The Right Opinion

Hotels and Hassles

By Thomas Sowell · Nov. 21, 2012

Few things can make you appreciate home like staying in a hotel. This includes not only low-budget, bare bones hotels but also sweepingly large and ornate luxury hotels. What many hotels seem to have in common are needless hassles.

Since most people who stay in hotels do so while traveling, and stay only a few days in a given hotel, you might think that those who run hotels would want to make it easy for someone who arrives a little tired (or a lot tired) from traveling to use the various devices they find in their hotel room. But you would be wrong. That thought never seems to have crossed their minds.

Recently, at a well-known luxury hotel in Los Angeles, I found that something as simple as turning on a television set can require a phone call to the front desk, and then waiting for the arrival of a technician. Then it took another phone call to get a list of which of the dozens of channels were for which networks.

Why the turning on of a television set should be anything other than obvious to a newly arrived hotel guest is apparently a question that never occurred to the people who ran this hotel. Nor did it apparently ever occur to them that someone just arriving from a journey might want to be able to relax, instead of having to cope with complications that the hotel could easily have avoided.

The next morning, in the shower, I found myself confronted with a dazzling array of knobs and levers, none of which provided any clue as to what they did. The lever rotated and four of the surrounding knobs both rotated and tilted forward and backward.

Apparently it was not considered sporting to come right out and tell you how to get hot water or cold water. That was something you could find out for yourself by being either scalded or chilled.

Being fancy and opaque seemed to be the guiding principle.

Getting on the Internet required another phone call to the front desk. In fact, it required two phone calls, because I was first referred to the wrong technical support group.

It is easier to get on the Internet at almost any institution other than a hotel. And, at this particular hotel, you had to go through the whole procedure every day, instead of just signing up for Internet access for your entire stay when you checked in or logged on.

Being a luxury hotel, this one provided bathrobes. But I had my own bathrobe. At least I had it until the maids took it away when cleaning the room while I was out. Another phone call to the front desk.

Since my bathrobe was a white, terry-cloth robe and the hotel's robes were a light tan and made of a different material, I thought there was no danger that one would be mistaken for the other. But I was wrong.

Just how wrong I discovered when, after a long delay, late at night when I wanted to get to sleep, a man appeared with a large bag containing two bathrobes. Apparently their search had also turned up another guest's bathrobe that the maids had taken. It looked even less like the hotel's bathrobe than mine did.

Something as simple as turning on a light can be a puzzle at some hotels. Again, the fatal allure of the fancy seems to be the problem with people who choose things to put in hotel rooms. Moreover, it is not uncommon for different lamps in the same hotel room to have different fancy ways of being turned on.

Years ago, at a hotel where I stayed for a week, it was only on the last day that I finally figured out, or stumbled on, the way to turn one of the floor lamps off and on.

Since I was very busy on that trip, I didn't feel like adding this to the list of things to phone the front desk about, especially late at night, when I was more interested in getting to sleep than in waiting for some technician to show up and unravel the mystery.

After my misadventures in Los Angeles, I was off to San Diego, where a hotel maid had to replace a light bulb in the bedroom and a technician had to fix a lamp in the living room. Later I had to fix a toilet that kept running after being flushed. I once had a toilet like that at home, so I knew what to do. But I replaced my malfunctioning toilet at home, unlike the hotel.

No amount of fancy things makes up for hassles.

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12 Comments

Tom Mumford in Manchester, Connecticut USA said:

Sans bathrobe, you are describing my stay at The Aria in Las Vegas. I was there for two days and nights and found that electronic gadgetry that operated the room needlessly confusing.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 7:17 AM

Ct-Tom in NC said:

When I can, I stay at holiday inn express. I know how to work everything there and Internet access (usually hassle-free) is included in the very reasonable rate. The fancy stuff is how expensive hotels impress, and they charge extra for everything.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 9:04 AM

READY4ACHANGE in ILLINOIS said:

Clicking my ruby heels together - there's no place like home... there's no place like home!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 9:13 AM

Robert in NEW Mexico said:

It was clearly an economic decision to pay more and get more hassles in return.

Consumerism, and life in general, are like that; we are always trying to figure out new ways to complicate our lives.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 11:08 AM

Jayve in ABQ, NM said:

Hell, just give me a tent and a butane stove. Of course my wife wouldn't appreciate that too much...

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 11:42 AM

Wayne in Hinesville, GA replied:

Jayve, I mentioned that to my wife and her response was: "Go ahead and buy the tent and the stove and when your finished go by the lawyers office and file for divorce because I'm not living in a tent".

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 2:14 PM

David Thompson in Bellville, TX replied:

If you don't take her up on it, Sergeant, she must have some other, rather outstanding, good points.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 2:46 PM

Wayne in Hinesville, GA replied:

David, she does and the best quality she exibits is her loyalty to me through some very rough times. She's my rock and I try to remember to tell her that quite often.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 10:54 PM

Craig in CA said:

I always like the "mortgage test". For every $1,000 you pay for your monthly mortgage, it works out to $33/day. With a typical $3,000/month payment, you're paying $100/day to stay in your own home.

I like to take advantage of what I'm paying for, and try not to vacate my $100/day house to often...

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 12:09 PM

pete in CA said:

In 12 years of traveling for work and nearly 11 years of retirement I always found Holiday Inn Express or Comfort Inn group to be the best bet. Reasonable rates, not like the new "too smart for me" phones, and I can find one or the other nearly everywhere.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 12:38 PM

David Thompson in Bellville, TX said:

The free market in action, Mr. Sowell. Wages in the "hospitality industry" are rock bottom, for managers and for workers. Skills required for employment are nil. Training of employees does not happen. Don't ask me why.
Owner-operated motels can be the very best or the very worst, depending on the conscientiousness of the owner. Which you can't discover without checking in.
Remember where you've been treated well in the past, and hope it hasn't changed ownership or management. DON'T return to that "luxury" LA flophouse. You might write the company a letter of complaint, but don't expect results. Better that you'd told us in your column the name and address of the place. We could all have voted with our feet.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 2:44 PM

Army Officer (Ret) in Kansas said:

Ha! I was at a 4-star place a few weeks ago when we all switched from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time.

I'm a little paranoid about being late to things, so I set three alarms when I travel: the one on my phone, the one in the room, and I ask for a wake-up call. But this time there was a problem... Actually, there were two.

The room clock was set to DST and I wanted to change it to Standard Time before I went to bed. But it did not have any obvious means of setting the time. Nothing, nada, no dice. I figured there must be a trick to it, so I called the desk to ask how to do it. The guy at the desk didn't know how to do it either, and neither did the housekeepers. He had to send Maintenance to my room, where he proceeded to pop one of the panels off and flip the switch that allows the time to be reset. I suppose that prevents guests from screwing up the room clocks, though, so I can live with that. That solved one problem, and now I know how to reset those clocks.

In the morning my phone rang. Wake-up call. Right on schedule - or so I thought. So I got dressed and went down to breakfast and wondered where my traveling companions were...

...And why there were so few other patrons...

...And why my phone seemed to be displaying the time from the next time zone...

And then it hit me. (Sleep deprivation will do that to you.) I guess I shouldn't have said that we ALL switched, because one guy who definitely did NOT switch was the guy who sets up the morning wake-up calls.

It wasn't a total loss though: my colleagues thought it was funny.

Thursday, November 22, 2012 at 7:01 PM