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11 Most EMBARRASSING Travel Questions

By Jamie Beckman
October 5, 2014
Check in questions
Monkey Business Images/Dreamstime
Don't be ashamed! Every embarrassing travel question you've thought of has probably been asked by someone else before—and we've got the lowdown on the most blush-inducing queries. Welcome to Travel 101.

"You're going to think this question is so stupid," a recent travel companion of mine told me over the phone, before we went on a trip to the Caribbean. "You're going to laugh." I promised her I would do neither, and wondered what she could possibly think was so humiliating that she was afraid to ask me. "After I get off my connecting flight," she began slowly, "do I have to pick up my luggage before I get on the plane to Aruba?" Think the answer is obvious? Not so fast!

Recently, American Airlines announced that it would no longer "through check" bags to a final destination if separate tickets on an airline not affiliated with American are presented at check-in. So if she had been flying two different airlines, she would have had to grab that bag. (Other airlines like Delta and Frontier also have this policy.) In this case, though, I assured her the airline would make sure her suitcase got to Aruba, no need for her to intervene. And I definitely didn't laugh!

It just goes to show you: "The rules change," says Sally Watkins, travel agent at Century Travel and Cruises in Austin, Texas. Because even seasoned travelers can use a brush-up, we asked travel experts to share questions people have been embarrassed to ask them, along with their no-nonsense answers. What you learn might surprise you.

1. WHEN MY MILES EXPIRE, CAN I GET THEM BACK? 

Sometimes, yes—even if you feel foolish for asking or for letting them lapse to begin with. "People feel really guilty about letting them expire," says travel expert Brian Kelly, better known as The Points Guy. "Most airlines will charge you to get them back, if at all. Or some airlines, like US Airways, are more lenient than others."

Other airlines, Kelly says, will give your miles back to you for free if you do something for them, like sign up for one of their credit cards or do another "certain qualifying activity."

"In general, it never hurts to ask, so don't feel guilty," Kelly says. "Always ask the airline or credit card company. But it's not always worth it to pay the price. Always make sure you'll get more value than what you pay for them."

2. CAN I SWEET-TALK MY WAY INTO AN UPGRADE ON A FLIGHT?

First-class upgrades are more difficult to score than, for example, being moved to a seat with more legroom in coach, Kelly says. That said, never underestimate the power of that great equalizer: chocolate. (Yes, really!)

"Gate agents at the airport get berated all day long, and being nice and bribing them, whether it's a box of chocolates or just being super-sweet, you'd be surprised how much that still [counts for]. They have a lot of say. Gate agents are in control of who gets what seats. There are processes, and if coach is oversold and there are some business-class seats, they can still absolutely move whomever they'd like up front."

The takeaway? It doesn't hurt to try. "You never know," Kelly says. "Go into any situation with an open mind. A simple candy bar to a gate agent could potentially get you first-class upgrade, and if not first, one of the best seats in coach. A small gesture can still go a long way even in 2014."

3. DO I CHECK MY LUGGAGE ON THE TRAIN? 

Unfortunately, no—not in these post-Victorian times, says Watkins, who says she is sheepishly asked this question a lot.

"The days of porters in the rail station are gone, unless you pay for a private service," she says. "Otherwise, you are responsible for getting your luggage to your correct train car, and getting it up whatever little steps there are, and putting it on the luggage rack."

She offers this step-by-step advice to people who are lugging their things across Europe, especially:

"At the end of each car, there will be shelves to put your luggage," she says. "Some trains have overhead racks for luggage; some trains have seats that are back to back, leaving a triangle in between, where they can slip a suitcase. It all depends on how that particular train is configured. I recommend that if they have smaller bags, in particular, when the train stops at a station, they might want to go back and lurk around the luggage rack. I used to never worry about that, but there have been reports that, when the train makes a quick stop, some guys jump on and grab a bag and take off, and then the train leaves. I've never had it happen to anyone, but I have read that."

4. HOW MUCH SHOULD I TIP? 

Whether you're signing the bill in a restaurant, taking a sightseeing tour, or trying to score discounted tickets to a hot Broadway show via your hotel concierge, his one's a toughie, and the answers you'll hear often depend on whom you're traveling with.

"A New Yorker is going to tell you different amounts for the USA than someone in almost any other part of the USA is going to tell you," says Tim Leffel, author of The World's Cheapest Destinations. "That's why people struggle with it so much, and why the whole practice causes so much anxiety. I'm convinced it's a huge factor in why all-inclusive resorts are so popular."

