It’s rare for a hotel stay to be completely perfect. We’ve all experienced issues here and there during a hotel stay but sometimes things go south. The hot water in your shower goes out, your bedsheets are not clean, you get the idea.
In many cases, there is nothing wrong with expecting a little bit of compensation but you have to know how to go about it in order to get it.
I’ll go into detail about all of the common issues you might encounter at a hotel and give you some insight into how to complain.
Full disclosure: I have stayed at many hotels all around the world but I am not a professional complainer (AKA one of those people always looking for something for free for the slightest inconvenience). But I will absolutely not hesitate to contact hotel management when I think something went seriously wrong.
Table of Contents
Manage your expectations
One of the biggest considerations you should have as soon as you think about complaining to a hotel is what type of hotel you’re staying at (luxury, mid-scale, budget, etc.).
The truth is the type of hotel you are staying at matters a lot when it comes to getting something from your complaints.
Respected luxury properties are known for going the extra mile for you even when the slightest things don’t go right (I’ll give you several examples from my own personal experiences below).
A middle of the road hotel will probably take care of you for mild to major issues but minor issues may not get you very far in terms of compensation.
And if you are staying at a cheaper hotel, there is only so much you can expect them to do. The shortcomings generally need to be pretty severe for compensation to be warranted.
So be sure to adjust your expectations and choose your battles largely based on the type of hotel you’re staying at.
Tip: Use the free app WalletFlo to help you travel the world for free by finding the best travel credit cards and promotions!
What was the issue?
Once you have taken note of the type of property you are staying at, now it’s time to define what exactly is the issue. Below are some of the different categories that common hotel issues fall under. I’ll give you some examples of issues you might encounter and the type of compensation that could follow.
- Malfunctioning sink, shower, or toilet
- Broken fan or air conditioner
- TV not working
- Fireplace not working
Typically, when you are dealing with a fixture of some sort not working, a hotel will attempt to swiftly fix it or relocate you to another room. That can be a prime chance for you to request an upgrade of some sort.
In other situations, they may not be able fix the issue or relocate you and that can be a big problem when you are dealing with something like an abnormally warm or cold room. Having to spend hours sweating on your bed is a pretty miserable experience and one that warrants some type of meaningful compensation.
Tip: Always take a photo or video of any issue you encounter. You never know when you might need to use it.
A lack of cleanliness is probably one of the most common complaints.
Considering that each cleaning staff member may clean up to 30 rooms in a day, it’s not easy to get a hotel room completely sterile, so try to avoid nitpicking about little blemishes here and there.
When it comes to cleanliness, the more graphic the failure to live up to a clean standard, the better your odds of getting compensation.
For example, I once stayed at a Hyatt property that left a large urine stain on the top of the toilet. This was extremely disgusting to me. Other times I’ve seen strands of hair in the bathtub which was disgusting but not instant gag-reflex disgusting.
Cleanliness issues are often resolved by someone coming to your room and cleaning up the mess or the hotel relocating you to another room. If the problem was disgusting enough you might be able to get a dining credit or some points out of it as well.
Note: Your location should also dictate your expectations when it comes to cleanliness. If you are staying in a tropical location and find a bug in your room honestly that’s not totally unexpected.
Noise is sometimes a tricky situation. Sometimes the noise might be coming from a nearby construction site and in that case hopefully the hotel had some type of warning on the website about the inconvenience. If they fail to give you any type of notice about it, definitely bring that up when you contact them.
If the noise is coming from a neighboring hotel room then it really is all about the timing. Loud, consistent noise after 10PM should not be acceptable.
Typically, the outcome is for the hotel to find out who is causing the noise and get them to stop. For example, they may give them two chances to correct the noise issue before they are asked to leave the hotel.
If the hotel is not willing to interfere with significant noise disturbances you have grounds for compensation.
It’s never fun to have a sink malfunction or to find stains on the mattress, but it is altogether something else to experience bad service. Bad service comes in a lot of different forms.
In some cases poor service may result merely in an inconvenience. Generally, it will be the higher end hotels that are willing to provide compensation even for slight inconveniences (but not always).
I once stayed at the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong and in an attempt to surprise my husband I ordered a Rolls-Royce to pick us up and take us to the hotel. The Ritz-Carlton failed to show up on time and ended up arriving around 15 minutes late. This was only a slight annoyance to me but because this was such a high-end property they waived the entire $300 fee for the Rolls-Royce!
But compare that to a time at the Park Hyatt Vendome in Paris where the hotel failed to verify that our taxi driver accepted credit cards after I specifically asked them to do so due to the language barrier.
We ended up having to get out in the rain on our way to the airport and deal with a broken ATM machine while getting berated by an angry taxi driver that did not speak English. It was a bad experience but it was like pulling teeth to get the hotel to offer us anything due to the inconvenience.
Lack of attentiveness
Lack of attentiveness may be a situation where you ordered more towels for your room but you have been sitting around for two hours with nothing showing up. This can be pretty frustrating but this is definitely on the lower end of bad service in terms of the magnitude of the mistake. Don’t expect to get too much from these type of hiccups, unless they happen over and over again.
