Confessions of... the Travel Industry

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Our veterans--including an airline executive, a hotel inspector, and a Vegas massage therapist--tell all.

What goes on behind the scenes in the travel industry? Read on to find out in the best "Confessions" we've heard.

Confessions Of... An Airline Executive
Our anonymous confessor has been in airline public relations, marketing, and customer relations for a decade now.

Delays and cancellations If flights are delayed or canceled, airlines usually promise to reimburse passengers only for immediate needs (such as meals, ground transportation, and lodging). Airlines will never pay claims for losses that are due to missed meetings or lost wages. If you make a big stink, however, we may provide tickets or discounts on future flights, as a gesture of goodwill.

Confessions Of... A Front-Desk Clerk
Anne Szeker was a front-desk clerk at a hotel in Shelton, Conn., from 2002 to 2004.

Third-party reservations Hotel managers can't stand it when guests reserve rooms through Expedia, Priceline, or any other booking engine, because after the Internet site takes its cut, the hotel barely makes a profit on the booking. As a result, guests who reserve directly with the hotel receive far better service. When things go wrong—we've run out of rooms with king-size beds, or the hotel is overbooked because some guests extended their stay—the manager's first question is, "Do we have any Internet reservations?" The folks who reserve through discount sites are at the bottom of the food chain. What you want to do is contact us directly and request the best price. I'm shocked when guests agree to the rack rate without a peep. The hotel is usually willing to give the discounted AAA or AARP membership price, even for guests who aren't members--so long as they book through the hotel, that is.

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Confessions Of... A Vegas Massage Therapist
Our anonymous confessor has been a massage therapist for six years, including the past three at a spa inside a premier hotel in Las Vegas.

A spa is not a "massage parlor" The most common question massage therapists get asked is whether we are propositioned. Being a professional, I usually give a vague answer and move on. The truth is, it happens all the time. Las Vegas is a place where people feel they can disregard boundaries, but if you get a massage in a spa at a major hotel, rest assured your therapist is not a prostitute. The insinuation is a huge insult. That hasn't stopped people from making offers ("I'll give you $100 to finish me off"), exposing or even touching themselves, or grabbing me. If you do anything along these lines, realize that everyone on the hotel staff will know about it before you've left the spa, that your massage will come to an abrupt, unhappy ending—and yes, you will pay for the full hour!

Confessions Of... A Baggage Handler
Tim Cigelske was a baggage handler for a major airline in Milwaukee from 2005 to 2007.

Luggage left behind Check in at least 30 minutes before the flight. Any later than that and your bag will probably miss the plane. Sympathetic ticket agents sometimes call and ask us to swing back and pick up late bags, so you might want to beg them for help. Most times, bags are delayed or lost for other reasons. There was one day when a delayed flight meant that we had two departures at the same time to the same city, and I loaded an entire cart of bags onto the wrong plane. Another day, we loaded so many bags of golf clubs bound for Myrtle Beach that the plane ran out of storage and we had to hold 10 bags. And sometimes there's no explanation: Miscommunication is easy when everyone's wearing hearing protection and shouting over jet engines.

Confessions Of... A B&B Owner
Our anonymous confessor has run two B&Bs over the past decade, first in Milwaukee, and, for four years now, in Wilmington, N.C.

Bedroom secrets Before we come to clean your room, please put your fur handcuffs away—far away, preferably in the bottom of your suitcase. We don't ever want to see them. Same goes for used contraceptive devices, oils, "toys," and certain rise-to-the-occasion medications. We once hosted a couple on their honeymoon. Each day, I'd find souvenirs from the night before, including feathered nighties, lotions, and a timer (I have no idea, either). On days like that, I think about changing careers to a widget-maker or dog walker—night shift, of course.

Confessions Of... A Time-Share Salesperson
Lisa Ann Schreier was a time-share salesperson and manager in Orlando for six years.

The Puke Price Asking the client to buy is the final step. The salesperson will show a price sheet, often with a figure known as the "puke price" because it's so high, it'll make a client feel sick. Shortly afterward, a sales manager—whom insiders call a T.O., as in Take Over—will come in and say something about how that's the price for anyone who just walked in off the street. The T.O. may then say, "I'm not supposed to show you this . . ." or "We have a special inventory that's going to sell fast . . ." and offer a much cheaper price—what we call the Nosebleed Drop. Personally, I hate the whole game. It's a crock. If you want to avoid the gimmicks, insist up front that salespeople show you one price only. If they don't deliver on this, walk away.

