Hotel stay coming up? Here's insider knowledge from the front desk

Front desk clerks share some tips about what might cost you money

We interviewed hotel front desk clerks and managers to learn some insider secrets, and many of them have to do with money matters. Be prepared for your next hotel stay by knowing what will cost you money and what might save you money — and what might save the hotel money at your expense, so to speak.

Among the revelations:

If you make a reservation and the rate goes down after you book, the hotel will not notify you, in all probability. Some websites have price guarantees. Booking site promises it will automatically refund the difference if the price drops.

Asking you to reuse towels and sheets does save water and energy and possibly the planet, but hotels also get something out of it: Labor costs are reduced if sheets and towels don't have to be replaced each day. That doesn't mean you shouldn't be environmentally conscious.

Front desk personnel are often asked for room upgrades. But an upgrade is not a given; you are not automatically entitled to one just for showing up, although hoteliers say people often think they are. Asking politely will help your case, perhaps starting with, "Good afternoon. How are you?" Low-key requests work best. Sometimes a $20 bill tucked behind your credit card, handed to the desk clerk, can be an incentive, delivered with the phrase, "Do you have any complimentary upgrades?" Always a good idea to ask whether the hotel is sold out first.

The surreptitious $20 aside, is it OK to tip front desk staff? Yes. You tip the maids and concierge, so why not the folks at the front? Some travelers give the front desk personnel a bottle of wine or chocolate.

If you booked a super-cheap rate on Priceline, hoteliers told us, don't expect first-class treatment. If only smoking rooms are left when you check in, a better-paying customer or a frequent guest probably will not get bumped from a nonsmoking room to accommodate you. If a hotel is overbooked, guess who gets "walked" first? ("Walking" means you will be placed at another hotel; it is the hotel's responsibility to do that.)

What gets stolen the most often? Pillows. Especially the big goose-down pillows. But don't expect to get away with it. Like bathrobes (there's often a note on the robe's hanger that says they're for sale, which is another way of saying you'll get billed if it disappears), pillows that do a vanishing act will incur a charge — if they're noticed.

Be careful with that mini bar. When you open it, make sure everything is intact. If you find a half-eaten can of Pringles, you probably will get charged. Let the desk know immediately if you find something you didn't eat. To make sure you don't get charged, you're really better off not accepting the mini bar key when you check in. That way, you won't be tempted, and if you never open it, those movement sensors will never go off.

When you're checking out, take some time to peruse your bill for errors. They'll be more difficult to correct if you have to go back and correct them later.

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