10 Telltale Signs Your Hotel is a DISASTER
1. OUTDATED EQUIPMENT
Is that a Compaq Deskpro you see the front desk clerk typing on? Or, worse, is there no computer at all? Really bad omen.
"If the computers have green screens and they look like they're from the '80s, that's usually a sign that not a lot of money is going into that hotel, and obviously those management systems aren't designed to streamline the process," says Jacob Tomsky, author of Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality. "That's a good indication the service is going to be a little outdated as well."
Maybe you're okay with the hotel's service lumbering along, but if an employee writes your credit-card number down on a piece of paper rather than swiping it into the property management system or a credit-card reader, that's a security breach waiting to happen, says Reneta McCarthy, senior lecturer at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. Worst-case scenario: Your info is stolen and distributed, which could ruin your finances in addition to your vacation. "With Payment Card Industry Compliance, hotels are not allowed to keep credit card numbers, except secure and encrypted," McCarthy says. "If someone wrote your number down, who knows what could happen. I have had my credit card number stolen from a hotel in Eastern Europe and they started purchasing furniture on it!"
2. QUESTIONABLE LOBBIES
A hotel's lobby should be the "face of a property," Tomsky says, so if the sight of stains on the upholstery, dirty carpeting, and sagging furniture makes you wrinkle your nose in disgust, brace yourself.
"If the hotel really doesn't care about their own face, then you can expect it to get possibly worse from there," he says.
3. SCRATCHY TOWELS
Sandpaper-like bath towels aren't just unpleasant; they're a sign of neglect.
"Towels are heavily used items, obviously, in a hotel's career, so if they're scratchy, if they're hard, if they're thin, that's an indication that they've been overused and that they haven't been replaced in quite a while," Tomsky says.
4. WRECKED CARPETING
Little touch-ups in a room are fine - but note that emphasis on "little." When large swaths of carpets get involved, it's a problem.
"Usually hotels will want to renovate and keep a uniform carpet," Tomsky says. "But oftentimes, if there are spills - and people act like animals in hotel rooms, there are always spills and stains—you can see the little off-color squares, that's when they're actually cutting out carpet and re-pasting it in. That can be an indication that this hotel is just doing minor fixes than trying to increase the overall experience."
5. SHORTAGE OF STAFF
That feeling of futility when you desperately need an employee's help and all you see is tumbleweeds blowing past isn't only annoying in the moment. If you experience it once, you can expect more of the same throughout your stay.
"When a hotel decides to lower their bottom line by cutting down on staffing, that's usually the death rattle for a hotel and management," Tomsky says. "So if you walk into their lobby, and there's four people in front of you, only one desk agent, and you look around, and you can't see another employee, that's a good indication that that hotel has given up providing prompt service."
6. MOLDY BATHROOMS
Quickly checking to ensure your bathroom has basic things like a clean toilet, a mold- and mildew-free shower and tub, and an overall clean smell could prevent a world of hurt later.
"Since hundreds of people have slept in the room before you the last thing you want to see is evidence of a previous guest, like hair and toothpaste splatters," McCarthy says. "If the room is not properly cleaned, that means it has also not been properly sanitized, which could mean that if the previous guest was sick that there may still be viruses or germs on the surfaces in the room which could make you sick."
7. IRRITABLE STAFF
If you're in a truly terrible hotel, it probably isn't the employees' fault. The roots of poor service can run deep, with consequences that ultimately impact your experience.
"If an employee ignores me at a front desk while they finish talking to another employee or finish up a personal phone conversation or a text they are writing, without acknowledging my presence and letting me know that they will be with me in a minute, I get put on alert," McCarthy says. "This is a sign of poor training and may indicate that they management of the hotel does not place importance on excellent customer service. Just because it's a budget hotel does not mean that the guest should expect inferior service."
You can get a true sense of the level of morale at a hotel not when everything is going according to plan, but when you bring a concern to a member of the staff.
"If everything you ask makes them irritated and frustrated, that's the sign either of a bad employee, or that the employee had a bad day, or that there's a general sense that employees don't take their jobs personally," Tomsky says. "You want employees to support their own hotel and believe in it, but usually you can tell in the immediate moment you bring a problem to the table. There'll be that look on their face, and it's either concern and a wish to help, or complete indifference and possible irritation."
8. DISMAL PARKING LOT AND LANDSCAPING
Making a first impression arguably starts for a hotel before you even walk through the door. If the hotel's front lawn looks like a post-apocalyptic wasteland, lower your expectations for what you'll find inside.
