Revenge of the hotel clerks: 5 things they’ll do to difficult guests

If you think your hotel clerk is out to get you, you might be right.

Hotel employees are people, too — people under a lot of pressure. And although you might not have noticed it, there’s a price to be paid for the dirt-cheap hotel rates you’ve seen lately. The lodging industry is cutting staff, freezing salaries and eliminating perks for its workers.

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Result: Hotel employees are grumpier than ever. It doesn’t take much to set them off, either.

“It can’t be overstated how much power a hotel clerk wields,” says Cyrus Webb, a former hotel employee who has worked at the front desk and managed hotels. “Front-desk employees know what rooms are the best, which have a great view, and which offer extra amenities. On the other hand, they know which rooms would not be at the top of a guest’s list.”

And guess who goes in those rooms? You will, if you tick them off. Here are five ways hotel employees exact their revenge on difficult guests, and what you can do to avoid it:

1. Make you wait.

Ever checked into a hotel, only to find your room wasn’t ready? Well, maybe it was ready, but the front-desk employee didn’t like your attitude. “For guests who are rude, drunk or just obnoxious, a clerk may well make them wait,” says Michael Matthews, a retired hotelier in Tucson, Ariz. How long you spend in “time out” depends on the seriousness of their crime, according to people who have experienced the wait (and I include myself among them). It may be a “Have a seat, we’ll be with you in a minute” for someone with a less-than-polite attitude to “Your room is still occupied, what’s your cell phone number?” for something more serious. “Guests really are not aware of the power of a front desk clerk,” adds Matthews.

How to avoid it? Remain calm. Sometimes your room really isn’t ready yet, and it doesn’t mean the hotel employee is necessarily out to get you. If it makes any difference, staying calm will get you into your room faster.

2. Freeze your credit card.

Hotels routinely place an authorization “hold” on your credit card that equals the full cost of the room nights, tax and an estimate of incidentals. “If the guest were particularly annoying, the clerk could place a huge hold on the card, rendering it unusable for any other purchases,” says David Chen, a hotel executive in Hawaii. He recalls it happening to a honeymooning couple that checked in with the only credit card they had brought along. Once the hotel placed its hold, their card was declined for all other purchases during the stay. “Even calling the merchant provider to release the hold did not fix the problem, because the reversal takes two to five days to work its way through the various provider networks,” he recalls. In that particular case, Chen believes that particular “hold” was unintentional. But others are not.

How to avoid it? Carry a second credit card or debit card. Or bring lots of cash.

3. Assign you the least desirable room.

That’s probably the easiest way to get back at a guest for being rude or just looking like they don’t belong. Ian Spector was sent down a long hall to one of the worst rooms in the house when he checked in at an upscale hotel in San Diego recently. “I couldn’t help but think that because I was under 30, the check-in staff figured they could put me in the crappy room,” says Spector, a Web developer who was in town for a technology conference. “The in-room bathroom was really cramped and awkward.” Stories like this are the stuff of travel legends: The hotel employees take a look at you and decide you’re in the wrong place, or that they don’t like you, and you’re sent off to Siberia.

How to avoid it? Don’t check into a five-star hotel in a jeans and T-shirt, even if you’re on vacation. And for goodness sakes, be nice to the employees.

4. Find an extracurricular way to torture you.

True story: When Margot Chapman checked into a New York hotel recently, she says she “may have rubbed a hotel employee the wrong way” when she complained about the size of her room, which was so small that the bed touched the TV. She was sent to another room, and checked out without incident. “I then was besieged by hundreds of obscene phone calls at my home and office over the next month,” says Chapman, who runs a marketing company in Chicago. The phone calls were traced back to the hotel, which, when confronted with the crime, offered her an apology and a free seven-night stay.

How to avoid it? A polite request made in person is preferable to a phone call, but short of being extra nice, it’s hard to see something like this coming.

5. Make you pay — literally.

Hotel employees can wreak all kinds of havoc on your guest folio, adding late charges that don’t show up on your bill until after you’ve checked out, or putting in little extras that you assumed were included in the price of your room. “It is not uncommon for rude guests to have to pay for services that others might not have to,” says Webb, the ex-hotel employee. “This includes long-distance calls, the breakfast bar, drinks and food.” Other tricks include manipulating your confirmed room rate or adding unexpected extras, like charges for Internet, the minibar or pay-per-view movies. Rarely are they so overt, though. Usually, it’s something smaller that you discover a few days after you’ve left, like a minor late charge, like breakfast.