The best thing to do is gather as much information as you can, preferably from locals or, if you're feeling bold and friendly, others in your group. Tipping apps, like GlobeTipping ($0.99; iTunes), can nudge you in the right direction too.

"I rely on guidebooks, culture shock kinds of books, and local advice," Leffel says. "If a local says they would give $5 a day to a guide, based on local norms, but the 'suggested amount' from the tour company is $20 per day, then I know what the extremes are and can leave an appropriate amount in the middle."

5. MY CREDIT IS LESS THAN PERFECT. CAN I STILL GET APPROVED FOR A NEW CREDIT CARD TO EARN MILES? 

"The answer is: It depends," Kelly says. "Everyone should know what their FICO score is. Some credit-card companies, like Barclays, will give it to you for free. FICO-score-wise, generally you want to be above 700, but I definitely know people who have been below 700 and have gotten approved for premium cards.

"I think the biggest thing to take into account is not necessarily just your score, but how much available credit you have, and how much debt you're carrying. If you're carrying a huge amount of debt, the chances of getting approved for a brand-new card or a premium card are low. You may have a blemished score or mistakes from years ago, but credit card companies can see past that. I think the biggest factor is how much of a balance you're carrying every month. If you can get that down, the chances of getting approved increase dramatically."

6. WILL ANYONE SPEAK ENGLISH WHERE I'M GOING? 

Nervous travelers ask this question "over and over," Watkins says. Her advice is basic.

"Generally, yes, there will be someone who speaks English," she counsels them. "There could be some awkward moments when no one does, but very often the next person that walks up to the counter will speak English and will interpret. Or you can get by drawing pictures and using hand gestures."

Watkins also encourages her clients to memorize simple terms like "good morning," "good evening," "please," and "thank you."

"You're still going to sound like an American, but it's appreciated," she says. "It shows that you're trying."

7. WILL THE GPS BE IN ENGLISH? 

It's a fair question! A GPS that speaks only foreign languages is a scene from a buddy comedy waiting to happen. But that's not the case abroad, funny as it is to imagine.

"I always say, 'Yes, it can be set to English,'" Watkins says. "When you pick it up, with the car, make sure that it is before you take off. Generally, GPS's are not as frequently built into a car as they are here now. So unless you get a premium model of some kind, you generally get a handheld GPS. Just make sure. Turn it on, see that it does get English, and if not, ask the car rental people to adjust it."

8. WILL I HAVE MY OWN BATHROOM IN MY HOTEL? 

These days, you probably will, says Watkins, who says she hasn't booked a room for a guest without its own bathroom in years. Still, if you're on a strict budget and going with the lowest priced hotel room you can find, there is a chance you'll be sharing a restroom with the whole hallway.

"Anything above about a two-star hotel these days is very likely to have its own bathroom," she says. "The term that they use most in Europe is 'en suite'—that's saying it's connected to your room. There are one-star hotels and two-star hotels that are above hostels that may have a mix of rooms—'X' number of rooms with private baths and 'X' number of rooms with a shared bath. If that is important to you, find it in a description. Or write the hotel directly and ask, 'Do all of your rooms have private baths?'"

Similarly, nail down the air conditioning situation if that's a pressing concern of yours, Watkins says: "There still are hotels that have A/C in their public areas, but not in the individual rooms. You need to ask, 'Do you have air conditioning in the bedroom?'"

9. IS IT OKAY TO USE AIRLINE MILES FOR NON-FLIGHTS? 

Magazine subscriptions, hotel rooms, concert tickets, rental cars, and gift cards are a few of the many non-airline-ticket ways you can spend your miles. Whether you should is your call.

"No matter what your redemption is, if you're happy with it, then that's all that matters," Kelly says. "And that's it. Period. Are non-flight redemptions the best way to use airline miles? Pretty much no. You'll probably get more value elsewhere, but I know a lot of people who are mileage rich and cash poor, and sometimes redeeming miles to cover expenses that you'd otherwise have to pay out of pocket can make sense, even if they're not the ultimate best way."

10. ONCE I ACCUMULATE A DECENT NUMBER OF MILES, IS IT EASY TO REDEEM THEM? 

This is where miles get tricky, says Peter Greenberg, host of TV's "The Travel Detective." It's best to assume the path to a free travel ticket will be rocky, to say the least.

"People are still operating under the delusion—helped in no small part by the airlines' effective marketing and advertising campaigns on their mileage programs—that the minute you get to 25,000 miles you'll be on a beach with a piña colada in your mouth. Hardly the case. Earning miles is one thing. Redeeming them often takes herculean efforts at a time when airlines are flying 86 percent load factors and have rapidly decreasing financial incentive for redeeming those miles."

