One of the most aggravating things about travel is those surprise hotel charges. Twenty dollars per day for wireless access? Five bucks for that bottled water you thought was free? And don’t even get me started on the detestable mandatory “resort fees” that are mentioned only in the very fine print of the room booking charge. I was once even given a $3.50 “electricity surcharge” at a hotel, as if turning on the lights was some special perquisite that a room rate shouldn’t cover. It’s only a matter of time before hotels start charging “per-flush fees” for toilet use.
So it’s good to see that some hotels are still providing free amenities to guests. Surprisingly, the less-expensive hotels are more likely to give you free wireless access, bottled water and breakfasts (and a staff that doesn’t demand tipping). But now even some luxury hotels are getting into the freebie game, knowing that everyone likes the feeling of getting something for nothing. Even though you may have already paid $500 for the room, it’s still nice if they throw in a fruit basket. But it’s not just a complimentary bottled water — some hotels are getting creative and generous with their free amenities. Here are nine of my favorites:
1. In-room electric guitar
Where: Hard Rock Hotel, Chicago
It’s good to see a hotel live up to its name, as Chicago’s Hard Rock Hotel does with its Sound of Your Stay program. Visitors can choose one of 20 different Fender Stratocasters, Telecasters and other electric guitars to be delivered free to their room for their own jam session (along with a pair of headphones so they don’t wake up the neighbors). If you don’t play guitar, how about some in-room DIY DJ’ing, with an iPad loaded with tunes and the Traktor DJ program delivered free to your room?
2. Rolls-Royce rides
Where: Four Seasons Hotel, Los Angeles
The Four Seasons offers guests free rides around town for errands in one of its high-end luxury cars. No better way to cruise the streets of Beverly Hills than from the passenger seat of a Rolls-Royce Phantom. You don’t even have to get stressed about traffic or directions — your driver has it handled. All you have to do is focus on posing like a rock star and hopping from the car quickly to escape from the paparazzi.
3. Pillow Menu
Where: Benjamin Hotel, NYC
In case someone is playing an electric guitar in the next room, New York City’s Benjamin Hotel has a full-service set of amenities to help you get to sleep, including a selection of 20 different high-tech pillows, sleep masks, earplugs, blackout curtains, white-noise machines, and a music library of lullabies. It even has a certified sleep consultant on staff (she looks very well rested) who heads up the hotel’s “Sleep Team.”
4. ‘Wow Cart’
Where: Hyatt, Palm Springs, Calif.
It’s like reverse trick-or-treating at the Hyatt Palm Springs every afternoon, as the complimentary “Wow Cart” arrives at each room between 4 and 6 p.m. with a knock on the door and an offer of treats including candy bars, fruit, freshly baked cookies, water, and soda. Probably best to be followed with a trip to the hotel’s gym.
5. Custom photo Book
Where: Great Wolf Lodge, nationwide
The Great Wolf Lodge chain of resorts across the U.S. has partnered with Shutterfly to give an offer to all guests for a free photo book. Upload your trip photos, drop them into the resort template, and you have an instant scrapbook of your trip, presumably taking advantage of the resorts’ other amenities, like water parks, rope courses, and wave pools.
6. Crackerjacks and vinyl records
Where: The Goodland, Santa Barbara, Calif.
Kimpton’s new offering in Santa Barbara gets creatively retro in its amenities with an in-room turntable playing vinyl records curated for you by a music concierge. It also provides boxes of custom Cracker Jacks — they cost $4 but contain free prizes inside like drinks and appetizers at Happy Hour.
7. Hooves and Horns Program
Where: Lost Pines Resort, Austin, Texas
When Austin-area Lost Pines Resort offers you a chance to “meet the longhorns,” it doesn’t mean the local football team. Instead, guests can hang out with T-Bone and Rib-eye, two genuine Texas longhorn cattle who are saddle-broken and content to have people sit on them for photos (just mind those horns). Also part of the meet-and-greet team are Yogi and Boo-Boo the alpacas, Captain and Trooper the miniature donkeys, and a friendly team of draft horses for hayrides.
8. Unlimited minibar
Where: Marival Resort, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
The high-end resort, spa, and residence complex in Riviera Nayarit offers rooms complete with a fully stocked bar. Open up your TV cabinet to find full-size bottles of tequila, rum, scotch, and vodka, tilted upside down and ready for a pour. Drink all you want — what could possibly go wrong? It’s also known as the “destroy your liver program.” Be sure to rehydrate.
9. Tanning butler
Where: Ritz-Carlton, Miami
It’s hot in South Beach, Fla. So it’s good that the Ritz-Carlton pool has a dedicated staff member whose job it is to stroll around the pool and mist guests with an Evian spray, offer to clean their sunglasses, and provide a selection of sunscreens. Note that the butler will not apply the sunscreen to you, no matter how nicely you ask.
WATCH: Crazy Complimentary Hotel Amenities