How to avoid it? Be nice. Polite guests are far less likely to have “mistakes” like this happen.
In fact, being nice may be the single-best defense against vindictive hotel employees. It works for travelers like Robb Gordon, a mortgage banker from Sedona, Ariz.

“When we get a difficult hotel clerk, we try to empathize and cheer him or her up,” he says. That includes tipping them generously. “We always get a decent room, and sometimes we are nicely upgraded to a suite, in which case we generally return and enhance the tip.”
Failing that, a chat with the hotel’s manager might help.

Then again, it might not.

(Photo: Stuart C halmers/Flickr Creative Commons)

22 thoughts on “Revenge of the hotel clerks: 5 things they’ll do to difficult guests

  1. As a ten year+ hotel worker, the only time people get bad rooms is if they are rude. Its not because you don’t look like you belong… thats just stupid. Most hotel front desk agents are under 30. Rudeness = your loss. Eye for an eye.

  2. Okay, so I’m way late in finding this but it struck enough of a chord that I wanted to add my 2 cents. I try, very much like you Kevin, to always give people the benefit of the doubt and to remember that if someone is in a bad mood, pointing it out or being cranky myself is never going to help. I go out of my way to make nice. I think this is totally backfiring on me and I’m not sure how to rectify it. I like having my own room when I travel with friends. It’s just me, I like privacy. But, I find that whenever I check into a hotel as a single woman in her 40’s, no matter how nice I am, chatty or friendly, I rarely get a nice room on the first try. I often feel that clerks check me over and think – hey, she’s so nice, she won’t bitch about anything and I get a room beside the elevator on a low floor facing traffic. I think next time I travel I’m going to register as a “couple” and have my fictional husband be a doctor. Why do women alone get the worst rooms in the place regardless of their attitude? I tip well, I liberally use the amenities and I’m paying just as much as anyone else.

  3. What this woman said. You really think we want rude guests in the lodge staring at us and bugging us about their room being ready? I hate arguing with people! If your room is ready we will check you in… however at my hotel, breakfast is included, so if you get here before breakfast is over usually we will make you wait until 9 or 10. The reason is say you check in with your entire family, and not only do you check in early, you take six or eight people over to eat breakfast…and the hostess isn’t prepared for several additonal guests, not to mention you’re not paying for that food. We have to try to accomodate late check outs, and early check ins and it is really frustrating to everyone involved. We also don’t assign crappy rooms or authorize credit cards over the amount we need on purpose. If I have to use a room in an undesirable location, it’s because I have to…ie sold out, or the better ones are out of service for maintenance.
    My best advice for hotel guests
    a.) Respect and treat the employee how you want to be treated. I have never run across as many self important “big shots” as I have working for a hotel these last five years. You know nothing about me. Please don’t assume I’m uneducated or not worth respect. Everyone is deserving, including you. The guy cleaning up your breakfast dishes has a masters degree at my property…and no I’m not kidding. A lot of us are college students or grads who can’t find better jobs because of the economy.
    b.) Don’t expect the moon from us. We do the best we can with the staff and time we have available. If we can’t accomodate your special needs, don’t take it out on the hotel by giving bad scores on surveys. We try…at least at my hotel…very hard. Oftentimes the front desk clerk is alone at the hotel, and is the sole person responsible for 111+ rooms full of people. We’re secretarys, office grunts, receptionists, personal shoppers, concierge’s and housekeepers to over a hundred people at the same time. We rarely if ever get tips unlike your housekeeper. Please give us time to get to see to your needs, espcially if you’re not staying at a hotel specifically designated as full service… Please be patient. If you ask for directions, we usually will have to google it unless we are personally familiar with the place. Don’t expect us to know where Pete’s meats is on the other side of town.
    c.) If you want an early check in, call the day you want it, or the night before to request it. I can’t tell you that in two weeks we’ll have a room ready for you at 11am to check in. We have to try to accomodate late check outs, and early check ins and it is really frustrating to everyone involved. Don’t assume you can have one… and if you can’t don’t get mad.
    d.) Don’t use your debit card to pay for OR hold your room. At my hotel we authorize the amount of your stay and tax.. plus fifty dollars when you check in. If you want to switch your payment at check out to cash you’re double dipping yourself, and holding your funds up until a few days after you check out. If you hold your room on a debit card, and don’t cancel your reservation the late fee will be charged to your debit card and you may not have the funds in there to cover it if you’re not expecting it, and you might overdraw your account. Also sometimes you don’t tell us you want to switch your method of payment to a different card until after we’ve authorized it…so same applies.
    e.) Don’t expect to get a room key without id. Don’t put your room keys by your cell phone because it will eat them. Anything with speakers has a magnet and will deactivate the card. NO magnets period. Also, make sure you put the card key in the correct direction, and wait til the light shows or you hear the door unlock to pull the handle. If it wont unlock in one direction, try again, by pulling the door handle the other way.
    f.) Keep track of your OWN belongings. Triple check your room for personal belongings when you are ready to leave! Don’t assume that if you can’t find something, the hotel stole it. This has happened several times since I’ve worked here, and each time the guest has located the item elsewhere. We are background checked and credit checked when we’re hired. Anything really important to you, put in a safe deposit box, or take with you when you leave your room.
    g.) Don’t come down after meal times are over, and get mad if we don’t have any food.
    h.) I don’t assign the “least desirable rooms” until last, and only in sold out situations.
    i.) If you book your own room, please verify the room you select is the room type you want! Don’t book a smoking because it’s the last room available if you’re not ok with being in a smoking room. If you have a travel agent book your room, make sure they book the right type on the confirmation. A lot of travel agents don’t care if they book the right type and just expect the hotel to deal with it.
    j.) Please be respectful of your room. If you accidently knock a picture off a wall, or blow up a hair dryer, or melt a coffee basket or something, we will usually just chalk it up to life and not charge you for it… if you call and tell us.
    k.) Please be respectful of other guests in the hotel! Keep your noise down, and realize that it is a hotel, and you can expect to hear road noise and other guests. We can’t control the environment. If the power goes out please understand that we’re not the electric company and we can’t guarantee when it will be back on… if the parking lot floods or some other thing happens…someone breaks into your car… it is not our responsibility! Keep anything valuable with you or in a safe. We can sympathize and write a report, but that’s about it.

