At hotels, ‘for your convenience’ rarely is

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Christopher Elliott

Look out — the hotel “convenience” wave is spreading.

You already know what I’m talking about. Any time you see the words “for your convenience,” it probably isn’t to your benefit. Historically, the lodging schemes range from a benign half-truth, like signs that promise your hotel isn’t changing your towels “for your convenience,” to outright howlers, like the convenience of a hefty parking fee added to your bill.

There’s plenty of evidence to show these practices are on the rise. A recent NYU study concluded that hotel fees and surcharges in the U.S. increased $100 million last year to a record $2.55 billion. And there are stories — too many stories — about the properties cloaking their fees in convenient language.

“Too often, when you see a hotel notice ‘for your convenience,’ it’s self-serving and far from being an advantage for the customer,” says Mike Jenkins, a frequent hotel guest who works for a university in East Lansing, Mich.

His least favorite? A note that for his “convenience” a hotel’s check-in time is at 3 p.m., and checkout is at 11 a.m. daily. How, he wonders, is that convenient for the guest? Don’t they really mean, “for the hotel’s convenience?”

Jamie Jeffers recently stayed in an all-suites hotel with her family of seven. “In the bathroom was a sign that said, ‘For your convenience, towels and sheets will only be changed every three days to keep our facilities green,’ ” recalls Jeffers, a writer and stay-at-home mom from Bethel, Ohio.

That one has been around for a while, but do you notice anything different? Many hotels adopted the “towel-on-the-floor” rule a decade or so ago. A placard on the hotel I’m staying in says, “Towels hung on the towel rack or shower door will be left for another use.” Jeffers’ hotel left her no choice.

Of course, almost none of this is convenient to guests. It certainly is for the hotel, which doesn’t have to wash its towels as often. Spurious convenience claims have been spotted all over the place by readers:

• For your convenience, some hotels switched off your room’s air conditioning during certain summer hours. What they really mean is that they want to save energy, which is an admirable goal. But you have to take a long, long view on the benefits in order to see the convenience in it.

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• Requiring a swipe of your credit card “for your convenience,” so that you can make purchases during your stay. Cruise lines do this, too. It’s not convenient to be able to spend money like a pirate while you’re on vacation, especially if you have kids.

• How about unexpected fees for parking or Wi-Fi? It’s decidedly inconvenient to have to scan your hotel receipts carefully to make sure you weren’t hit with unwarranted charges.

Even when it’s a real convenience, it often is overpriced. Customer service guru Shep Hyken, who is researching a book about convenience, says the hotel minibar is a legitimate convenience that also conveniently allows the hotel to help itself to more of your money.

“It amazes me how a guest will spend $4.50 for a 12-ounce can of Coke when he or she can walk down the hall to the vending machine and buy it for $1.25,” he says. “How much is convenience worth?”

Guests are getting wise to this. “I feel ‘for your convenience’ is a fancy way of saying ‘to improve our profit margin,’ ” says Brad Schweig, who manages a furniture store in Dallas. “It usually seems to benefit the hotel, not me.”

He’s right. When you see the phrase, “For your convenience,” it’s actually a warning. Hotels shouldn’t be allowed to say it unless it’s true, but in the meantime, isn’t it nice that they’re tipping us off to their behavior?

What to do when it’s inconvenient for you

• Check your bill. Surcharges such as mandatory parking fees or hotel resort fees need to be challenged when they’re charged. Don’t wait until you’re on the flight home to notice them.

• Ask the hotel to adjust the bill. It’s not enough to tell the hotel a fee or service is inconvenient. You want them to remove the offending fee. Ask nicely, and if the answer is “no”’ you can always challenge your credit-card bill.

• Complain. Even if the hotel removes a “convenience” charge, you need to let management know how inconvenient it was for you. A brief, polite email to a manager ought to do the trick. If the hotel receives enough of these notes, it will adjust its wording, or better still, drop the charge entirely.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He lives in Auckland, New Zealand.

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