McCarthy suggests a few points to note: "I would include the entire arrival process as part of the check-in process at a hotel, so I take into consideration what the outside of the hotel looks like. Is the parking lot litter-free and well striped, meaning the lines for the cars are visible? Is the landscaping well taken care of? Is the outside of the hotel neat and clean without things like paint peeling or mold and mildew?"
9. DIRTY SHEETS
Lifting up the comforter and doing a quick check of what's underneath is a must.
"Some budget hotels may not iron their sheets, and that's okay, but the sheets should look clean even if they have wrinkles," McCarthy says. "I also check for bedbugs by looking at the mattress. You may find that the hotel uses a mattress encasement—a protective barrier that keeps the bed bugs from setting up shop. If not, check the crevasses around the edge of the mattress looking for dried spots blood, skins or excrement. These are a telltale sign that bedbugs are around."
Yes, we had to mention the B-word. Before you check for bedbugs, place your suitcase on a luggage rack or even inside the bathtub while you inspect. As pesky as they are, bedbugs live in and around a hotel's bed and are highly unlikely to climb up a rack or all the way into the bathroom. Stowing your stuff will ensure you don't accidentally take a bedbug home with you. (Not exactly the souvenir you'd envisioned.)
Bedbug expert Ken Haynes, entomologist at the University of Kentucky, suggests toting along a small portable flashlight to inspect areas around the head of the bed—including the headboard and the dust ruffle—where bedbugs and their pale eggs are likely to appear. The size of a bedbug can range from a poppy seed to a sesame seed, Haynes says. Adult bedbugs are brown but turn reddish-brown to red after feeding time. If you're unfortunate enough to spot a bedbug, you don't necessarily have to peel out of the hotel, tires squealing.
"If I spotted a bedbug, I would inform the manager and ask for another room," Haynes says. "In most cases it would be unlikely to find another room with bedbugs, but I would start all over with the inspection. If I found three rooms in a row that were infested, I would ask for a refund and find another hotel."
Is your skin crawling? Ours is.
10. ITCHING TO LEAVE
We know that sometimes a hotel is just old and doesn't have the cash for a renovation, and all employees have an off day every now and then, but if you've checked several signs off this list—or there's one blatant, hugely unacceptable checkmark—it might be time to say bye-bye to the hotel you booked.
First, know that you should avoid pre-paid reservations if you're a finicky traveler who often changes hotels at the last minute.
"If you pay a third-party site or even the hotel, it's very difficult to get your money back," Tomsky says. "Everyone has cancellation policies, and usually that's going to be enforced the day you check in, so you'd be responsible at least for that room and tax. However, if you don't have it pre-paid, there's a little bit more of a leeway for a hotel, it's less of a concern for them if they don't have to fax forms back and contact third-party billing sites and reverse charges."
Be kind when you're telling the front desk staff you'd rather not stay, and don't threaten to write a bad review on TripAdvisor. "Realize it is not the front desk clerk's fault that the hotel is poorly managed," McCarthy says. "Just let them know that you cannot stay in the hotel and you would like to check out. But I would also do this sooner rather than later. Coming back to the front desk 15, or 30, or 45 minutes after check-in is far better than waiting hours and actually using the room before you return to the front desk and tell them you want to check out."
Finally, realize that as far as the hotel business is concerned, you're going nuclear when you threaten to leave. Hotels want to be at capacity every single night, Tomsky says, so saying something like, "I'm not happy here and I'm considering leaving. Is there someone I should talk to, maybe a manager, to avoid paying for this night, or is there something that can be done?" should make the staff move quickly to assist you, whether that means allowing you to leave without penalty in order to avoid bad word of mouth, comping you a night, giving you an upgrade or a food and beverage credit, or addressing your complaints one by one. Your stay might not be 100 percent perfect, but sometimes accepting a gesture beats rebooking elsewhere and hauling all your stuff across town.
How Much Should You Tip Your Hotel Maid?
