New Website Reunites Hotel Guests With Lost Possessions

Have you ever settled into your seat on an airplane only to be struck with the realization that you’ve left something valuable in your hotel room? If so, you’re not alone in experiencing that sinking feeling. Each year, thousands of hotel guests leave behind everything from toys to ipad chargers to wedding rings – and getting them back (if they ever do) often involves many fruitless phone calls and emails.

However, a new Internet portal is helping to reunite lost items with their owners. Chargerback works by allowing hotels to upload a description of whatever it is they’ve found when clearing out a guest’s room. Guests can also log onto the site and enter information about their missing possessions. If there’s a match, the website alerts the guest who can either go and pick up the item themselves or opt to have it shipped to them for an average cost of $10-13.The website officially launched today but already around 30 hotels in the U.S. have gotten onboard. The company behind the initiative believes there’s a need for this kind of service and says their research has shown that around a third of adults surveyed had lost an item valued at more than $150 when away from home. Chargerback told USA Today it is considering expanding the lost and found service to include other locales such as airplanes and rental cars.

[Photo credit: gorbould]

How To Replace Anything (Anything) Lost On A Business Trip

What’s the independent business traveler’s worst enemy? It’s not hotel Wi-Fi. It’s Radio Shack. Have you seen how much they charge for a micro-usb cable? Twenty bucks. Same cable at monoprice? About a dollar.

Forgetting simple things like power bricks and phone adapters is one of the most frustrating side effects about business travel. Often the frustration doesn’t even come from the inconvenience – it’s always nice to have a backup phone charger – the problem comes when the charger is four times the cost that it should be. Case in point? That combo meal at the Burger King in LAX isn’t supposed to be $12. Captive audiences breed captive prices.

It’s happened to all of us, but there are a few ways around the frustrations of shopping on the road.

If you’re staying at a hotel, it’s always handy to check the lost and found. Travelers leave all sorts of things behind, and according to the Sheraton staff in Philadelphia, what’s not picked up at lost and found gets donated or distributed among the workers. It’s not just electrical widgets either. Lost contact lens case? Forgot your tennis shoes? Check downstairs. And in case you have any issues with stealing something that might eventually be claimed, you can always bring it back.Airport and airline lost and found is also a great place to find lost trinkets, just bear in mind that most repositories are outside of security, so arrive early and with plenty of patience.

If you’re hell bent on buying your replacement though, make sure to stay away from chain stores like Radio Shack or even Best Buy. Discount box stores like Marshalls and TJ Max are a great alternative source of small electronics. The headphones that I picked up in the San Juan Marshalls last Saturday for $5.99 were $14 cheaper than the ones at the airport – and the quality was just the same.

It’s also a decent idea to keep an eye out for a local Salvation Army or Goodwill, similar in concept to the discount box store but with a more random, used assortment of goods.

Not interested in making the capital investment? It’s easier than you think to rent a wide range of electronics while in transit. Cameras are a great example. Here in Chicago you can walk into a Calumet Photo and walk out with either lenses or a full rig for shooting all weekend. In New York there’s Adorama. Online, you can even use lensrentals. And the costs are fairly modest. For a five-day rental of a $1600 16-35mm Canon Lens over Labor Day, I only had to shell out $100. Shipping was included.

But what if you’re stuck in meetings all day? There are actually a few neat services that will outsource your shopping. Zaarly is a great example. Need a new power supply? Post a note in Zaarly asking for someone to pick up your electronics at the local best buy, shell out the cash and offer an extra ten bucks to have it delivered. There’s a decent chance that some poor college student is willing to help out for the beer money. Barring the new fancy Zaarly, Craigslist is always a backup.

[Flickr image via Magic Madzik]

Once Upon a Time in the Wee Small Hours of Ireland

Agusti Curto Calbet, the Night Manager at The Ritz-Carlton, Powerscourt, in County Wicklow, Ireland, arrived to work for his midnight shift on a cold February evening. Ordinarily, during his scheduled time at the five-star luxury hotel, a guest might phone in for a wake-up reminder, the arrangement of an early morning taxi, or perhaps a bottle of champagne for a romantic interlude. But, as the young Spaniard was about to discover, this fated night was about to become anything but ordinary.

A woman staying in one of the Mountain View Suites with her husband rang the Reception desk after 2:00 a.m. in a most agitated state.

“I hate to bother you at this late hour, but a very valuable item of mine has disappeared from my room!”

“I’m so sorry to hear that Madame,” he replied. “What does it look like?”

Whatever it is, he thought, it surely must be priceless.

“It’s a small, white Teddy Bear,” she explained in between sobs. “One of its button-eyes is slightly broken and…and…it’s irreplaceable! I’ve carried it with me for over 35 years!”

As her voice faded into low sniffles, the 30-year-old Night Manager kept the lady calm and assured her all would be well.

“Where did you see it last?” he asked.

“It was on the bed. Maybe it went astray when the room was cleaned today?”

