Borrow a charger from the front desk – Hotel tip

For every person who forgets their charger at home, another person leaves their charger in their room at checkout.

If you go down to the desk and ask nicely, they might offer you a big box of left-behind cords to sort through for a charger that fits your phone, computer, or whatever.

This saves money and time better spent having fun, and if you don’t care about paying it forward to the next forgetful traveler, you can usually keep the abandoned charger.

Also ask about international electricity adapters if in need– they’ll almost always be able to accommodate you there.

[Photo: Flickr | Gary Bridgman]

Workout with the locals – International travel tip

I’m a black belt in Kenpo Karate and I hate missing a workout. The workouts keep me sane and balanced during periods of long travel. During one particularly long stint, I covered 22 countries in 18 month’s time. At every stop, I asked the hotel concierge to book a karate program with the local master.

In Tokyo, I worked with Shorinji Kenpo in an elementary school; in Stockholm I worked out at Stockholm Athletic University; Mexico saw me at Kempo Americano; and China was Tai Chi in the park at Guanzhou.

In short: just because you’re traveling doesn’t mean you can’t exercise. In fact, pick your favorite workout and have a blast! You’ll probably meet some new friends and have a great time. At the least, you’ll feel good.

[Photo: Flickr | Cheetah100]

Tips for tippers: it isn’t what you expect

Tipping’s a tough nut to crack. Should you tip a housekeeper? Back in the day, the rule was leaving some cash only if your stay was 30 days or longer. Since then, however, it seems to have changed. And, what’s appropriate for a valet? Bellman? Skycap? Travel means tipping, and there are plenty of points at which you can expect to do this. If you go to the same hotel or use the same car service frequently, you may want to adjust your tipping habits, as well.

If these questions make you feel ignorant, you’re not alone. Michael Lynn, a prof at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, has conducted to nationwide tipping surveys and has found that a third of the respondents don’t know to leave 15 percent to 20 percent of the tab at a restaurant. Throw hotels and drivers into the mix, and it’s unsurprising that the rules aren’t understood as clearly as they could be.

So, USA Today and I are helping you know what to tip and when. A recent article by Gary Stoller provides some good ideas, and I’ve tossed in a few of my own.

Valet: This one was news to me. Don’t drop cash to the guy who opens the car door or brings the car to the valet lot. Instead, pay the guy who brings it back, generally $2 to $5. I’ve been overtipping on this one for a long time.

Bellmen: These guys carry bags, so they’re earning their tips. Give ’em $1 to $2 a bag, more if you pack for a weekend like you’re moving in for a month. Heavy bag, as well, warrant an extra tip.

Maids: Once upon a time, maids were only tipped if you were staying for the long term. I guess this has changed, and you’re supposed to leave $1 to $5 daily. But, if you’ve been tipping valets for both drop-off and pickup, this should be break-even for you.

Concierges: Don’t tip for the basics. If you’re asking for directions, recommendations or simple answers, those are free. Did the concierge score hard-to-find tickets? A table at an impossible restaurant? Pony up: $10 to $50. Nonetheless, it’s your call. Vivian Deuschl, a vice president at the Ritz-Carlton chain, says that you should expect fantastic service, “There is no obligation to tip.”

Skycap: Pay for help when you check your bags curbside: $2 to $3 a bag is fine. If you have a lot of bags, throw in a little extra, a good rule to apply for the driver who takes you to and from the airport, too.

And, here are a few others …

Service matters: Tips are provided for the service you receive. If you receive unacceptable service, don’t offer a tip. But, if service is so bad that you aren’t tipping, it’s probably a good idea to call a manager and give your side of the story. First, it will keep you from getting shafted by other hotel employees when the word spreads. Also, it will alert the management to a problem with the staff. Be thorough, and don’t whine.

“No tipping” is sacrosanct: Some resorts have no-tipping policies. They always make it very clear up front. Also, they will tell you if there are any exceptions. Curtain Bluff, in Antigua, doesn’t allow tips and makes alternatives clear (there’s a charity on the island). The spa is a “tipping zone,” however, and the front desk will let you know. If you try to tip in a no-tip hotel, the employee will probably let you know, but it’s best not to create the awkward situation at all.

Special requests: Think beyond restaurant reservations and event tickets. If the concierge does the impossible for you, shell out for it. I’m thinking of several super-luxury favors I’ve heard (sorry, can’t reveal them) from industry insiders. If you’re rolling in the big leagues, don’t bother carrying singles; you’ll need Benjies.

Be realistic: Tip what you can afford. You don’t need to toss around boatloads of cash that you don’t have. It may feel good to be a big tipper, but the high you get now will hurt like hell later. Remember that you’ll need to live with the financial situation that you create while on vacation.

Don’t tip from guilt: You don’t have to solve the financial crisis on your own. The recession has led to a travel industry slump, which means hotel employees won’t be making as much. Think of it this way: these guys aren’t buying more of what you make just to help you out. So, don’t think you need to return the favor.

