By Denise Martinez-Ramundo and Glenn Ruppel
Whether visiting family or taking a vacation, the winter holiday season is one of the busiest and most stressful travel times of the year. But guests beware, don't take your frustrations out on the hotel staff. It may make your stay very unpleasant.
In his book "Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles and So-Called Hospitality," Jacob Tomsky, who worked his way up from valet to the much-valued front desk concierge, reveals the secret tactics hotels and inns use as payback against guests.
"There is a thousand ways that I can get back at you for something you don't even know you did," he said.
Tomsky shared five of the egregious hotel staff secrets he witnessed over the years, plus two ways guests can have their complaints to the front desk work to their advantage.
1. Your Wheels, Their Squeals
It can start before a guest even walks through the hotel's front doors. Tomsky said a guest's first enemy is the hotel valet. Even with tip, he said, the parker can still take your car for a rip-roaring joy ride through the parking garage.
"A valet parker probably got hired last week, probably getting fired next week, doesn't really care that much," Tomsky said. "The valet is not going to make any money unless he gets that dollar tip. So there's a focus on speed. Of course when it comes out it's driven really slowly and carefully."
2. Tip Now or Pay Later
Valet is just the beginning, Tomsky said, and the battle really begins at the front desk. He cautioned that online discount seekers might have to settle for discount service.
"The biggest lie in the hotel business is that all the rooms are basically the same," Tomsky said.
He suggested that flashing a $20 at the front desk could score you a room upgrade. But if you come in empty-handed, chances are you will get a worse room and you would not even know it.
3. In New York, Beware Room 1212
It may sound like a good deal -- a high floor room can come with beautiful views -- but Tomsky said it's not.
He said some hotel guests don't know that when using the room phone, you have to dial out first, typically by pressing an 8 or a 9, to place a call outside of the hotel -- and 212 is a New York area code.
"If I put you in Room 1212, it's a beautiful room by all accounts," Tomsky said. "However, there are a bunch of idiots all through the hotel that don't dial out, and they'll type 1-212, they'll start typing any local number and it's going to ring 1212 all day, all night."
4. The Bag Drag
Hoping to carry your own bags to avoid paying the bellman? Not a good idea.
Tomsky said the staff will use guilt and fear very easily to entice guests to let them help you.
"The bellman and the doorman are very good at lingering, it's a very strong skill," he said. "If they stand a little too long, making you a little too uncomfortable, and then you'll reach for your wallet."
5. When In Your Room, Use the Plastic Cups
It's time to settle into your room, but don't get too comfortable. Tomsky said he once supervised housekeepers and said they will take shortcuts when cleaning the rooms, including wiping down drinking glasses with the same cleaning supplies to wipe down surfaces.
"Honestly, Pledge will clean a mirror or a glass to perfection, spotless," Tomsky said, adding that sometimes those cleaning rags may have cleaned, say, the bathroom, before being used to wipe down the glass.
The best advice, Tomsky said, is stick to the plastic cups.
6. However, Complaints Can Work to the Guest's Advantage: Room Charges
Tomsky said there are some instances where guests can complain to the front desk and have it work to their benefit.
Want to watch that pay-per-view movie or sneak a drink out of the mini bar but avoid the cost? Tomsky said those charges are often disputed and sometimes the front desk will back down.
"Even if you have watched a movie, and you say that it froze in the middle, really no one is going to fight you, that's not a hotelier's job," he said. "They don't want to accuse you of being a liar."
7. You Can Avoid the 24-Hour Cancellation Fee, If You're Strategic
Tomsky said if you need to cancel your hotel reservation at the last minute, call the hotel the day of your reservation -- twice.
"Let them know that you don't want to cancel, you just want to shift your reservation," he said. "That happens all the time. Your business meeting got pushed to next week. Then you have got your reservation for next Friday."
Then call the hotel right back and get a different person on the phone. "Say, 'I'd like to cancel my reservation for next Friday,'" and you will be golden, he said.