  4. You must not ever have held a customer service job similar to a front desk agent. I rock at my job, as is confirmed by management and customers on a pretty regular basis, howeverm when you walk in the door with an attitude to high heaven…well you can just get bent, I don’t get paid near enough to be talked down to like a subhuman behind a counter. Regardless if you acknowledge it or not, I’m a person too, who shows respect where its given. However much better than me you believe you are I refuse to let you or any other asshole make me feel like the dog shit on the bottom of your shoe. Oh and keep in mind you are not the first, second, or third epically rude person to come in today, the shifts not half over and I know farewell you won’t be the last, nor the worse..

  5. I work at a hotel desk. I wouldn’t personally sabotage any guest, as bad as some I may have encountered can be. But kindness goes a long way with myself and coworkers. And the repayment is double. I will not charge a polite but unsatisfied guest extra for a room upgrade but if you start yelling in my face or blaming me, I will not always be so kind. The point a lot of people miss is that I’m not in charge of what you pay or how nice the room is. I’m simply an employee of a corporation and the ones who make decisions or control the property are the people who you never see. But I would be honored to give you their personal number!!
    I am missing my young son 40 hours a week, days and nights in no particular schedule and my full time pay check wouldn’t cover 1 day of your vacation. I’ve been sworn at, called names, been told I should kill myself…all over something little that I could find a way to fix if the people weren’t so worked up or convinced I made bad things happen.
    Disgruntled employees ruin it for the good ones who don’t just have “a shit job” but also want YOU to be happy regardless of how much we wish we weren’t behind that desk.

    1. I was with you until you went off the reservation and got into class warfare with the, “I am missing my young son 40 hours a week, days and nights in no particular schedule and my full time pay check wouldn’t cover 1 day of your vacation”

      What does that have to do with anything? Most people work 40+ hours. Most people have elements of their job that they absolutely hate. I know I do.

      But I agree 100% that both the guest and the clerk should be polite and respectful.

  6. I have had guests blaming the staff for stealing from the room as well….For me! It pisses me off….I then meet up with them and go all technical…….Sometimes i tell them in their face that unless they have any proof, to not accuse any one…..I had a guest who cried to me at reception because she had accused a ,maid bitterly and blabbed to all other guests for stealing some money and her passport from the room…As if our security was not enough, she asked for the police to intervene, which we gladly did…You know, our police takes forever to 1) reach the hotel, 2) compile their reports…After everything, she called to say that she has found her passport and her money was in her passport and for us to apologise on her behalf to the maid……..Oh! No! You don’t Bitch!!!…I later called her to say that the resort will be press charging against her for defaming the resort and it’s reputable maid considering the fact that she had stirred up a lot of mistrust at the resort and it was like other guests were weary for their safety. A couple even checked out because of this(luckily they were prepaid) All this whilst investigations were still inconclusive and this will require her to stay in the country until matters were resolved as this may take weeks…..She paid the resort an additional $2,000.00 to drop the case….The money was shared among the 6 maids in that block…..Never to mess again!!!!!!