Know your environment: There is a lot of mileage between Eden Rock and the Holiday Inn: don’t expect the same tipping strategy to work at both locations.

[Photo by AMagill via Flickr]

Road testing the Cranky Concierge

I’ve known Brett Snyder aka The Cranky Flier for a few years now, so when he started up The Cranky Concierge, an itinerary management service this past month, I was naturally intrigued.

The concept goes sort of like this: most people hate booking and micromanaging their itineraries, figuring out where and how to catch and connect to their flights and lacing their travel together. As a self-professed airline nerd, The Cranky kind of digs it, and for a small fee, he’ll do it for you and help you along your way.

So on the way to Portland last weekend for a (lovely) drive through Oregon, I agreed to take it for a test run.

Below I’ve detailed how it went. Note that despite getting the service for free, I reserve no judgment.

Original flight: Chicago O’hare – Salt Lake City – Portland – Seattle – Minneapolis – Chicago O’hare.

Day of departure, Friday, October 16th.
Cranky sent me an email yesterday asking whether or not I wanted my updates via SMS or email. Even though I have a web-enabled iPhone I chose SMS, as I don’t have Gmail pushing email to my phone.This morning’s communication started off with a welcome e-mail, basically reminding me of my flight that day then giving me specific itinerary information including flights, flight numbers and weather along the route. The message even gets into the minute details naming arrival and departure gates, in my case telling me that when I landed in Salt Lake City that I needed to turn right out of the gate to get to my next flight.

At 3:30PM on my way to the bus, I received my first text message:

“Your plane will be arriving to Chicago at 5:49PM, so I would expect to be about 10 to 15 minutes late. Your gate is staying the same in Salt Lake (C3) – the plane is now in the air from Newark and will be gasp 20 minutes early – you should be on time.”

As predicted, my flight from O’hare left a few minutes late, though we arrived a little bit early due to some crafty routing by the pilots.

In Salt Lake City I was actually meeting up with my friend Al, who was starting in Santa Fe and who would be visiting Oregon with me. Pulling into the gate, I thought that I might surprise my friend getting off of the plane, so I sent an SMS to The Cranky asking where I could find his gate, including his rough flight plan and airline. Almost immediately I received a reply:

“Welcome to Salt Lake – Your friend landed at 822p WAY on the other side of the airport – gate E66 – flight 4696. BTW, your airplane [to Portland] has arrived, still at C3 departing on time”

By this time I was already on the move in the terminal headed for the Delta Skyclub, which when queried earlier, my concierge told me was just adjacent to terminal C. Locating Allan just short of the lounge, we pulled in for a few brief White Russians before heading down to C3 for our quick flight.


Two evenings later the cycle started again, with The Cranky sending me an SMS several hours before flight speaking on the weather, inbound flights and the general state of my upcoming journey. My unfortunate connections through Seattle and Minneapolis meant that I would be traveling through the night, but The Cranky stayed through Seattle, where he expertly guided me out of my gate, towards the S terminal and through the Skyclub. Before long, I was at work in Chicago with a massive headache, two hours of sleep and an internal promise to never fly a redeye from the west coast again.


Onto the real question though: was it worth it? I see the big advantage of the Cranky Concierge in the management of complex or multiple itineraries. Whenever problems arise at the airport, its always nice having someone behind a computer who knows the right numbers to call, where the closest Subway is and how to get you home fastest.

The term “complex” also depends on the traveler. One can image a first time passenger, lost at an airport who needs to know what gate to head to. On the other side of the coin, a million mile businesswoman could not have enough time to manage her itinerary and may only want to follow directions from her dedicated concierge. Both could easily find value in this service.

For a person like me who knows how to work the system and is used to micromanaging itineraries, it’s not as useful. At least not on this trip. I’ll admit that I’ve been in the situation once or twice where I’ve been stone cold lost and hungry at a strange airport in a strange part of the world and have needed help, but this weekend was not that time. Perhaps some day I’ll need that safety blanket.


Brett Snyder, aka The Cranky Flyer offers per trip itinerary management from The Cranky Concierge. Services include flight planning, flight monitoring, delay and cancellation assistance and post-trip dispute assistance. Prices range from $30 to $80 per trip, while a subscription-based service is in the works.

Five ways to spot awful customer service

When I think I might have problems with patience, my wife is always happy to confirm it for me. Since I hate to wait in line, expect employees to know what they are doing and always be having a good day (at least as far as I can see), my standards are sometimes ridiculously high – and my moods similarly foul. Unfortunately, this sometimes leads to a bit of mercy. Sometimes, in a fit of sanity, I realize that I may be overreacting. When this happens, I usually give an inept service provider a pass.

