A fiver for a small bottle of water? No thanks. We tell you how to get your H20 for free – and to get maximum value from every stay with tips from hotel insiders.
You can get a better room without paying more
All hotel rooms aren’t created equal – even in the same price category. After you book a hotel, call the reservations desk and ask if a corner room is available. Corner rooms tend to be positioned away from the elevators meaning less noisy footfall and no pinging bells. They’re also usually larger with more windows (equalling better views), yet these spacious, sunnier, quieter rooms often aren’t classed as an upgrade. If they are, ask instead for a room far from the lifts and on a higher floor, explaining that you’re a light sleeper so need to be high above street noise and away from areas with heavy footfall.
You don’t have to pay for bottled water
In hotels with gyms and spas, you’ll nearly always find a fridge stocked with cold bottled water, free to anyone using the facilities. So instead of paying a fortune for the Evian in your mini-bar, just pop to the fitness centre, pretend you’re going to work out (nobody really does, do they?), or pull on your bathrobe, nip into the spa, and grab a bottle. Bonus: some put free bowls of fruit, nuts or other snacks in the gym and spa areas, too.
You can lounge around longer for free
Those 3pm check-in and 11am check-out times aren’t are strict as you might think, which means you can add in extra sightseeing time – or just have a lie-in – without stressing about your luggage. While some hotels charge for early arrivals and late departures (particularly in America), many are happy to extend for an hour or two if the hotel isn’t full, especially on Sundays and Mondays, often the quietest days of the week. Choose your hotel wisely and you might not have to ask at all; Westin and Novotel both offer late check-outs as standard on Sundays, while Radisson Blu allows it any day of the week, subject to availability. Always check, rather than assuming, though, so you don’t end up with a surprise fee on your bill at check-out.
At spa hotels, you could luck out even more. Some, such as Lime Wood in the New Forest, allow guests to use the facilities from the spa’s opening time on the day they check in until closing time the day the check out. So stay for one night, get two full days use of the sauna, hydrotherapy pools, bubble-jet beds, lap pool and steam rooms. Call your spa hotel to find out if they offer the same, and plan your arrival and departure accordingly.
You can get VIP treatment for nought
Birthday, anniversary, graduation, new job? Whatever you’re celebrating, it pays to let the hotel know about it. ‘We want our guests to have a memorable stay so if we learn of a special occasion beforehand, we’ll try to upgrade them, or at least send up some flowers, cake or wine,’ said one Hong Kong hotel manager. ‘Just don’t lie about birthdays – we’ll see your passport when you check in.’
Get loyalty rewards without being loyal
You don’t need to be a corporate road warrior to enjoy the benefits of a hotel loyalty card programme – in fact, many schemes offer perks from the moment you sign up. Joining Hilton Honors, for example, brings instant benefits, such as a digital check-in service that allows you to pick your own room, and free late check-outs, subject to availability. Fairmont’s President’s Club comes with separate faster check-in lanes, free wifi and local calls, while membership of Starwood’s Preferred Guest programme includes bottled water in the room and two free drinks at any Aloft hotel bar. Even small independents frequently offer perks if you sign up to their newsletters, such as free breakfast or a discount off your next stay.
Be flexible to get a spa bargain
A visit to a hotel spa is a treat, but that pricey treatment menu isn’t set in stone. Request to speak to the spa manager and ask if they have any discounts or special offers available, letting them know that you would be willing to visit at any time of the day. Most spa-goers prefer late afternoon and early evening slots, leaving less-popular morning and mid-afternoon sessions up for negotiation. One spa manager at a five-star hotel in Thailand told us she often offers a 25 per cent ‘early bird’ discount – but only if asked.
You don’t have to miss breakfast if you can’t make the service time
Are you paying for a room that includes breakfast, but annoyed you’ll miss your java jolt because you’re heading out early for a flight or excursion? Ask the restaurant staff to make you a take-away box. The added faff means hotels tend to keep quiet about this service, but it can be done and will usually include a yogurt pot, fresh fruit, pastries or cereal bar, and a juice box – and, if you’re lucky (or ask kindly), a takeaway tea or coffee.
It pays to complain
If there’s a genuine problem with your room, don’t keep quiet about it; a lukewarm shower, noisy air-conditioner or ropey Wifi could land an upgraded room. Let the on-duty manager know immediately when you spot the problem – the sooner after check-in, the better – and ask to be moved to not just an equivalent but a better room to make up for the inconvenience of having to move. A resort manager in the Maldives told us, ‘We prefer our guests to be nice, but the truth is kicking up a fuss is often a good way to get you what you want.’ Don’t be rude, though. Give them a chance to offer you something better before you start fuming. And if there are no upgraded rooms available because the hotel is full, ask for a credit to use in the spa, bar or restaurant.
Take the toiletries and slippers with you
While you’ll find a charge on your credit card if the towels, bathrobes and sheets goes missing – ‘we once had to bill a guest who removed a TV from the wall!’ one Shanghai hotelier told us – hotels do expect you to take the toiletries, so don’t feel bad about popping all of those fancy fragranced goodies in your bag.
And if you want extras, swipe all of the ones off the bathroom counter on your first day and shove them in your luggage. When the cleaners come, they’ll leave an entirely new batch. And if hotel provides slippers, you can take those, too. Otherwise, they’ll just end up in the bin. Back home, you’ll feel like you’re on holiday again as you pad around wearing you monogrammed houseshoes and using fancy hotel shampoo.