    1. This is a truly terrible post. Please let me know which resort so I can know never to stay there. The guest made a mistake. It appears to be a good faith error on her part and she finds herself the subject of litigation.

      1. Carver Clark Farrow…. Are you an idiot? ‘The guest made a mistake.’ ?? Yea, then made false accusations against a business, causing them to lose money and customers and affecting the reputation of a hard working maid. And the fact that you have the nerve to use the phrase ‘good faith’ is appalling. This is vicious behavior on the part of the guest. And what is worse: 9 times out of 10, after the guest finds out they were wrong, there is not so much as a hint of apology afterward. $2,000 to drop the case was not enough if you ask me.

        1. The fact that you can’t begin your post without vitriol really tells me all I need to know about you and your character (such that is). Of course, no great surprise that you post under a pseudonym.

          When you are ready to have an intelligent, invective free discussion, you know where to find me. I’m not holding my breath.

  7. What about the staff who get treated like dirt because a guest “had a bad day”. Should something be done about them or does the employee deserve that for being a hospitality servant!

  8. The point some of you are missing is early check ins are COURTESY! You have not paid for it and it isn’t owed to you by the hotel or front desk agent. You are not ENTITLED to it regardless of how you rationalize it you went online or by phone and booked a room for an amount of money and quite aware the product you bought commences at 3pm. People like you then show up at 10am and if you don’t get a room the service is bad???

    1. Exactly! You rude turds show up at the front desk demanding things that you are in no way entitled to, then blame us when you don’t get them. If an agent lets you check in early, thank him/her! You did not in any way pay for that extra time!

  9. I can vouch for this. And there are a few reasons why we do it. Most important of all: the number of guests who could solve nearly all of their hotel problems by simply planning ahead or LETTING US KNOW their intentions is unreal. If you walk in our lobby, throw down your bags and demand your room, guess what? You’re an idiot, you have not done the proper planning, and we have no respect for you.

  10. Well well. Just the kind of entitled little snob that makes most of us WANT to do things like this. Listen sweetycups, like ‘joe’ posts, you folks treat us like garbage and then want us to act as if you didn’t just say or do that? What you fail to mention in your post is that none of these things are being done to decent, kind people. If you don’t act like the people we’re describing then you really shouldn’t care if we feed you to the lions in retaliation. Your indignation at reading these posts can only mean one thing…. you treat others in a way that would make them want to do these things to you. Shame.

  11. Oh yeah, we do that at my hotel, too! We used to have a policy where if you try to check in early, you had to pay a $20 upgrade fee. I hate when people expect you to have a room ready BEFORE CHECK-OUT even!! Hello?? It’s 8am, of course your room is not ready. The person in it doesn’t have to be checked out til 11. And usually, with this guest, I will put them on the bottom of the list for housekeeping. This way, the earliest they can possibly get in is 3. 🙂

  12. Whether or not you can check in early largely depends on whether or not the hotel was sold out the night before. If we weren’t sold out, we have a room open. But it may not be the same type as the one you reserved. If you want to check in early, let us know if you are open to switching room types. YOUR VERY BEST LEVERAGE, AS A GUEST, IS TO TELL US YOUR INTENTION TO FILL OUT A POSITIVE SURVEY – WE LIVE AND DIE BY THOSE THINGS AND SCORES OF LESS THAN 9 ARE CONSIDERED FAILURES!!! (And most of us like that better than tips, which saves you money)

  13. Your story states that she told you your room was ready and wouldn’t let you check in. Your story doesn’t apply to the article AT ALL. We are talking about decent, hard working people being stomped on by folks like you who demand what you want, when you want it, without regard to the person on the other side of the desk.

    At the hotel I work at, we charge an early check in fee if you want to check in before 11. I would rather tell someone they will need to come back at 3 than tell them they will need to fork out an additional $25 to check in immediately. Why? Because if you dare suggest something will cost extra, the entitlement society breaks open the gates of hell.

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