Top ten ways hotels try to save money (but shouldn’t)

The hotel industry is in a bit of a slump, and even though we are slowly starting to see some signs of recovery, no hotel will be able to declare that the recession is over just yet. So, it makes sense that hotels have been cutting corners where possible. Sadly, in their quest to save a few bucks, some properties have made the wrong decisions, and cut services or amenities in places that impact guests. Here are my top ten annoyances:

Paid WiFi and Internet access

When it comes to being cheap, Internet access tops my list of annoyances. Nothing grinds my gears more than paying $400 to spend a night in a hotel, then being asked to pay $14 just to access the Internet. I totally understand a hotel trying to earn the expense of Internet access back – but if 100 people a day pay the $14 fee to get online, the hotel will be raking in $42,000 a month, about $41,000 more than a decent business class Internet connection will cost them.

Worst of all, many of the paid Internet services are slow and unreliable – and trying to get a refund for poor service is often very hard as hotels will claim the Internet is provided by a third party.
Wall mounted generic soap dispensers instead of bottles

This is a nasty new trend – instead of those cute little bottles, hotels are now switching to wall mounted soap dispensers. And yes – I understand that this is more “green”, and that all those little bottles usually end up coming home with you anyway, but the dispensers are just tacky and each press only dispenses enough shampoo for a quarter your hair – so you end up having to pump away. But worst of all, you never really know what is in the dispensers as they don’t display any brand or ingredients. You just use it and hope for the best.

[Photo from Flickr/cote]

Mattress topper instead of new mattress

When your mattress at home is worn out, you raid your bank account, and invest in a new mattress. At some hotels, they invest in a cheap mattress topper instead, and delay the investment for a couple of years. I won’t name the property, but I recently spent the night at a very upscale hotel that did just that. The mattress was saggy and dirty, but the $50 topper was supposed to hide this. End result was a bad nights sleep and a mattress topper that kept sliding off the mattress.

TV inputs disabled

There is almost no way to describe how much this one annoys me without swearing. Too many hotels are forcing you to use their overpriced pay per view crap by disabling all the inputs on the TV. This means you have no way to connect your iPod or laptop. In the end, the hotel will lose out, because once I realize this, I’ll never ever spend the night there again. All just so they can hope I spend $14 on a bad movie.

The funny part is that quite a lot of cheaper hotel chains are investing in ways to help make connecting to the TV easier, while others put effort into blocking all access to them. If I know I’ll be in my room for a couple of hours, I’ll often pick a chain that I know won’t prevent me from watching a movie on their TV. Hyatt Place hotels are a good example of a chain that understands the needs of their guests – offering a full panel of external connection.

HD TV but no HD channels / too many promotional channels

What kind of hotel invests in nice HD flat panel TV’s, but doesn’t upgrade their systems to actually allow for HD content? Obviously a cheap hotel. One that doesn’t care that SD TV programming looks horrible on an HD TV.

While on the topic of bad channels – I also dislike hotels where more than 25% of their programming is to promote their various services. Do they really need dedicated channels for the shops, the spa, the fitness center, the restaurants and more?

Minibar with sensors

Sensor equipped minibars are designed for two reasons – to save the hotel a ton of money, and to catch cheaters who remove bottles and refill them with apple juice (or something worse). Problem is, the sensors are designed to charge you any time you so much as sneeze with the fridge door open. Also, on most models, there is no delay timer, so don’t even think about checking the ingredients or branding on a bottle. As soon as you remove it, a computer adds the charge to your bill.

Check-in desk/bar/cafe staff

They call them “hip hotels” or “business class hotels” – I call them a pain in the ass. When I check in to a hotel, I don’t want to wait for the front desk staff to finish baking a pizza – I want to hand them my credit card and receive a room key. I’m all for improving the amenities, but not if it means the front desk staff also have to become wait staff, chef and bartender.

Resort fees

This new moneymaker has been around for some time, but is usually found in Las Vegas. What started as a small surcharge to cover things like local calls and pool access can now become an extra fee worth as much as half your room rate. In Vegas, some properties charge up to $25/night as a “resort fee”. Thankfully, the Harrahs’s Las Vegas properties advertise heavily that they don’t charge these fees, so vote with your wallet and let other properties know that you’d rather waste your money gambling than on resort fees.