Does leaving a tip for the maid sometimes slip your mind as you race to check out of your hotel and catch your flight back home? A new campaign created by Maria Shriver's nonprofit organization A Woman's Nation might soon make tipping your room attendant harder to forget. Starting this week, Marriott Hotels will give guests a not-so-subtle reminder to leave a voluntary tip for hotel room attendants by placing an envelope for tips in 160,000 rooms across the U.S. and Canada as part of an initiative called "The Envelope Please," created by AWN, which aims to recognize and empower women. The thinking goes that travelers are more likely to tip bellhops and concierges because they interact with them face-to-face. Hotel maids, on the other hand, perform unseen work and are less likely to get a tip. The full text of the envelope reads as follows: "Thanks for staying at Marriott Hotels. Our caring room attendants enjoyed making your stay warm and comfortable. Please feel free to leave a gratuity to express your appreciation for their efforts." However well-intentioned the program may be, some say it misses the mark. In an interview with the AP, Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickled and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, said, "It is not Marriott's responsibility to remind customers to tip; it's their responsibility to pay their workers enough so that tips aren't necessary." We at BT highly encourage tipping hotel maids—but how much is appropriate, and how do you go about it when there's no envelope available? The American Hotel and Lodging Association suggests $1 to $5 per night depending on whether you're bunking at a low-priced motel or living it up in the penthouse suite in a swanky high-rise. Here are a few other rules for tipping hotel room attendants that we go by: * Tip every day instead of in one lump sum at the end. This will net you the best service. * If you don't see an envelope, leave cash tips under the pillow instead of on the desk or nightstand. Doing that will clear up confusion about whether the money is intended for them. * If you can, track down your maid in the hallway, give her the cash in person, and thank her for her good work.
How to Avoid 5 Common Scams in Bali
This article was written by Sia Ling Xin, who travels and writes about it for Asiarooms.com, a blog and online community focused on travelling in Asia. You can also find her on Twitter. Bali, also known as the land of gods, is an unforgettable island. Unfortunately, visitors are sometimes so taken by the island charm, they fall prey to common scams. Here's how to avoid getting cheated. Know your zerosIndonesian Rupiah (IDR) comes in large denominations, with 10,000 IDR and 100,000 IDR notes commonly used. $1 USD is approximately 12,000 IDR. A simple meal may cost you 40,000 IDR. With all the zeros floating around, it is easy to mix up your notes and end up paying $30 USD for a meal that actually costs $3 USD. Never be in a rush to pay. Instead, make sure you know how much change you should be getting back even before you hand over your cash. Merchants are less likely to take advantage of the confusion associated with large notes if they know you are careful. Always wait for your change, even if you want to leave a tip, in case you miscalculate the amount you should get back. The same advice goes for currency exchange. Always go to a licensed money changer such as a bank or hotel if you need to convert cash into IDR. While smaller money changers claim to offer better rates, they may confuse you with many small notes and end up giving you much less than you ought to receive. Turn the meter onTaxis are the default way to get around Bali, and drivers are aware of this. Always look for a Blue Bird Taxi (note: there are many cabs that are blue in colour, so look out for the actual words on the vehicle). Also, remember to shout out 'meter' before you step into the taxi. If drivers seem unwilling to turn the meter on, simply step out and wait for the next taxi. One is bound to come along within 30 seconds. Some drivers may quote you a seemingly low price, such as $3, but remember, taxis are super cheap in Bali, and $3 may already be a rip-off. Only take such cabs if you urgently need to get somewhere, and always negotiate the price down. Instead of making a counter offer, just shake your head. Desperate to secure clients, drivers have been known to cut from $5 to $1. If you take a metered taxi, you may find that the actual cost is only $0.80! If you are paying in IDR, always mention it upfront as well. Check out the competitionThere are often endless rows of restaurants and shops along the tourist stretches in Bali. Jimbaran Bay, famous for its beachfront seafood restaurants, is the epitome of perfect competition. Remember, there is always a better deal to be had. Do your research on how much you should expect to pay for a meal, and stick with that amount. If you find a good deal backed up with reviews online, go ahead and make a reservation. If you choose to be spontaneous and only pick a restaurant when you're there, be sure to check out at least 4-5 places before settling on one. Hesitation can work well in your favor—merchants are known to give discounts of almost 50 percent, throw in free beers, transportation, dessert, and dangle other carrots to get your business. The best part is you don't even need diehard bargaining skills—just look doubtful and as though you can walk away any moment, and they will be pulling out all the stops to get you to stay. Note it downIf you are promised a deal that seems too good to be true, one way to safeguard yourself is to write the price and main terms down. For example, if you are promised fish, mussels, clams, and crab at a 'special price' for your dinner, jot down the agreed quantity and price, then get the server's confirmation before giving your go-ahead and order. This will help prevent disputes such as you being served a tiny fish or just a couple of clams as you were offered a special, lower price which included less food than you thought it does. Sob storiesIf you hear anyone telling you a sob story (sick, injured, or poor family members are common tales), take it with a grain of salt. Whether it is your designated driver whom you hired to show you Bali, a random person you meet along the streets, or staff servicing you, try not to get too attached. It can be a ploy to illicit your sympathy and money. Ask them how they get by, what they do to make a living, and which hospital or welfare organization they seek help from. It is all right to give a small tip in exchange for their services. However, if it is a stranger, the best way to help is to donate to a trusted and established charity which benefits the locals. Click here to see a travel video about things to do in Bali.