Another thing to bear in mind: whether "free" is really free when credit cards get involved.

"If 54 percent of all mileage earned is earned on the ground with credit cards tied to individual airline mileage programs, that means for every 25,000 miles you earn, you've spent on average $14,000!" Greenberg says. "And that's before you find out there are no seats available at 25,000 miles—only 50,000 miles. Ouch."

11. CAN I DRINK THE WATER? 

In first-world countries like those in Western Europe, the region that Watkins says she was asked this question about, yes. As for the rest of the world, especially developing nations, double-check with your hotel or resort about the safety of its water supply, and go to cdc.gov/travel for country-specific health warnings and guidelines.

If you're still wary, as a general rule, the Centers for Disease Control says it's OK to drink sealed bottled water, disinfected water, ice made with bottled or disinfected water, carbonated drinks, hot coffee or tea, and pasteurized milk. Steer clear of tap or well water, ice made with tap or well water, drinks made with tap or well water, and unpasteurized milk.

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Travel Tips

8 Tested Tips For Visiting Barcelona

Even when on vacation, it’s hard for a travel editor to stop working. Last summer, I went on Contiki's Amsterdam to Barcelona tour all around Europe for my vacation, taking notes and photos for our Instagram page as we worked our way through Amsterdam, Paris, Lucerne, Nice, and Barcelona. There's so much to see and do in this beautiful city—it's kind of a relaxed, cleaner version of Paris—and we managed to fit a lot into the three days and nights I stayed there. Here's my cheat sheet for visiting Barcelona and some special tips to help you make the most of your time there. Always book your tickets online ahead of time If you're planning to see the three big Gaudí sites—La Sagrada Família, Park Güell, or La Pedrera at Casa Milà—make sure you book your tickets online ahead of time to avoid being locked out of something you came all the way to Barcelona to see. As an extra perk, you'll get to skip the long lines by planning ahead. Parc Guëll, a sort of Gaudí Disneyland for the senses, only allows a certain number of people in each day and gives you a specific time to enter, but is well worth visiting. A basic ticket to La Sagrada Família costs 14.80 euros, or 23.80 euros for access to the towers and a guide. Tickets to Park Güell start at 7 euros for adults and 4.90 euros for seniors over 65 and children ages 7-12. Tickets to La Pedrera at Casa Milà are 20.50 euros for adults, 16.50 euros for students, and 10.25 euros for children ages 7-12. During my trip, we learned only too late that this is a necessary practice for getting inside La Sagrada Família. The day we went to see it, only the one person in our group of five who had booked his ticket online weeks before was able to get inside that day (the rest of that day's tickets were already sold out by the time we arrived). The rest of us snapped photos of the outside of the church, still very impressive, and took out our frustrations on a pitcher of sangria and a table full of tapas at El Tastet de L'Artur around the corner (mentioned below) as we waited for him to finish touring the inside. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon, but a little bit of a let down and a lesson in planning ahead we will never forget. Two Words: Tapas and Sangria Barcelona is known for its amazing food and the best way to sample it is by ordering plenty of tapas and washing them all down with a cool, refreshing glass of red or white sangria. There are tons of little cafés and restaurants all along the beach at Barceloneta and on all sides of La Rambla, and plenty of daily deals to be had. Right around the corner from La Sagrada Família, we discovered a cute little place called El Tastet de L'Artur that had a set tapas lunch menu for 15 Euros per person. The tapas just kept coming and sangria was included, yum! While you're in Barcelona, make sure you try the seafood paella, another popular and delicious dish. If you're spending time at the beach along Barceloneta, stop by Tapa Tapa, a great spot for a tapas-filled dinner right along the water. Visit La Boqueria One of my favorite parts of the trip was visiting La Boqueria, a huge market located just off La Rambla (the official address is Rambla, 91 Mercat de la Boqueria) where local vendors sell everything from locally grown fruits and vegetables to locally sourced meats and cheeses. Everything was so fresh! My friend and I spent our morning visiting all the shops, sampling and buying little candies and nuts to snack on, tasting colorful fresh fruit juices, and collecting enough food to have a picnic. Seriously, don't miss this beautiful European marketplace. See a Flamenco show If you're feeling adventurous, travel up the hill to the Montjuïc neighborhood for sweeping views that overlook the entire city. Stick around for the Tablao de Carmen dinner and flamenco show, one of my favorite parts of the entire trip. Afterwards, walk down the block from the restaurant's location in Poble Espanyol into the park and watch the Magic Fountains of Montjuic light-music-and-fountains show, an event similar to the Bellagio light and music show in Las Vegas, happening each night between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. free of charge. Stay in the center of town—for less You don't necessarily have to spend a fortune to have a great vacation in Barca—stick to fail-safes like Airbnb to stay within local neighborhoods in an apartment rental at reasonable prices. The metro system in Barcelona is so extensive you can even stay in the suburbs and take the trains back and forth—we stayed at the super-swanky Hotel Novotel Barcelona Cornella, located mid-way between downtown Barcelona and El Prat airport, but there are lots of other Accor Hotels, a well-known hotel brand throughout Europe, that offer many budget-friendly options. If you're deadset on staying in the city center, another affordable option is Generator Hostel, a new type of hostel designed to resemble a boutique hotel—the only difference is that some of the rooms have bunk beds. I stayed in a private room at the Generator Hostel in London during a trip in March and would definitely recommend this brand for its unique design and fun nightly activities they host to encourage everyone to hang out and get to know their fellow travelers. The metro is your friend If you're going to be making a bunch of trips on the city's metro, it's better to purchase the 10-trip pass and you and your friends can work your way through them for up to 10 trips for about 10 euros. The Barcelona metro is pretty easy to navigate, and reaches just about everything you'll want to see, often leaving you within a short walk of whatever you're trying to find. If you're going to be out late, please be aware that parts of the metro do shut down after midnight. We were stuck one night as a result of this and ended up splitting a cab, which wasn't really a big deal, but it can be pretty surprising when you're in a new place and plans change suddenly. Party like a boss If you feel the urge to party like a rock star, there are plenty of places to choose from for amazing nightlife. Try the trendy Port Olympic area, home to Opium, one of city's hottest nightclubs. As some people in our group learned, Opium requires its guests to be classy individuals, dressed to the nines, and not appear to be intoxicated when you enter (so take it easy before you go out, and be on your best behavior when in line and are close to the door as this policy is strictly enforced). If you've ever wanted to dance all night til the sun comes up, this is the place to do it—during the summer months, the doors open onto the beach and the party continues in the sand at sunrise. A word about safety Our Contiki Trip Manager gave us a big speech in Barcelona warning us about purse-snatchers and pickpockets, especially in tourist hotspots like La Rambla. Keep a close eye on your personal belongings, especially fancy phones and cameras, and whenever you leave the city's various bars and clubs at night. Female travelers should always take a taxi home with a group or at least tell someone where they are going and when they expect to be back. That being said, our group didn't really have a problem—most of the time on La Rambla (at night after dinner and drinks) it was no worse than being in Times Square and seeing people hawking different things at you, like "Hey girls, want to get free drinks? Hey girls, want to see a show?" It all comes down to you being alert and paying attention. Once during my time in Barcelona, I stopped on the street during our guided walking tour to buy something, and realized later on that the man had given me back the wrong change and I had been scammed. I should have only paid 8 Euros and I had inadvertently paid 15 because our group was nearly out of sight and I was distracted, hurrying to catch up at the time. It was really only 7 euros, but still something to watch out for.

