If hotel alarm clocks set you off, you’re not alone

Mention hotel alarm clocks to a frequent guest and you’ll probably get an earful. Those ever-present digital clock radios frequently evoke feelings of confusion, frustration and even rage.

Why? Just check into any hotel and try to do anything with the timepiece next to your bed, like set it. Or try to turn the radio off that housekeeping left on. What does this button do?

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Then again, you could just wait until 3 a.m., when the alarm, set by a previous guest (who managed to figure out how to set it, thanks to a Ph.D. in rocket science), starts buzzing. Good luck trying to get back to sleep after that.

“The alarm clock is one in-room amenity that should go the way of the dinosaur,” said Michael Nixon, president of Innisfree Hotels, a hotel management company in Gulf Breeze, Fla.

But is it? Not exactly. While some forward-looking hotels are removing alarm clocks from their rooms, waking up to the fact that most of their guests now use smartphones, others are doubling down on their alarm clocks. A majority of hotels appear to simply be reusing their old clock radios, even when they refurbish their rooms. But there are strategies for avoiding a horrible alarm-clock experience.

Although I have plenty of my own stories to share of being roused too early, of being unable to set an in-room clock, of doing battle with rogue radios, they pale in comparison to the tales told by you, dear readers.

On a recent girlfriend getaway, Patricia Wilson was in charge of setting the alarm so her group wouldn’t be late for a morning activity. She set the clock for a 6 a.m. wake-up but never bothered to confirm that the clock was set to the correct time. It wasn’t.

“We were all showered and dressed and ready for breakfast — at 4 a.m.,” remembers Wilson, who runs a marketing firm in San Francisco. “I realized my goofball mistake when we arrived at the dark restaurant.”

Bryan Williams, who publishes a lifestyle website in San Diego, once stayed in a hotel room where the lowest display setting on the alarm clock was still so bright, “I felt like I was sleeping on the landing strip at JFK,” he said. “I eventually unplugged the clock.”

He was lucky. You can’t always unplug an alarm clock. Hotels often make the plugs inaccessible, or they’re battery operated and can’t be shut down. Also, the clocks frequently are tethered to the nightstand to prevent them from being taken.

If you can’t unplug the alarm, cover it. “Normally, I will cover the bright green or blue lights from the clocks with a towel so I can get some sleep,” said Dan Boland, an airline pilot who works a long-haul flight to Asia.

Hotels don’t want anyone removing their alarm clocks, and that apparently includes hotel employees. Jason Henderson recalls checking into a hotel in Las Vegas with a nonworking alarm.

“After realizing the time was wrong and fiddling with the controls for a while, I couldn’t reset the clock or set the alarm,” said Henderson, a children’s book author who lives in Denver. “I called down to the desk, and they said they’d send another one, which they did. They brought up a second enormous alarm clock and set that one on top of the old one. For some reason, it was against their policy to take the broken one away.”

Some hotels are accepting that alarm clocks are relics. Walt Disney World last year removed alarm clocks from its hotel rooms and replaced them with a less finicky amenity: power strips. Alarm clocks are still available upon request.

Other hotels are trying to create a better alarm clock. At several brands owned by Wyndham, including Wyndham Grand, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, and Wyndham Garden, old alarm clocks have been replaced by the Kube Audio Clock, a simply designed device that doubles as a charging station. The Kube offers a single-day alarm (so it needs to be set every night), a Bluetooth speaker, three built-in connectors, two USB ports and a wireless charging option. The instructions to set the alarm are on top of the cube, along with options to stop or snooze.

That’s the industry trend — replace, not repeal. For example, iHome, the largest provider of hotel alarm clocks, is focused on adding USB and wireless charging options for newer phones, as well as alarm clocks with three-sided LED displays and space-saving charging models. “Our products are all equipped with single-day alarm settings, meaning that the guest will never be disturbed by the previous guest’s alarm,” said Ely Ashkenazi, president of iHome’s hotel technologies.

Removing the alarms isn’t always practical, according to the hoteliers I spoke with. Guests need to know what time it is, and they sometimes travel without their technology, especially when they’re on vacation. But there’s a sense that the old alarm clocks were difficult to operate and annoying, and with the need to upgrade the aging timepieces anyway, they’ve taken their guest feedback to heart.

Erika Hall, an innkeeper at Abbey’s Lantern Hill Inn, a bed-and-breakfast in Ledyard, Conn., said she recently swapped out her hotel’s alarms with “super simple” units she found at Ikea. The only flaw: They’re battery operated, and when the battery runs low, it stops keeping accurate time. Otherwise, it’s foolproof.

“If someone can’t figure this one out,” she said, “they probably shouldn’t be traveling on their own.”