World's Most Dangerous Flyover Regions
Our hearts go out to all those who lost loved ones on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on July 17. While the events in Ukraine and the ongoing investigations, and diplomatic and political consequences, are beyond the scope of Budget Travel's mission, we have been getting questions from those who wonder, "How could a commercial airliner fly over a dangerous region such as eastern Ukraine?" With that in mind, we share the Federal Aviation Administration's guidelines for the world's most dangerous flyover regions. The FAA's list of "Notices to Airmen" (abbreviated NOTAMs) restrict American-operated commercial carriers from flying in airspace that is deemed hazardous due to conflicts on the ground, weapons testing, or active volcanoes. (The United Nations maintains its own restricted list, which, like the FAA's, did not include eastern Ukraine at the time Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down.) Here, the 14 regions restricted to American-operated commercial carriers: Dnepropetrovsk (eastern Ukraine): Planes are not allowed in this airspace at any altitude. Iraq: Planes are not allowed to fly below 20,000 feet, except for those that take off or land at Erbil International Airport. North Korea: Planes are not allowed in this airspace at any altitude. Northern Ethiopia: Planes are not allowed in this airspace at any altitude. Libya: Planes are not allowed in this airspace at any altitude. Simferopol (on the Crimean peninsula, a region whose status is disputed between Ukraine and Russia): Planes are not allowed to fly in this airspace at any altitude. Afghanistan: Airlines are warned that there is a risk of attack from small arms and portable air-defense systems. Democratic Republic of the Congo: Airlines are warned against flying below 15,000 feet. Iran: Airlines are warned that Iran and the U.S. do not maintain diplomatic relations. Mali: Airlines are warned against flying below 24,000 feet. Kenya: Airlines are warned that there is a risk of attack from portable air-defense systems. Sinai: Airlines are warned against flying below 24,000 feet. Syria: Airlines are warned against flying in this airspace at any altitude. Yemen: Airlines are warned against flying below 24,000 feet.
I love road trips! Long before I became editor of Budget Travel with its popular Road Trips series, I always loved packing up the car and heading... anywhere! From childhood trips to Martha's Vineyard to college weekends down the shore, for me the notion of "vacation" and "great drive" have pretty much been one and the same. When my wife and I lived in San Francisco, we fell hard for the stretch of highway between the City and San Simeon—the incredible road trip that took us through Santa Cruz, Monterey, and Big Sur. These days, we live in New York's Hudson Valley (just outside New York City), and we are planning a trip out west—Billings, MT. I was pleased to discover an exciting new road trips tool right on the Budget Travel website: Destination Anywhere, sponsored by Firestone. Check it out: You can enter the start and end point of your "ultimate road trip" and a search engine with information from FourSquare will provide you with a route and destinations along the way. I'm getting psyched for some fun stops between New York and Billings, including Hershey Park, PA; Cedar Point, OH; and Chippewa Falls, WI; and much more. Using the Destination Anywhere road trip tool also means you can enter to win a 7-day vacation at one of 1,800 resort destinations, a set of 4 Firestone tires, or a $500 Firestone Visa Prepaid Card (you can enter once daily to increase your chances). Your ultimate road trip may not be quite as ambitious as the New York to Montana trip I'm considering, but here at Budget Travel we've always promoted Great American Drives, and over the years our readers have offered some incredible road trips tips. Here, some of our favorites. Happy trails! MUSIC. Create a "road trip mix" of songs—let your friends and/or family pick out favorites that you can listen to along the way. And the mix will become a memorable keepsake of the trip to be remembered long after you've unpacked your bags. TREATS. Traveling with kids? Stop at the dollar store before your trip and load up on cheap amusements you can hand out over the course of your trip. Nothing will stop fussing or the dreaded "When will we be there" like a new plaything! GET SMART. Audiobooks can be pricey. But Cracker Barrel restaurants lets you rent them and return them along your route. Whether it's an inspiring session of Arianna Huffington's new Thrive or a third (or fourth) listening to The Sorcerer's Stone, an audiobook, like a music mix, can become a unique and distinctive part of your journey. GAMES. My own family loves playing the license plate game: Keep a list of every state (and Canadian province!) that you spot along the way. You'll be surprised at how quickly you spot Hawaii (considering it's thousands of miles out to sea), and how some of the lower 48 can be a little rare. We also play 20 Questions and the nonsense variation I invented, Infinite Questions, in which there are no answers, only ridiculously worded queries—intended to crack up everyone in the car—that can go on, well, at least until someone needs to make a rest stop!