Hotels and Early Check-In

Back in 2008, the universal iPhone adapter meant almost everyone on the planet could plug in the same way. Hotels rushed to upgrade alarm clocks and room accessories to accommodate hordes of iPhone wielding tourists. It was a clear indicator of the tight competition for the hospitality dollar. Hotels formerly upgraded once every few years. Suddenly the industry saw necessity in constantly evolving offerings and amenities.

Sometimes however, even the simplest of changes escapes everyone. Take the often requested notion of early check-in for example.

Google the phrase “early check-in.” You will find pages of consumers begging to find out if particular hotels offer the ability for guests to check in earlier than mid-afternoon. Some do, some don’t. Most encourage you to inquire upon arrival or offer no clear policy. It’s a crap shoot. Why is early check-in such a big deal?¬†Crisscrossing the country or jumping over oceans by plane is no longer a luxury. It’s commonplace. Today we measure travel time in hours, not days. The need to quickly accommodate is critical.

A few months back, I landed in Amsterdam at 8am local time. I had walked out of my own house more than 20 hours before. In the time since, I had lumbered through 3 airports and been doused by the recycled oxygen of two planes. All I wanted was a shower and the chance to change into clean clothes.

When I arrived at the front desk of my hotel, the clerk was quick to remind me that check-in was not until 3pm. “Enjoy your morning in Amsterdam!” She continued, “also, there’s no polite way to say this, but your hair is disheveled and you smell like yesterday. I’ll see you at 3!”

Ok, maybe she didn’t say it, but it was true, and we both knew it.

There were no crowds packing the lobby. There was no hustle as guests made their way to and from breakfast or meetings. Frankly, there was barely any indication that there were more than a handful of guests in the 468 room hotel. Surely, one of these rooms was available and clean. The situation was even more illogical since I had booked my flight and hotel together as a package deal.

Always reluctant to make a scene over lost causes, I opted for the equally futile approach of arguing in my head with the website through which I had booked.

“You sold me a package with a flight that arrives at 8am, but the hotel will not give me a room until 3pm. That’s a 7 hour hole in day one of my trip. Then at the end of my stay, you guarantee me the room until noon, knowing that I have to leave by 7am to catch the flight home. That’s 5 hours of empty room that the hotel is getting back. It would be better for everyone involved if they just slid my check-in and check-out times back by 5 hours. I get into my room early, they get their room back early, and everyone wins.”

The noon check-out and 3pm check-in model is outdated and inefficient. At any hotel of moderate size, it would be nearly impossible to clean every room if the entire hotel turned over during that 3 hour window. Some guests leave earlier and some leave later. When staffing housekeeping for any given day, hotels estimate the percentage of guests who will arrive later than planned or depart earlier. As I book a room, why can’t the hotel ask me what times I plan to arrive and depart and price accordingly? This way I have a room for the duration of my visit and the hotel has the advance knowledge they need to staff housekeeping more easily. If rental car companies can let me book to a specific hour, why can’t hotels?

I imagine that 60 years ago, travelers were curious about whether hotels had things like irons and hair dryers in each room. Today, the most important accessory a hotel can offer me is time. It’s even an option for which I am willing to pay extra. The value in the extra time comes from me being able to count on it in advance though. “Inquire upon arrival” requires me to make backup plans. “Your early check-in is confirmed” lets me plan my day accordingly and maximize my time enjoying whatever city I am visiting.