Agusti told her that the stuffed animal couldn’t have gone far and that every effort would be made to retrieve it.
He first phoned Loss Prevention to see if a toy matching its description had been turned in to the Lost & Found. No such luck. Glancing at the clock, then at the stack of paperwork on his desk, he could have easily passed the call onto the morning staff by writing a note describing the events, but instead, intrigued by the guest’s desperate longing to find her keepsake, he decided, “No. I’m going to do this myself.”

He summoned the Housekeeping night team on duty to meet him in the Laundry Room. Five minutes later, Rafal Mlynarski, Andrzej Koziol, and Cassio Schuler were soon listening to Agusti re-enact the woman’s plea.

The trio was eager to help find the misplaced bear, but suddenly the reality of sorting through mountains of soiled linens made their eyes widen at the sight of the ten or eleven trolleys before them. Each cart overflowed with tightly wrapped bed sheets and soggy, wet towels. This quest took on the classic “finding a needle in a haystack” scenario, only the lost pin in question had paws, and these bales weighed much more than straw. The unpleasant stench prompted Cassio’s much-needed encouragement, “Don’t worry, guys! This is not a ‘dirty’ job. We have to go for it!”

They all agreed, then split into two groups with each duo dumping out the purple bags in unison. Towel by towel, sheet by sheet, they toiled together in the basement. As the heaping 20 kilos of laundry slowly dwindled, it was Agusti who finally discovered the Teddy Bear entwined in the folds of a king sheet.

“Look!” he shouted. “Here it is!”

An eruption of cheers and hoots filled the Laundry Room as though their favorite team had just won the World Cup. Rafal decided to tidy up their fuzzy friend and lightly sprayed its worn fleece with a bit of air freshener.

“Ah, that’s better,” he said, handing it back to his leader.

Even though dawn soon approached, Agusti somehow knew the woman would not mind his early morning delivery. But before returning the precious bundle, he crept down to the culinary department and placed five homemade wrapped cookies inside a green hotel gift sack complete with the wandering bear peering out over the top.

As the woman opened the door in her bathrobe, she found the almost seven-foot-tall Agusti on the other side holding the bag, his dark brown eyes twinkling back at her, with a smile as big as his heart.

“Look who we found in the kitchen looking for cookies!” he regaled, selflessly omitting the painstaking search details.

“Oh! I thought he was gone for good!” she cried out. “Oh, thank you! Thank you!”

Agusti stood motionless as she tenderly removed the one-eyed treasure and clutched it to her chest, her expression showing reverent gratitude.

“You see, this bear once belonged to my little boy,” she confided softly. She explained how she and her husband, now in their 60s, take it with them wherever they go.

The lady looked up at Agusti and whispered, “He’s now an angel in Heaven.”

Agusti knew his decision to “own” this guest’s problem was meant to be, for his beloved father had passed away before he was even born. His mother had raised him and two older brothers on her own in Barcelona.

As he bid the woman good-night, he asked if he could assist her with anything else.

“I don’t think there’s anything you could do better,” she said sweetly. “It’s as if you’ve given me back my son.”

He was all too familiar with the power of a mother’s love and right there, in the wee small hours of the morning, let go of his tears.

Jill Paris is a writer living in Los Angeles. Her essays have been featured in The Best Travel Writing 2009, The Saturday Evening Post, Travel Africa, Thought Catalog and other publications. She has an M.A. in Humanities and a Master of Professional Writing degree from USC. She travels for the inexplicable human connection.

[Flickr image via neal]

Lost & Found: Top 10 items left behind in hotel rooms

hotel room items

What’s the most commonly left item from guests in hotel rooms? It’s not the missing peanuts from the mini-bar.

Hotel guests are notoriously walking away from some of their most private possessions when they check out of hotels, but just how personal are the items? You’d be surprised. Following a check of its 31 UK hotels’ lost property departments, Novotel revealed the strange objects left behind in hotel rooms by its guests during 2010.

Because of the amount of items housekeeping has picked up in Novotel rooms, the hotel has launched a new online boutique novotelstore.com so people can purchase everything from the bed to the art on the walls, just in case they want to go home with something different.While mobile phone chargers and underwear top the list of most commonly left behind items, amongst the more unusual items guests forgot to take with them when they checked out were a car keys, wigs, musical instruments and dinner suits. The survey of Novotel hotels reveals the top ten items guests most commonly leave behind as:

1. Mobile phone chargers
2. Underwear
3. False teeth and hearing aids
4. Odd shoes and items of clothing
5. Car keys and house keys
6. Toiletries bags
7. Adult toys
8. Electric toothbrushes
9. Laptops
10. Jewelry

We want to know: What items have you left behind in hotel rooms? Did you get them back?

