Ever wondered how much your college degree actually paid off? Well, if you majored in hospitality and tourism, every time you hop on a plane or check into a hotel, you know you got your money’s worth. That’s because you’re familiar with the ins and outs of an industry that most are simply guests to — and you can likely save money thanks to that knowledge.
Stuck with an English degree (guilty!)? No worries. We caught up with former hotel managers and hospitality business professors to find out what they learned from their years in the biz — and how it affects the way they travel.
Here, they share tricks to make your next trip easier, cheaper, and more comfortable.
Make friends with the bellman
“I don’t care if I’m in this country or another around the world, I always try to look for the local flavor,” says Bonnie J. Knutson, a professor at Michigan State University’s School of Hospitality Business. “You can do the London Tower and the Empire State building, but that’s not seeing and experiencing the culture of the people.”
This is where the hotel staff comes in. Try the bellman first, she suggests. They’ll not only be able to suggest a great hole-in-the-wall breakfast spot, but they also likely know the area well — and can steer you clear of sketchy parts of town or unsafe neighborhoods, she says.
Travel at the right times
Michael “Doc” Terry, an associate instructor at the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management who also managed hotels, says that hotel rates are mainly based on one factor: demand. “If you went to Disney World on December 20th, you would have no wait at the parks and no crowds at the hotel; if you wait until the 26th, you’ll have huge waits at the park and huge crowds at the hotel,” he says.
Want the cheapest, quietest experience? Plan trips for two weeks before Christmas, the end of August, or the first few weeks of September, he says.
Ask questions until you get a discounted room rate
Do you have a corporate rate? An AAA discount? An AARP special? Do you have any specials? These are just some of the questions you should ask (and ask and ask) when booking a hotel room, says Daniel J. Mount, an associate professor at Penn State University’s School of Hospitality Management. “When a hotel in New York City couldn’t find me a discounted rate, the woman on the phone asked me what color my eyes were. When I told her brown, she found the ‘brown-eye discount rate,’” he says.
Hotels are, or should be, ready to negotiate rates in person, he adds. “Some will stick to their first stated rate, and I’ll leave. Others realize that if I walk away, they will have an empty room so negotiate freely.”
You can usually stay at a hotel till 3 p.m. — just ask
“Late checkouts of up to 3 p.m. or even 4 p.m. (depending upon the location) are generally not a problem,” says Amit Sharma, PhD, director of the Food Decisions Research Laboratory and an associate professor of hospitality finance at Penn State University’s School of Hospitality Management.
Of course, the hotel won’t advertise this, but when you make the reservation, request it — and ask that a note be placed on your account, he suggests. “A smile never hurts when requesting either,” he adds.
Pay less for a room by calling the hotel directly at night
If you are after a lower price, know this: “The only people who will negotiate a rate is the hotel themselves,” says Terry. (That means Expedia or your travel agent are out.) Call after dark and you may have an even better chance of paying less.
“You’re dealing with someone who may not have a supervisor around and who is in a better position to lower the rate; hotels want your business and will usually come down in price if demand is low,” he says.
Pick the bed farther away from the window
Staying in a room with two double beds? People tend to take the one closest to window, says Terry. It’s probably human nature — wanting to be closer to, well, nature.
“Hotels are supposed to rotate the beds, but sometimes they don’t.” So use this to your advantage and take the bed closest to wall — it’s usually much more comfortable because it gets less use and is likely cleaner, too.
Compliment front of the house staff
Knutson says that any time she interacts with a receptionist, a housekeeper, or a bellman, she always tries to pick out something small to compliment. “From a humanitarian standpoint, if anything goes wrong at the hotel, they hear about it first — they get dumped on,” she says. “It’s a tough job to serve the public. Even a small compliment can jack someone up a little and give them a better attitude.”
The other reason to be nice: Kind words will plant you in the staff’s minds. “If you have an issue, they will be more likely to remember you and pay attention to you.”
Try another form of flattery, too. If anyone is particularly helpful to Knutson while she’s traveling, she asks who their supervisor is — and tells them she wants to send a quick note to commend the employee. “Ultimately, you’re looking for your best travel experience and that seems to always work.”
WATCH: Hotel Hacks You Need to Know