Occupancy sensing thermostats

This is another part of the hotel that has fallen victim to the green movement. Occupancy sensing thermostats are horrible. They stop working when they think I left the room – which means they don’t mind raising the temperature in the middle of the night, forcing me to wake up every hour and walk around just to turn the AC on again.

So here you go – next time you run into an Inncom sensor thermostat (the most popular brand), here is the VIP override code to disable the sensor and set the damn thing any way you want (thanks to Flyertalk):

  • While holding down “display”
  • Press “off”, then
  • Press “Up” arrow
  • Release “display” button

No iron, no minibar, no safe, no hair dryer

Iron is available at the front desk. Hair dryer available upon request. All things that save the hotel a ton of money. Instead of buying 200 irons, they just buy ten, and make you beg for one when you need it. Other things that are slowly disappearing from many hotels – the minibar and the in-room safe.

Decisions like this are made by accountants who never stay at a hotel, and think that they have just found the perfect way to cut costs. In reality, they are telling their customers that the hotel is too cheap to provide the amenities guests need.


Budget Travel: European Spring Break

Europe. For Spring Break? You must be joking right? Surely in this time of economic crisis and tightened budgets the European continent is out of reach for most, especially for the student traveler looking to save a few bucks on their Spring Break. And that’s why we’re here to tell you just how remarkably affordable AND easy it is to spend that week off partying it up in Prague, museum-hopping in Madrid or beer drinking in Berlin.

Believe it or not, Spring is one of the best times to visit most European countries. Most travelers wait until summer to hit the continent, but that’s exactly why Europe has a reputation for being so crazy expensive. By traveling in the off-season you’ll have access to some incredible deals on airfare, not to mention you’ll get most of the museums, restaurants and trains all to yourself.

So why blow all that money on a Spring Break trip to Florida, the Caribbean or Mexico? For not much more money, you could be hanging out in world class museums during the day and partying till dawn at some of the world’s best nightspots. How’s that for some Spring Break fun? Come along on Gadling’s Budget Travel Guide to Spring Break in Europe.
The European Airfare Game
I like to think of finding a cheap airfare to Europe as a game. Getting from North America can often be one of the biggest expenses facing the European budget traveler – an obstacle that often threatens to break the bank. But fear not, with a little flexibility and planning, you too can win the European airfare challenge. Here’s how to do it:

  • Check the “Big Five” – the vast majority of European flights from the U.S. are funneled through just five airports: London Heathrow, Paris Charles De Gaulle, Frankfurt am Main, Madrid Barajas and Amsterdam Schipol. Even if you plan on heading somewhere else, flying into one of these hubs and then connecting elsewhere is often the cheapest option. Once you arrive, consider grabbing a flight on a European low-cost carrier or taking the train to your final destination.
  • Use the Budget Carriers – Europe is known for its cheap inter-country low-cost carriers like Ryanair and EasyJet. Even if you fly into one of the “Big Five,” the low-cost carriers ensure that getting to your final destination can still be a bargain. For the full rundown on the low-cost carrier game, make sure to read Scott’s great Low Cost Carrier post from last week.
  • Be flexible – as Grant pointed in this cheap airfare post, finding reasonable tickets to Europe is all about being flexible. Try and avoid flying on the most popular days like Friday and Sunday and schedule your trip at off-peak times. And don’t get your mind dead-set on one particular destination. Is London showing up too expensive? How about Dublin instead? Can’t find a cheap European flight out of Philadelphia? What if you took the train up to New York for your departure? The more options you give yourself, the more money you can save.

So just how much money are we talking for Spring airfares? A quick search of Kayak for European filghts in March pulls up flights from New York to Dublin ($308), Madrid ($367) and Berlin ($380) among plenty of other options. Boston has fares to Dublin for $365 and Chicago has flights to Frankfurt starting at $424. Anything to Europe for under $450 is practically a steal.