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Ask Gadling: You left something on the airplane

It’s not a good feeling, walking toward baggage claim or a connecting flight, and realizing you forgot an item on the plane. Especially if it’s something valuable, like a brand-new digital camera (not that that happened to me). Okay, it did. I flew Varig into Sao Paulo, and deplaned to catch a connection to Rio. I was halfway to the gate when I realized the camera was missing. I’d removed it from my carry-on to review my pictures mid-flight, and, because I was cracked out on Xanax to quell my aviophobia, forgotten to tuck it back into my bag.

Since I don’t speak Portuguese, it was difficult to explain to airport personnel what had happened, and ask if I could retrieve said camera. I also had a flight to catch, so time was of the essence. I never imagined I would actually be allowed to re-board, due to security measures. Here’s the scary part: the Varig personnel just waved me back onto the empty plane, and let me rip my row apart. I found the camera, made my Rio flight, and vowed never to Xanax and unpack again.

My being allowed back on a plane-unattended, no less-was a freak occurrence. Says flight attendant/Gadling contributor Heather Poole, “Most gate agents/airline personnel can’t help, unless you’ve JUST walked off the flight.”

What to do if you’ve left an item on the plane after you’ve walked away from the gate

Immediately check with the airline’s “airport/terminal lost and found”; that’s where most stuff ends up. Poole says that a passenger’s lost fake tooth once made its way to lost and found.

View more Ask Gadling: Travel Advice from an Expert or send your question to ask [at] gadling [dot] com.

If the item doesn’t turn up at lost and found at your destination airport, call the airline and ask where the airplane flew to next. Explains Poole, “There’s a chance it won’t be discovered until the next leg. An airline employee might also have picked it up, and will return it personally, or leave it at your hotel.” Poole herself did this with a $500 check she found inside a book left onboard (can you say “good karma?”).

Realize that policies will vary depending upon the carrier, type of aircraft, and where you happen to be, destination-wise.

Try not to appear frantic or act demanding. You don’t want to arouse suspicions, or piss anyone off. Just calmly state the problem, while making it clear the item is of value.

If you don’t speak the language, hopefully you have a phrasebook handy. I keep a list of emergency phrases to cover my butt in situations like this, so I have them at my immediate disposal. I write them on the inside cover of my phrase book. Lonely Planet also has excellent phrasebooks that contain sentences like “Help, I’ve lost my….” Sign language, as I discovered in Brazil, also works well in a left-item scenario.

Leave your name and contact information, as well as where you’ll be during your visit (if this pertains) with lost and found personnel, or any gate agents/airline personnel you personally speak to. Also get the name and phone number of the person you speak to at lost and found, so you can follow-up, if necessary.

How can I minimize the chances of leaving an item on the plane, or losing it permanently?

  • Unpacking your carry-on, or fiddling with devices while under the influence is a recipe for lost valuables. If you’re flying solo, tape a Post-it note to the seat back in front of you, reminding yourself to to collect everything before deplaning. Sure, you’ll look like an anal-retentive freak. But who cares, as long as you leave with all of your belongings?
  • Don’t stuff valuables in the seat back pocket, especially if under the influence. I always try to keep everything contained to my carry-on, which I stow beneath the seat in front of me. If you normally stash in overhead, keep a compact, reusable shopping bag on you (some have small clips so you can attach to your belt loop). You can put whatever you might need in-flight inside it, thus minimizing the chances of items going astray or falling into the maw of the seat back pocket.
  • Always ID tag carry-on valuables like cell phones, iPod’s, cameras, etc.. I use stick-on address labels; if you don’t want the whole world to know where you live, just put a cell phone number and email.
  • Even if you didn’t unpack anything in-flight, do a sweep of your seat and floor before deplaning. I’ve had items fall out of not-fully zipped, or elasticized pockets on my carry-on.

Lost and found contact numbers for major U.S. carriers

While researching this piece, I quickly discovered that many airlines don’t have a general number for lost and found. Most require you to fill out an online form, or report missing items in person at the destination airport.

United: 1-800-221-6903.

American Airlines: If I may put my two cents in (and I will), AA has the most idiotic lost and found/customer service policy. There is no general number, so you must “call the Lost and Found office of the specific airport to or from which you were traveling.” Which is awesome, because none of these offices are open 24 hours. When I called the Delayed Baggage number to explain who I was and what I was writing about, and if they could provide me with a general number to assist readers, I was told, “You can send a written letter to customer relations.” Thanks, AA. You rock.

Delta: Click here to report your missing item.

Continental: Click here to report your missing item.

Southwest: Report missing item in person within four hours at your destination.

Jet Blue: “Articles found onboard an aircraft will be placed in the JetBlue lost and found area of the destination city. You may call the JetBlue Baggage Service office at the airport to inquire about your lost item.”

Alaska: 1-800-25-7522, say “More options,” then “Baggage information.”

Frontier: Click here to report your missing item.

Virgin America: Contact one of these lost and found offices.

If you leave any item at any TSA security check, call 1-866-289-9673.

[Photo credits: electronics, Flickr user Burnt Pixel; cat, Flickr user dulcenea]