Travel Tips

In Paris, Selfies Are IN, Love Locks Are OUT

It's a romantic idea in theory, but a destructive one in practice: For years, couples visiting Paris have affixed padlocks to the city's Pont des Arts bridge and thrown the keys into the Seine as a symbol of their everlasting love. Awww. But what happens after the lovers stroll off the bridge hand in hand is far from sweet: The thousands of "love locks" hooked onto the river's bridges cause the railings to sag, forcing the city to replace the panels, only to have them fill up with locks again. In its latest effort to deter lock-loving couples, the city has announced that it has replaced some panels of the Pont des Arts bridge railings with plates of thick shatter-resistant, anti-glare glass. If the experiment works, panels will be installed on other lock-infested bridges too, the New York Times reports. Last month, city officials began encouraging couples to take a selfie on the bridge instead of clipping a lock to it and post the pic to Twitter using the hashtag #lovewithoutlocks. The photos then appear in a photo wall on the city's website. Locals in particular, including the founders of the website No Love Locks, say the bulging walls of locks are eyesores that waste taxpayer dollars and impede historic preservation. That area of the Seine is, after all, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Serious conversations about responsible tourism aside, at least taking a selfie is free; buying a lock from a nearby vendor costs 5 to 10 euros, depending on size.

Travel Tips

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.  

Travel Tips

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.

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