The strategies for dealing with rogue alarm clocks are simple. When you check in, don’t assume the alarm clock isn’t armed. To avoid surprises, unplug it immediately; many frequent hotel guests do this automatically when they check in. Rather than trying to figure out how — or whether — it works, use your smartphone for the wake-up call. And keep in mind that a hotel employee can usually (but not always) remove the alarm clock or find a timepiece that works for you.

In the long run, Nixon is probably right. Hotel alarm clocks are headed for extinction, along with in-room phones. They’ll be replaced by charging stations or nothing at all. But it will take time.

16 thoughts on “If hotel alarm clocks set you off, you’re not alone

  1. Around 1978 or so I managed to score a digital alarm clock. What a thing of wonder! The envy of my friends, I was unable to sleep, lying awake staring at it in all its digital magnificence.

  2. I am a dinosaur. I actually use digital alarm clocks at home—plugged in with a battery back-up installed. ( I Started doing this during my years on the Gulf Coast during hurricane season. The battery back-up on a clock-radio got me through a number of powerless days). They don’t bother me at home or in hotels. But I always check hotels clocks to make sure an alarm is not set by a previous guest or an aggravated housekeeper. I do use my smart phone as an alarm clock as well and often rely on wake-up calls too when I have an early flight. Better to be rudely awoken by several different reminders than to miss my international flight.

  3. My least-favorite units would he to be the ones the Hilton family of hotels uses. They are the only alarm clock where I actually have to read the directions to set it. And you’ll need YouTube to set it for DST if the staff hasn’t done it. I’m pretty sure those clocks (and many other hotel alarm clocks) are purposefully designed to be so marginal that guests will not be tempted to steal it.

    I usually use my phone as both alarm and white noise machine while travelling. (My preferred travel “white noise” when it’s just me is “Brown Noise” from the app “White Noise Baby”. When traveling with my wife, I use a dedicated “LectroFan” machine.)

  4. Mine was a TV that went on – at a deafening level – at 2:30 AM. I shut it off, went back to sleep, and tried to figure it out the next day. Nothing was set. Called in maintenance. They couldn’t figure it out either. Wrote it off as a one night thing – but at 2:30 the next morning, it came on again. That sucker got unplugged for the rest of my stay. I did mention it when checking out but I rather suspect the next guest also got the rude awakening if they plugged it back in.

    1. We bought a camper a few years ago, and our first camping trip included a wake up alarm around 2:30am. The alarm was not set, but would go off anyway. Unplugged the entire media system at night for the rest of the trip, and took the camper back to the dealer for a replacement. They had a couple others who experienced the same thing. I’m guessing an extremely underemployed person in Taiwan was just making their job more interesting – and I admire their creativity!!!

  5. The alarm clocks have not been an issue for me for several years. I can usually figure out how to set them and I do use them. My problem is that I have stayed at hotels that leave a voicemail on the in-room phone that simply welcomes you to the hotel. So now I have to figure out how to use the voicemail system just to get the light to stop flashing for the only message that I will ever receive during my stay and it is totally pointless.

  6. I have yet to see an alarm clock in a hotel in Europe, and that incorporates dozens of hotels, mostly midrange to upscale. You use your phone, or you set up a wake up call (sometimes with the TV). The phone can be problematic, in that you need to make sure it has the local time right. Last fall I was in Spain, leaving early the morning after the CET change back to standard time, and I was paranoid as heck.

  7. I just go and check to see whether the alarm is going to go off or not, and turn it off if needed. If I am in a charitable mood, or if it is flashing, I will correct the time. If it is unduly difficult to do, I will unplug it. I don’t need the alarm clocks supplied in the hotel rooms, and I don’t trust them anyway. Generally they don’t have a backup battery and if that electrical power has as much as a blip overnight, you’re out of luck. When I am depending upon something to wake me up in the morning, I want it to be a device I have a history with, so I know how it works. In the old days, I used to carry my own portable alarm clock. Now, I use mobile devices to do so. As far as the flashing voicemail lights, yeah that is annoying. I’ve seen a lot of these hotels have the “room of the future” I’d like to see a mock up of the ideal “room of the present” which would have things like working internet, adequate air conditioning (any British hoteliers reading this?), as well as the other expected things.

  8. Give me more charging capabilities any day. Hotel clocks are torture devices. 40 years of traveling, and I have every click horror story. After I didn’t check a clock’s accuracy and arrived at the San Antonio airport 3 hours BEFORE it opened. Never used a hotel clock after that.

  9. When checking for the correct time, I make sure the a.m and p.m. are correct. I hate to say how many times the alarm wouldn’t have gone off in the morning if I didn’t see that the clock was off by half a day. Also, with many of the clocks, the actual time cannot be corrected and when it’s time to go onto daylight savings time or standard time, the hotels are late getting to it.

  10. I call the front desk and ask for a wakeup call – they program the phone to ring at the time I need the wakeup, so that always works.
    Or……..small dollar store alarm clock – one AAA battery, stays in my suitcase between trips…..works for me.

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