So, how can you tell? You don’t want to be unreasonable with gate agents, concierges and taxi drivers, but you also shouldn’t have to be a pushover. When is it okay to leave a shitty tip? When should you stand up for yourself when a driver doesn’t arrive at your door on time? It can be harder than you think to navigate these areas of travel ethics. So, after the jump, take a look at 10 ways to spot genuinely awful customer service. Even if you are more patient than I am, these are of a caliber that will guarantee you’re not out of your mind for being pissed.

1. You are greeted with some variation of “not my fault”
This one is in the top spot for a reason. There is nothing worse than having a driver, flight attendant or any other travel industry employee use those three words. Why? There very utterance implies that there is a problem. Would someone give you a comp’ed spa treatment and say, “Not my fault?” Of course not! Further, the phrase actually puts you on the defensive. You’re mad because you didn’t get what you expected, and the service provider is telling you that what you feel is inappropriate.

Remember: when you pay for a service or item, you are entitled to what you paid for. There’s no way around this. If there is any deviation from that standard, the company you are paying should be singularly focused on making it right – even if the person who is stuck with that burden didn’t play a direct role in creating the problem.

I know that sometimes the person who receives your anger may not deserve it. In the case of my customer service disaster with Carmel Limo over the summer, the driver probably got screwed up by a dispatch department that wasn’t paying attention to detail. But, he needed to remember that he’s in the customer service business. If he had accepted my attitude and tried to make the experience better, Carmel would still have my business … and he would have had a fantastic tip. Instead, both lost.

2. You are told to be happy with what you get
When an airline “comforts” you over a delay by saying, “It could be worse,” or some form of that, you have every right to be angry. When a hotel employee tells you that you should be happy to have a room at all – even if it doesn’t meet your standards – because the hotel is booked or for any other reason, you should be alarmed about the service you’ll receive for the rest of your stay. And, when you are told to live with whatever problems you face in the service for which you have paid, you’re getting screwed.

Any deficiency should be met with a remedy. Ideally, this would entail fixing the problem (e.g., moving you to a room with hot water, to choose a particularly painful example). If that’s not possible, related measures to make your experience better in other ways (from free stuff to upgrades) should be brought to the table.

The more remote the remedy is from the problem, the bigger the incentive should be. I remember staying at a small mid-town Manhattan hotel back in 2003 (can’t remember the name – I stayed in close to 20 in a period of six months). I was only there for a night, and that morning, there was no hot water. None. And, I had to spend most of the day in meetings. Since I booked the room through, the manager said she couldn’t refund me. To make the situation right, all she would say is, “I’ll make it very ‘comfortable’ for you next time you stay.” Did she mean a lower rate? A free night? Two? I have no idea. After persevering 30 seconds in a cold shower before giving up, I didn’t care.

3. You’re not the only one to complain
If you complain to the service provider and hear, “Several of our guests have brought that to our attention, we’re working on it,” be patient. It may be a big problem that requires time and people to address. Yet, as time passes and the number of complainants increases, you’re dealing with a situation that’s unlikely to involve a swift resolution. The longer you wait, the greater the effort the provider should make to appease you. Also, they should do something to make you as comfortable as possible in the interim. If this isn’t happening, you’re getting shafted.

Airlines are the most egregious violators of this rule – and usually combine it with the first point, above. They will tell you that you’re not alone, do nothing to make the experience more comfortable for you and then claim it isn’t their fault. Of course, these companies will tell you that they’d love to help, but airline economics are such that they just can’t afford to. What does this mean? Well, read between the lines: it is a conscious commitment to lousy customer service.

4. You get attitude
Regardless of how big an asshole you may become, there is no reason for a hotel, airline or other travel employee to get visibly irritated or angry with you unless you go too far – which includes physical threats, excessive use of profanity or a voice loud enough to imply a physical threat. If you are in a bad mood, ask firm questions and demand straight answers, you aren’t doing anything wrong. The only appropriate demeanor on the other side of the counter should be to smile and be helpful.

Now, the travel industry folks will claim that the rest of us don’t know how hard it can be. But, I’m pretty sure that the average accountant, attorney, consultant or investment banker – along with many, many other professions – has had to cope with an upset client. The abuse that these guys receive can be incredible, and they sit down, shut up and take it … because of the fees involved, probably. I’ve been there, and most of the people I worked with in my consulting days have been there. When you have an upset (or irate) client, you have to assume that the situation is your fault – even when it isn’t. If your travel-related service provider doesn’t share this belief, you’re right to get angry.

5. Excuses, excuses
When you are given reasons for a particular turn of events but no remedy, you are certain not to be satisfied. Shit happens, as we all know, and it’s incumbent upon every human being to find a way to life with it. Yet, when a situation does go south, the provider should start to find ways to fix the situation. A problem with a reason but no resolution is an excuse. A problem with a reason and a remedy – or at least a way to minimize the pain – builds customer loyalty for a lifetime.