What annoys you the most about hotels? This.

They’re apathetic. They’re never around when you need them. And they lie.

I asked what annoyed guests most about hotels, and that’s what readers told me. Properties whose employees are indifferent to your comfort, turn their backs on you, or bend the facts nettle you the most.

You’ve probably read about bothersome hotel guests lately. A few weeks ago, an online travel agency even published a survey on problem travelers, and it named “inattentive parents” as the most annoying hotel guests. But is that what really grates on your nerves?

No, travelers tell me. It’s inattentive hotel employees.

“It’s the bellmen who talk with one another rather than helping their guests carry luggage and open doors,” says Doug Devitre, an educational consultant based in St. Louis. “It’s the buffet service that seats you and leaves the bill without doing anything else.”

Turns out there are a lot of things that tick us off about hotels. And, fortunately, there are ways to un-tick us, too.

The most-cited aggravation, by far, is the hotel employee who doesn’t offer all the facts. Adam Dailey, an entrepreneur from San Diego, recalls checking into a hotel recently at 9 a.m. after arriving on a red-eye flight from California.

“They told me that no rooms were available,” he remembers. “Then I heard them say to each other a few minutes later that they were not full.”

Hotel insiders could offer any of a number of explanations for why they wouldn’t be able to offer Dailey one of the apparently free rooms. But that’s not the problem — the issue is that the front desk employees, with their careless banter, led him to believe they were not being entirely truthful.

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Here’s something else that drives guests crazy: “Getting an old room when there’s a newly renovated room on another floor that is the same rate,” says Emmy Trinh, a jewelry designer from Vancouver. No one knows why some guests are sent to the good rooms and some are relegated to the ones in dire need of an update. Is it loyalty status? Luck of the draw?

It matters not. It vexes guests.

Furniture can bother visitors, too. Patrick Smith, an airline pilot whose book called Cockpit Confidential includes a section about hotel rooms, says anything from a toe-breaking doorjamb to an ergonomically hellish work space can drive a guest crazy.

But the most annoying thing of all are the little cardboard brochures that litter even the most upscale hotel rooms, Smith says. The ones that advertise everything from room service to Wi-Fi. They’re everywhere, silently ordering you to eat more, watch pay-per-view or save the environment.

“It’d be one thing if this laminated litter was placed unobtrusively,” he says, “but it tends to be exactly in the way.”

Why don’t you see more guest surveys about these obvious irritants? Maybe hotels don’t want to know. Cardboard ads are an opportunity to upsell their guests, so perhaps they’re indifferent if they annoy you.

Got a problem with a run-down room? Come back after the renovation, and you’ll be happier. And I’m sure I can find a revenue manager to explain the one about hotels that are booked solid, yet have empty rooms. I won’t bother.

Don’t get distracted by surveys that suggest we’re upset with other guests. We know who’s putting these bees in our bonnets, and it’s not other travelers.

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How to respond to poor service:

Speak up. Complain in the moment when something happens. Don’t wait until you get home to fire off a letter to the general manager. The only way your hotel can fix your problem is if they know about it.

Keep your party smile ready. Be nice and friendly, especially when you’re inconvenienced. Employees are more likely to react defensively when faced with anger. And don’t forget to say “thank you.” “Hotel staff are always willing to help guests who are appreciative,” Trinh says.

Don’t come back. The best way to show your displeasure with an inconsiderate employee or a room that’s not to your liking is to stop giving the hotel your business. Don’t forget to fill out the guest comment card and let them know why. For the most egregious cases, talk to your corporate travel manager about the hotel’s contract.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • technomage1

    You don’t need to be a revenue manager to explain how if a place has empty rooms they may be not available, especially at 9 am. There may be empty rooms at that point, but people with reservations due in that day. Should the clerk have given someone elses room to him?

  • Fishplate

    OMG! They put the advertising right out where you can see it, instead of hiding it in the closet!

    Actually, out of all the things mentioned – and oddly enough, surprise resort fees don’t seem to make the list – it’s the kids running up and down the halls that annoy me the most. Yep, inattentive parents bother me more than a card telling me of some amenity…

  • KanExplore

    Or they’re a suite you didn’t pay for. Or they don’t accommodate a group your size. Or they haven’t been cleaned yet since the last guest left. If a hotel gives you a room at 9 a.m., that’s terrific. But to think you’re entitled to one, and to go complaining to a consumer advocate if you don’t get one, is absurd. Check in time most places is early afternoon.

  • Alan Gore

    My unfavorite is the alarm clock with the incomprehensible controls. Not a problem when I check in, because I can always just tell my iPhone, verbally, “Wake me at 6:30 am.” But the hotel clock controls do become a problem at 3 am, when the alarm goes off for some previous guest and I can’t figure out how to reset it.

  • Travelnut

    So charging for wifi didn’t make the list? Resort fees? Inflated prices for the minibar?

  • DAVE

    Not having a list of TV stations and having to scroll one at a time to find something I want to watch

  • Regina Litman

    Or a list that’s outdated and is no longer accurate. Or a fairly limited channel selection that doesn’t include one carrying a show I want to watch. I’m a big fan of The People’s Court. When I visited a facility at Cornell last summer, the hotel in Ithaca where I stayed (not Cornell’s own hotel) had most of the Syracuse TV stations but not the one that carried this show.

