as carefully as they do in the post-9/11 era, the author was strictly a carry-on guy. If you’re shipping things heavier than clothes this can be expensive, but for Greenberg, the convenience is worth the dollars spent. “I haven’t checked a bag on a domestic flight in more than eight years,” he says. “Instead, I FedEx my bags. There are actually several different services now, such as Luggage Free and Virtual Bellhop. Luggage Express offers a one-year membership that gives you 20 one- or two-way deliveries for $995. But if even these discounted prices seem expensive, you must always ask yourself how much your time is worth. Once you do that, you’ll understand my rationale for shipping.” If you want to ship sports equipment, Greenberg suggests using Sports Express, which specializes in transporting such items as snowboards, skis, and golf clubs.

  1. Beware credit-card blocking.

When a front-desk receptionist asks to swipe your credit card to cover “incidentals,” the hotel may be temporarily allocating far more money than you think. “The hotel is financially protecting itself,” says Greenberg, but there’s a cost to you. “The problem is twofold. First, they usually don’t tell you that they are doing this. And depending on how much they block, if you have a MasterCard, Visa, or another credit card with a preset spending limit, you could be in trouble, as all of your available credit gets eaten up by the block.” To protect yourself, Greenberg recommends giving the receptionist “a credit card that doesn’t have preset limits, such as American Express or Diners Club, even if you have no intention of using that card to settle your bill.” Greenberg suggests that travelers who don’t carry American Express or Diners Club “ask what amount is being blocked before you give your credit card. In some cases, these amounts can be negotiated with the front desk clerk or his/her supervisor.”

  1. In case of fire …

We’ve all heard horror stories about hotel fires, and as someone who spends a great deal of time in hotels, Greenberg is rightly concerned with fire safety. Surprisingly, says Greenberg, though most states “mandate sprinklers and smoke detectors, not every state mandate enough of them — or, in the case of smoke detectors, hardwired ones. You’d be surprised at how many don’t work because of guests who remove the batteries.” In Hotel Secrets, Greenberg recommends asking before you book whether the guest rooms and common areas have working fire sprinklers and smoke detectors.

Should a fire alarm go off in your room or the hallway, Greenberg advises, “Never stand up. Drop to the carpet and crawl to the door. More people are knocked out by smoke (and ultimately killed) than by the fires themselves.” Upon your arrival at a hotel, he suggests you check out the floor plan and the hallway. “Locate the position of the stairs, not the location of the elevators. You can’t, and shouldn’t, count on an elevator in a fire emergency.” You should also locate the fire alarm in the hall and ask whether it sounds on the whole floor, throughout the building, or just at the front desk. One last tip: “Pack a small flashlight, and then place it on your nightstand in case of a power outage due to fire or other emergencies.”

  1. Ask tough questions about crime and security.

Travelers like to think of hotels as refuges from daily reality, but Greenberg’s research shows that crime — assaults, robberies, rapes, and even murders — is a huge problem, even at top-notch hostelries. If you’re in a hotel and are afraid for any reason, you should go to the management immediately. If you’re uneasy, Greenberg says, “you lose no points by asking to be escorted to your room by a member of the hotel’s staff.” Meanwhile, he suggests you ask some hard questions before you book: whether the hotel requires proof of identification of all guests if access to floors with guest rooms is restricted to resident guests with valid electronic key cards and whether there are in-room safes or a hotel safe where you can store your valuables. If you’re still concerned, you can also ask how many incidents of burglary and other crimes occur each year and whether the hotel performs criminal background checks on new employees.

  1. Make sure your room has what you need.

We all have criteria for what we want in a hotel room, and in his book, Greenberg says he has “come up with my own set of criteria against which I measure a room. I also understand that my criteria may be different than yours, but they include enough electrical outlets, desks that have enough space for my work as well as my computer, good lighting in the bathroom, great water pressure in the shower, TV (or TVs) that can be viewed from anywhere in the room, extra pillows, and ice in the ice bucket (hotels that require maids to refill ice buckets when they make rooms up and again at turndown time are the ones I love).” Sad to say, however, even the Travel Detective often leaves a hotel disappointed. When asked how many of the hotel rooms he occupies meet his expectations, he replies, “About 20 percent.”

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