George Clooney makes travel look like so much fun in the Oscar-nominated film "Up in the Air." But Handsome George appeared to be traveling a road that has long disappeared -- even for first-class clients.
Clooney's character breezes through airports. Airlines treat him like royalty. The hotels in which he says have classy restaurants and pile on the extras.
Perhaps these services are available to Hollywood hunks. For the rest of us imperfect passengers, travel has become a nightmare. And it's not just the airlines who have downgraded services.
Hotels facing falling occupancy rates and room rates have been forced to cut back in services. That can mean fewer toiletries in rooms, longer check-in lines and fewer freebies like cookies or coffee. The problem is that these small cuts can add up to a big annoyance. Read on for 14 of the most irritating tricks hotels use to cut costs.
1. We Appreciate Your Call
Automation is rapidly replacing face-to-face contact, which makes sense since payroll is one of hoteliers' top three expenses. In addition, many hotels have moved away from direct customer interaction by automating many client services. For example, you may receive a better rate if you reserve and pay for your room online. Call the hotel directly to make a reservation and you may end up working your way through a series of menus to make your reservation.
2. Disappearing Staff
Wonder why check-in lines are so long? That's because hotels have made the biggest cuts in non-public staff, forcing clerks to do multiple duties instead of focusing on guests. The result is remaining employees may feel devalued and constantly threatened with loss of their jobs, leading to a reduction in motivation, commitment and productivity. Of course, this syndrome is presently rampant throughout all industries, so why should hotels be different?
3. Sweat the Small Stuff
No more newspapers at your door. Mini bars are now filled with peanuts instead of cashews. And you can entirely forget about free coffee. More pools, whirlpools and saunas are closed or there is a fee for their use. Exercise rooms have poorly maintained equipment or don't exist at all. When they do exist, make sure you bring a towel from your room. Perhaps most irritating for those who prefer to travel light, free mini-bottles of shampoo and conditioner have nearly disappeared or have been replaced by cheaper products. Bring your own skin lotion and mouth wash because these perks have almost entirely disappeared. Self-service irons and ironing boards also have been downsized -- literally. Boards are either table top or come up to your thigh while irons look like a child's toy.
4. Energy Saving or Cheap Trick?
Just as with homeowners, hotels are turning down the heat and A/C in vacant rooms. As a result, it can take longer to heat up or cool down a room once you've turned on the system. Some hotels like to green-wash such practices, claiming they're trying to save the environment, not cut costs.
5. Lost Linens
Remember when hotels replaced your towels and often bed linen every day? More hotels now only change linens when rooms turn over and ask you to leave a towel on the bathroom floor when you want a fresh one. Again, it makes environmental sense but what really irks are hotels that have replaced plush towels and quality bedding with threadbare and rough linens. Itshouldn't take three towels to dry off or feel like you're sleeping on cardboard.
6. Park It Here
With $70 room rates and $40 parking, you're looking at triple digits to park your body and wheels for a single night. With rare exceptions, hotel parking costs far more than the municipal garage or lot.
7. The Mini Bar Trap
You have to be famished or rich to afford mini-bar food. Unfortunately, by the time many of us hit the hotel room, we're too exhausted to go in search of reasonably priced food or snacks. With room service hours being drastically cut, mini bars have become the last refuge of exhausted guests. Hotels understand the psychology of the typical weary wanderer so they happily mark up candy and soda more than 1,300 percent. Watch out, as well, for foods placed outside the mini bar that look like complimentary treats. Those baskets of fruit or bottles of wine come at a hefty price.
8. In-room Movies
While there's certainly nothing wrong with offering in-room movie service, paying $10 to $15 for an ancient flick is a blatant rip-off. If you really want to kick back and relax, download a movie or three to your laptop before you hit the road.
9. Internet Access
Hotels know they have a captive audience and can charge $10 to $15 per-night for spotty Internet service. At the very least, hotel management should make sure their wireless signal is strong.
10. Breakfast Buffet
Breakfast buffet are less than appetizing, offering a few pieces of unripe fruit, some super-sweet grocery store danishes, powdered eggs (if you're lucky) and cheap coffee.
11. Don't Touch That Dial
Step away from the phone and no one gets hurt! The quickest ticket to hotel sticker shock is the phone. In 2009, the Sheraton Waikiki charged $9.44 for the first minute and $1.50 for each additional minute, while New York's Waldorf Astoria charged $9.99 per minute and up to 99 cents for additional minutes on international calls. The increased charges are designed to compensate for the loss of revenue caused by widespread cell phone use. Some hotels are even adding a "phone use fee" to guest room bills. The fee is applied automatically whenever a room phone is activated -- even if you used it only to call the front desk.
12. Tacky Fees
Don't be surprised if your bill reflects an unexpected $10 resort fee "” whether you use the pool or not. Even more outrageous, however, is the institution of "housekeeping" fees, running from $3 to $5 per visit. What's next: A fee to use the towels, sheets and a pillow?
13. Drive Yourself
Free shuttles from big-city airports to hotels are becoming rare birds. Guests have the option of paying for a taxi or waiting and paying for shuttles running minimalist schedules.
14. Bait and Switch
We're not saying all hotels practice bait-and-switch tactics, but there have been enough instances that consumers have become wary when booking a room. In a bait-and-switch scam, you purchase one-night stay via the Internet then receive a call or letter requiring a mandatory deposit for two nights or your room will be given to another guest. This practice is seen more frequently when demand is high for an event (i.e. the Olympics) or during a natural disaster when refugees flood hotels outside the area of impact.
Photos by: Les Stockton, modomatic, ksbuehler, frippy, derekb, UggBoy, Kevin H., James Cridland, ugglan, david.nikonvscanon, M.V. Jantzen, lcctimo,