Where to Stay
Not surprisingly, the fallback option for many budget-minded European Spring Breakers is going to be the hostel. Sites like Hostel World let you review ratings and prices and make bookings right from the web.

But if you’re like me and you’ve reached an age when a dude strumming his acoustic guitar in the lounge until 3am is not going to cut it, consider renting an apartment. Most decent size European cities offer a thriving market in vacation rental apartments, many of which can be had for not much more than your average night’s stay on an uncomfortable bunk bed. Check out sites like VRBO or Craigslist’s “Vacation Rental” category and look up something you like. Couch Surfing can also be a great option for thrifty travelers looking for a more adventurous experience staying with a local.

Top Three Spring Break Cities
It’s not any fun to be in Europe if you don’t have the money to enjoy it. Here are our picks for the best “cheap” European destinations that mix great nightlife with some interesting sights at a lower cost.

  • Berlin – Berlin offers the best of both worlds for Spring Breakers, combining world class art and culture with one of the world’s more hedonistic and creative nightlife scenes. Not to mention it’s one of the cheapest cities of all the big European capitals. During the day make a stop at the Pergamon, home to one of the world’s greatest collections of Greek and Middle Eastern antiquities (8 euros). Art lovers should check out the Hamburger Bahnof which houses works from 20th Century masters like Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg (free on Thursdays!). Berlin is also home to a thriving music scene. Electronic music fans should head to the Watergate Club, where partiers can dance till dawn against the club’s floor-to-ceiling windows along the River Spree.
  • Dublin – Dublin has the honor of being one of the closest cities to the U.S. mainland, ensuring a cheap flight over. That said, Dublin is also hugely entertaining base for a Spring Break week, offering a lively pub scene in the Temple Bar area, as well as interesting sights like the Book of Kells at Trinity College and the National Museum of Ireland. Booze-lovers can head for either the Jameson Distillery or the Guinness Storehouse to learn more about how the beverages are made and get a free sample.
  • Prague – Prague is the Spring Break trip’s secret weapon. The Czech capital is not yet on the Euro, meaning your dollar goes a lot farther and there’s also plenty to see and great nightlife to be had. Start your visit with a trip to Prague Castle, an imposing fortress that sits across the river from the main city center. On your way you’ll cross the atmospheric Charles Bridge. It’s free and the wide stone footbridge is lined with vendors, street artists and ornate statues of the town’s historical figures. End your evening with some Jazz at one of Prague’s many underground Jazz clubs or dancing at the Roxy, which operates out of an old movie theater.

European Money-Saving Tricks
So you snagged an insanely cheap flight, you’re staying in an apartment or hostel, and you’re traveling to one of Europe’s bargain-priced cities. What else can you do to keep costs manageable? Never fear, here’s a few more money-saving tips to make that Europe trip all the more affordable.

  • Carpe Diem – as Latin majors can attest, Carpe Diem translates as “seize the day.” And with the Dollar to Euro exchange rate hovering at its most favorable point in almost 2 years, there’s never been a better time to take advantage. Skip this Spring Break and who knows if your money will go nearly as far for Spring Break 2010.
  • Eating In – sure, it might seem painful to skip out on a plate of tapas or that extra croissant, but cooking your own meals can save you some serious money (while also being quite delicious). Virtually all hostels have a kitchen for guests – not to mention if you rent an apartment you’ll have a kitchen all to yourself. And shopping for fresh local ingredients at markets like La Boqueria in Barcelona or the Campo de Fiori in Rome can be a fun experience in and of itself. Feel bad about passing all that great food? Consider using the Euros you have left over at the end of your trip on a big fancy meal to make up for your frugality!
  • City Pass – are you planning to visit museums and attractions like it was going out of style? Many European capitals offer city passes, which bundle admission to a variety of attractions along with unlimited access to public transportation for one price. Sites like European City Cards sell passes for a variety of European tourist destinations. And check your guidebook – many museums offer FREE admission on certain days of the week.
  • Public Transportation – whenever possible, stick to the metro and buses. Most European transit systems are extensive and will take you just about anywhere in the city confines for one low price. And consider buying an unlimited pass for the length of your stay – it will be much cheaper than paying as you go if you plan to take a lot of trips.