  • Regina Litman

    Amenities or other features listed that are no longer available or that are only available in some rooms. A few years ago, we went to a wedding in Annapolis, MD. Because something we read before our trip (possibly on their web site) said they had in-room CD players, I didn’t bring my portable player. When we got there and didn’t see one in the room, I called the front desk to ask where it was. The person said they either no longer had them or only the higher-priced rooms had them. My take – with fewer people getting their music from CDs, using mp3s or streaming, they decided to remove them. But they should have updated their materials.

  • KanExplore

    Not much putting things into proportion here, is there? If this is the “most annoying thing of all,” you’ve got a pretty good life overall. Actually, I might like to know who’s convenient to call for a pizza delivery, and in case, it would take roughly 15 seconds to clear up the advertising and put it in the trash. Problem solved, and go on with life.

  • Carchar

    What I hate, and have to keep reminding myself to check out each time, is whether the clocks are set to the correct time of day. Too many times, I have set the room alarm clock for 6 A.M., but it doesn’t ring in the morning because the time on the clock says 6 P.M.

  • Fishplate

    Last hotel I stayed at, I unplugged the clock and put it in the freezer. Couldn’t hear it after that.

  • redragtopstl

    I feel your pain. In my case, I need my Jeopardy! fix, but on the road I can’t always figure out what channel (if any) and what time the show is on.

  • judyserienagy

    I agree – this is an example of “non-thinking”. “Not full” does not mean available. Frequent travellers know that if they’re checking in at 9am they need to book a room for the previous night.

  • judyserienagy

    I agree, this is the oddest list of hotel annoyances I could imagine. There are a dozen things far more annoying than those listed. I guess I don’t consider something annoying if I can fix it.

    I’d also love to see a list of hotel weird and/or funny things … like a knot tied in the plastic bag liner that’s stretched over the top of the waste basket. Presents a nice trampoline for anything you wish to discard.

  • John McDonald

    we live in a 24 hour world, yet many hotels stick to traditional check in & check out times such at 10am check out, 2pm check in. Some airport hotels now charge by the hour.
    Why can’t hotels charge for 20 hours(for 1 night stays) & not be set to the 2pm to 10am standard ? eg. arrive early, check out early or pay for extra hours or arrive late check out late.
    It’s not like the cleaning staff start cleaning every room at 10am sharp.
    Also most hotels/resorts seem to cater for families of 2, 4 or 6. Many families are 3 or 5 people.

  • Regina Litman

    If Jeopardy! has a web site, it may have a list of when it’s on and on what channel. The People’s Court has one. It’s been accurate for my destinations, but I’ve noticed that it has sometimes not been up-to-date for Philadelphia, where channel 57 – I mean the CW-Philly, which sounds more like a name for a racehorse than a TV channel – moves it around at least once a year. Incidentally, if you are ever in Philadelphia, you can find Jeopardy! on ABC6 at 7:00 pm, where it has been for more than 20 years. Also, be sure you know the right TV market for your destination. I’ve watched The People’s Court on a Bangor channel from Bar Harbor, a Norfolk one from Williamsburg, a Tampa one from Clearwater, and a Los Angeles one from Anaheim. And in Charlottesville, VA, I expected to have to watch it on a Richmond, Roanoke, or even Washington, DC, channel until I discovered that Charlottesville has a few channels of its own. And perhaps to make up for my Syracuse/Ithaca disappointment shortly before, it was on two stations in Charlottesville, one of which was showing reruns of shows I had missed.

  • Lindabator

    or a category you di not pay for — or one that has not been cleaned yet, lots of reasons

  • PolishKnightUSA

    Hehehe. “First world problems.”

  • PolishKnightUSA

    It’s not a huge annoyance to me because for overnight stays, I need to move by 10AM anyway and the room is for sleeping. I don’t need a “sleep” room for 10AM to 2PM. Some hotels have a 11AM or even noon checkout time which I like because it allows me to sleep in a little if I want to.

    In answer to your question, I think they like the consistent check out time, even if housekeeping doesn’t get to the room by lunch, because it sets expectations. They don’t want to argue with someone about it but sometimes they can be ok about scheduling housekeeping later. Also, premier members usually get late check out times.

  • John McDonald

    the cheapest part of the cost of a hotel are the cleaning staff. They could easily work 24 hours (say 2 or 3 shifts). Many airport hotels do it now & many sell day use only. For your example, someone checks out at 9pm, the room could easily be ready for someone else by 9.30-10pm. Every hotel has 55 different rates. Most people have no idea what others are paying. Hotels could sell up to 3 times a day or at an airport even more. Who wants to sit in an airport, when they have a 5 hour or more connect, when they could easily go to an airport hotel for 3 or 4 hours & have a shower/swim/whatever.
    They wouldn’t have to pay extra for cleaning staff, just have them starting & finishing at different times of the day.
    It’s not hard to manage check in/check out times that are not 2pm/10am.

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