8 tips to score early check-in at hotels

by Janice Hough on March 13, 2013

It’s happened to most travelers at one time or another. A flight, often a redeye, gets in early in the morning and hotel check-in isn’t until 2 or 3 p.m.

What everyone wants in that situation is an early check-in to their room. Even if there’s no time to really sleep, it’s nice to be able to drop off stuff, freshen up and just relax a bit.

Travel agents and hotels get the “early check-in” request all the time. The problem is, it’s not something that can generally be guaranteed. Here’s an explanation, along with some tips to help score an early check-in.

If a hotel is not full, most of the time there’s no problem giving an early-arriving guest a room. On the other hand, as I tell clients regularly, if they are full, there is no way another guest will be told they need to vacate a room early in the morning so someone else can have it.

With yield-management (basically rates that vary based on occupancy), it’s easier and easier for hotels to put heads in beds. Even at the last minute with all the discount apps and booking sites like “Roomtonight” or “Hoteltonight” etc.

So a hotel which at time of booking looks wide open for the night before an arrival might indeed end up full.

Nonetheless, here are some tips for travelers who really really want to be able to get into a room early.

1. Let the hotel know in advance you will be there early. This won’t guarantee a room, but if you are a regular guest or your travel agent has clout this might help. In some cases, if you ask nicely, they may try to hold something and at least give you priority over another early arrival.

Note, telling a hotel you MUST have a room early, for no additional charge, because you are tired and/or important doesn’t work. They’ve heard it before.

2. Be flexible. A traveler who says they will take anything that is available has a much better chance of getting a room early than someone who says they have to have a room on a certain floor with a certain view etc.

Sometimes, say traveling with a family, a room with a king vs. two beds just won’t work. But if it’s just a question of preference, it may be worth a compromise.

And worst case, if you’re staying several days, you might be able to move later from a less-than-ideal first room.

3. Ask about day rates. Some hotels do offer a rate from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. I’ve noticed this particularly near airports, but also, for example, at several hotels in India and Australia, where flights often arrive in the middle of the night or early in the morning.

4. If a room is not available, ask about using the hotel’s fitness center or a nearby gym for a shower, at least. Many hotels will be accommodating. At a resort location, most places will let you relax by the pool and store most of your luggage until the room is available.

(If you plan to take advantage of this option, remember to pack a change of clothes and/or your swimsuit in the top of your suitcase, or in your carry-on bag. It’s no fun to root through a suitcase in the hotel lobby.)

5. If it’s just a matter of getting your luggage stowed, hotels will let you leave your bags with the porter or front desk even if a room isn’t ready. At least you can head out sightseeing or to work without carrying all your stuff around.

6. If you need a room for work-related reasons, most hotels will also let you sit in the lobby area, where there is generally free WiFi. Both in New York and Washington, D.C. last year, hotels not only let me work in a comfortable corner, they went out of their way to be helpful in offering coffee, water, etc.

7. If it’s important, consider using a last minute booking app and actually booking the night before if available. Or call the hotel directly the day before and ask what it would cost to book the room.

8. If it’s REALLY important, just bite the bullet and reserve the night before your early arrival; make sure the hotel knows what you are doing so you don’t lose your reservation as a no-show. I realize that this option may not be open if you are on a really tight budget. But, on the other hand, even a few hundred dollars may be worth it if it’s the difference between being in decent shape the first day and a walking zombie.

Know yourself. Some people function well on minimal sleep. Others recover quickly from just one sleepless night. If you are not one of them, then averaging the cost of one additional night over a whole trip may be a very worthwhile splurge.

If you do splurge, however, go one more step and either call or have your travel agent call to explain you are booking the night before for an early arrival. The worst of all possible worlds is paying for the room, and then arriving to find out it’s been given away because they think you were a no-show.

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  • LFH0

    I once (and only once) had a hotel–located in a rural area of Minnesota–which refused my request to leave my luggage with the front desk. The front desk personnel told me to store my luggage “in your vehicle,” notwithstanding the fact that I was on foot without a vehicle. After a few minutes of argument, I simply told the front desk personnel that I was going to leave my luggage in the middle of the hotel reception area and make use of the day until my room was ready. Only upon expressing that threat did the front desk relent and place my luggage behind their front desk. I guess the thought of having guest luggage in sight of others about to check-in was even more unappealing to them then the task of storing guest luggage until the room was ready. While I think this was probably the most offensive encounter that I’ve had with a hotel, I suppose that hotels in rural areas without much other competition can pretty much do what they want to offend their guests without any repercussions.

  • MikeABQ

    Janice, I would add 2 other things — 1) BE NICE (I know you always stress that); and 2) make sure you’re a member of the hotel’s loyalty program. I’m the lowest-level of “elite” with Marriott (silver) but that nabbed me early check-in every time I asked for it in 2012.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    Janice, I would add another thing: Look for hotels with early check-in. The Crowne Plaza at LAX used to have signsbanners promoting that you could check in as early as 7:00 AM. I have checked in a few times between 7:00 AM and 9:00 AM. I haven’t been to this hotel for some time since I have switched my business from Holiday Inn to other hotel chains.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I agree…being a member of the frequent guest program (regardless of how infrequent you might be) does pay off.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    Was this hotel a national chainbrand (i.e. Marriott; Hilton; Hyatt; Starwood; etc.) or was it a local brand or independent hotel (i.e. Best Western; Bates Motel; etc.)? While the number of issues that I have encountered with hotels have been few; most if not all of them have been with localindependent hotels not brandchain hotels.

  • LFH0

    You’re insight was on-point. This was not a national chain or brand, but rather a local hotel operated as part of an Indian casino.

  • MeanMeosh

    I would also add, don’t be afraid to call the hotel to ask if they allow guaranteed early check-in for an additional fee. Some hotels, especially ones near airports, will allow you to either check in early, or check out late, for an additional fee (for example, $50), which is usually much less than the rate for an entire night.

    Of course, if the early check-in really isn’t that important to you, you can always roll the dice that the hotel will give you your room early when you show up.

  • ChBot

    Choosing the hotel wisely is also a good thing to do : vacation friendly hotels will often have their guests staying later during the day than business travelers who’ll leave early to a few meetings before catching their flights in the evening !

  • Tommy

    Probably not a good idea to suggest that a hotel *must* hold your luggage for you at the front desk. Many independent hotels have had to deal with people having their luggage held, then accuse the staff of stealing something from their luggage. As a hotel manager, I can tell you that I would rather deal with telling someone that we won’t store their luggage for them over dealing with a liar accusing my staff of stealing. I have absolutely no sympathy for someone that gets upset that they can not check into their hotel room early. IMO if an early check in was that important your cheap a$$ should have stayed the night before! I get tired of travelers that feel the policy doesn’t apply to them because they are going to a wedding, baseball game, etc!!!

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