Red-eye flights are hard enough. But when you’re heading to a hotel after a marathon trip, all you probably want to do is drop your bags and sleep, even if just for a few minutes. But will you be able to get an early check-in?
I recently had clients flying to Australia from Washington. That’s 23 hours of travel time. They were to arrive at 8:30 a.m. And, of course, they would want to check in when they arrive.
Travel agents get these early check-in requests all the time. But it’s not that easy. For starters, most hotels have a noon check-out rule. And no traveler wants to be told they have to vacate a room early.
Plus, since many hotels are cutting costs, and some subcontract their cleaning services, staff may not be available to clean a room immediately after a guest has vacated it.
In addition, the same last-minute apps so beloved of many bargain hunters mean that hotels that might have had empty rooms the night before now have a much easier time filling them.
So when you check, right before takeoff, to see if your hotel has space the night before your arrival, this can change by the time you land.
As a frequent traveler and a travel agent, sometimes I’ve gotten lucky. But not always. One time, in D.C., I spent four hours in a hotel lobby, working on my laptop, drinking black coffee nonstop. And when I did get to a room about 1 p.m., I was asleep in 5 minutes, even with the caffeine.
If you do really need to sleep or rest after a long flight, here are a few tips.
- Let the hotel know you are coming early. This seems almost too obvious, but if a hotel is forewarned, at least they might be able to hold an available room for you.
- Don’t be picky about the type of room. If you must have two beds with a family, or a nonsmoking room in a hotel that still allows smoking, so be it. But if an early check-in is the priority, be willing to take what you can get. And if you’re staying for several days, maybe you can move later. But when travel agents and hotels get the “I absolutely need the room at 8:00 a.m., and it needs to be a high floor, with a good view, facing east, away from the elevator, etc.,” well, suffice it to say your chances are decreased.
- Consider booking through a travel agent with clout. Especially if it’s a deluxe hotel. While it may not matter for a basic motel, most deluxe hotels have relationships with travel agencies and consortiums. And if there are only a few rooms available early, a hotel is going to prioritize a request from someone who sends them lots of business.
- If it’s a busy time, look for a hotel that has a health club or spa with showers. Worst case, they will generally let you use the facilities if no room is ready. Similarly, consider using a shower at an airport club. Some clubs do allow day passes if you aren’t a member, but you need to research this in advance.
- Ask about a day rate. Not all hotels will do this, but some will confirm a room as early as 8 a.m. or 9 a.m., figuring that some sure revenue is safer than waiting to see if they can sell out later.
- Get close. If you can see that your hotel is sold out the night before, consider using an app or a travel agent to book the least expensive room available nearby. It’s a hassle to move, yes, but if you really need a few hours’ sleep or a shower/bath, it might be well worth it. (And then you can always ask for a late checkout, or at least to be able to leave your bags until your original room is available.)
- Be realistic. If you’re traveling during high season, or when a convention is in town, and the hotel tells you it is close to sold out, consider actually paying for the night before. Yes, it’s expensive. But if it’s important, it may not be worth being a wreck for the first day of your trip to save the money. (Be careful, though: If you’re actually arriving on Thursday but make a reservation that starts Wednesday, the hotel may treat you as a no-show if you don’t show up by, say, 7 a.m. Thursday.)
And sometimes a good night’s sleep is priceless — even if it’s first thing in the morning.
An update on this story: Since it first appeared, hotels have discovered that early check-ins are a gold mine of ancillary revenue. As in, fees. While these strategies still work, you need to know that the front-desk personnel are trained to find ways of cashing in on your desire to check in early. Don’t let them.