Confessions Of... A Flight Attendant
Our anonymous confessor has been a flight attendant for the past three years.

Pet peeves If it's a short flight, please use the airport's restrooms before boarding. On many short flights, we're required to do the full beverage and snack service, which is incredibly difficult when there are people in the aisle. Other ways to get under a flight attendant's skin: asking for beverages and food before we even take off; requesting seconds before the rest of the cabin has been served; ringing the call button so you can give us your trash after we've passed through with a garbage bag half a dozen times; ringing the call button to find out when we'll land. Basically, you never want to push the call button at all.

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Confessions of . . . An AAA Hotel Inspector
Our anonymous confessor has inspected and rated hotels and restaurants in the Mid-Atlantic region for the American Automobile Association for 19 years.

Bed Stains and Cockroaches The job can be pretty grim when hotels aren't clean. There has been a lot of media hype about poring over bedspreads with black lights, but you can spot all kinds of stains with the naked eye just by looking carefully. And I don't simply look, but sniff. Often the upholstery will smell like beer, or worse. I'm always on the watch for critters, too. At one hotel restaurant, a column of roaches marched out of the knotty-pine paneling. Mice are common in hotels, since there are crumbs from room service. Once, a front-desk clerk showing me to my motel room started screaming as a rodent boldly ran down the hall.

Confessions Of... A Travel Agent
Valerie Schneider has worked in the travel industry since 1995 as a travel agent, marketing manager, and corporate travel consultant.

Agents' self-interest Agencies sometimes pay staffers incentives of $5 or $10 for each booking made with preferred companies (ones that give the biggest commissions). Cash rewards work as a motivator--but do they serve the customer well? Not if the client winds up booking a more expensive, less convenient, and less enjoyable trip. So, if an agent recommends a cruise or tour, ask why it's right for you. If the response is just "Because this is a good company," take your business elsewhere. On the other hand, agencies receiving above-average commission percentages from certain suppliers are sometimes willing to give special discounts to customers. An agency receiving a 20 percent payout from a cruise line—12 or 13 percent is more typical--might hand a portion of that right back to you. Many cruise lines have cracked down on rebates--as these backdoor discounts are called—but agencies can always find some way to reward your business, including onboard credits, free transfers, free champagne, and cabin upgrades.

Confessions Of... An Amusement Park Employee
Melissa Mayntz worked at Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio, during five summers between 1996 and 2003.

Keeping it clean I had several different jobs at the park, but my favorite was one most employees hated: the sweep. Sweeps are always walking; my record was 22 miles—and yes, I had a pedometer that day. As a sweep, you're the one called to clean up vomit puddles and spilled sodas. But I loved the exercise, the freedom to roam the park, and the fact that I never knew what I'd find: discarded socks, kids' retainers, and one time, an unopened can of corn. The job does have its hazards—namely, cigarette butts. Sweeps gather hundreds of them, and smoldering cigarettes often rub up against napkins in the dustpan. While doing the "dustpan jig" to stomp out the flames, I set myself on fire more times than I care to mention. It shouldn't have to be said, but if you smoke, please use the ashtrays. It's not like they're hard to find—there's one near the entrance to every ride, shop, and restaurant.

Confessions Of... A Space Needle Employee
During a recent summer break from college, Katie Lorah worked as an elevator operator at Seattle's iconic Space Needle.

Actors and lifers Most of my coworkers were actors, artists, and students. Needless to say, this was not many people's dream job. We learned to meet lame-brained questions ("Is the oxygen thinner up there?"), clumsy come-ons from middle-aged creeps ("I didn't know they had blondes in space"), and temper tantrums (both juvenile and adult) with chipper indifference. You could practically watch employees remove their happy masks as they came into the break room. A few kept their masks on all the time: the lifers who felt that this was their calling. One woman had run her elevator for over two decades; the summer I was there, she had calculated the approximate date of her millionth trip up the Needle. She baked a cake to celebrate.

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