Incompetence can happen when you are waiting for your room to get ready but the hotel staff does not seem to know what is going on. They may tell you that your room will be ready by 3PM only for you to show up and have to wait another two hours to get into your room.
I once showed up to the St. Regis but could not find my reservation and they forced me to stand at the check-in counter for about 15 minutes (wondering about potential last-minute accommodation needs) while they attempted to work out the situation. Management called me up personally after the situation and offered me some type of recourse but left it to me to decide what that would be (I ended up getting about $100 worth of room service).
The tricky thing with incompetence is that humans don’t like to admit when they have been incompetent. Sometimes staff members may give you the runaround instead of fessing up to their own shortcomings so be on the lookout for that.
In my opinion, rudeness is the absolute worst offense that falls under the service category. That’s because unlike the offenses above which sometimes simply happen due to unforeseen circumstances, there really is no excuse for being rude to a paying customer.
Sometimes rudeness may come in a subtle form such as when a hotel staff member is coming off as condescending but other times it may be a flat out rude tone or verbal exchange. If you experience something like this you should expect to receive something in return.
Sometimes, when it rains it pours.
It’s one thing to have something go unexpectedly wrong during a stay but quite another to have several issues stack up as you try to get through your stay.
If you have experienced multiple issues on your stay then it’s best to round them up and present them all at once.
You should go into your notes in your phone or whatever note taking device you have and make a bullet point list of all of the major issues you’ve experienced, so that when you approach the front desk you don’t forget any of them.
How to speak to hotel management
Once you have clearly defined your issue with the hotel now it’s time to contact someone at the hotel and let them know what is going on. Here are a few suggestions on how to accomplish that.
Don’t get emotional
Try to avoid calling them when you are emotionally charged.
This will prevent you from saying unnecessarily hurtful things to someone and allow you to think more clearly in response to anything they may bring up. When your emotions are high you will also be more forgetful and fail to connect the dots in the most effective and logical way.
Go for a walk, work out, or enjoy a meal to calm you down and then approach the hotel staff when you are ready.
Consider this: if a hotel manager approaches you when you are going off on a staff member the manager will likely be biased against you and see you as an unruly customer versus a levelheaded person with a reasonable request.
Give the full context of your issue
This is probably the most helpful tip.
Before you ever march down to the front desk, think about how to properly frame the context of your issue.
Start telling the story in your head from beginning to end so that you are not just presenting an isolated issue or two. This will make your issues way more powerful if you can articulate the full context.
For example, let’s say you had to wait past the standard arrival time to check in and then when you got to your room your bed was dirty and so you had to wait to get relocated to a different room.
That’s a relatively standard inconvenience.
But what if you’re a top-level elite member who just arrived from a long international flight on which you were not able to sleep and you were desperately waiting to get some rest before a major presentation you had to give later that day.
The latter gives the full context of your issue, injects some human emotion into it, and makes it pack a much bigger punch.
There’s no need to fabricate anything but your goal is to basically make it seem like the person on the other end is a sociopath if they don’t offer you something in return for your frustrations. If you approach your complaints with that type of mentality I guarantee you will see much better results.
Choosing the right communication method
You have three choices on how you want to handle the situation:
- Go down to the front desk and immediately begin to present your problem
- Call the front desk from your hotel room
- Send an email to the hotel management
If for some reason you are not able to contact someone attempting the three methods above you could call the main (1-800) phone line for that hotel (assuming there is one) but that generally should be a last resort.
Going down to the front desk
My recommendation would be to handle your issues face-to-face by going down to the front desk and telling someone working check-in that you have had some issues and that you would like to speak to management about them.
Sometimes a manager could be working check-in so they might take up your case right there but other times they may have to bring somebody out.
Explain to the person why the issue is so important to you (give the full context) and why it has caused you significant frustration. If you have not experienced something close to significant frustration chances are it’s not really worth complaining about.
You will know that the mission has been accomplished when you hear the words “How can we make this right?”
If you never get to “How can we make this right?” or you feel like the person you’re talking to is not taking your issue seriously then it’s time to send a letter to the hotel manager.
Assuming that you can find the hotel manager’s email and the manager isn’t the person whom you’re speaking to, you can send them an email outlining the situation.
If you are worried that you will not be heard or suspect you might end up dealing with the same person you’re talking to then you can contact corporate or the main phone line for the hotel program.
Call the front desk from your hotel room
In my opinion, contacting management via phone sends the message that your issues are not as pressing as they would be if you approached them in person.
But some people don’t do well with face-to-face confrontation and for those people voicing their issues over the phone might be better.
Sending an email to the hotel management
For people who just are not good orally, or that tend to excel with the written word, writing out your issues via email can be a great way to go.
It will likely take longer, perhaps 24 hours or more for you to hear back so don’t expect anything to move too quickly.
There are a few clear benefits to utilizing email:
- You have a clear written record of your issues and the hotel’s responses
- If you have photos of the issue, email is a great way to state your case even stronger by attaching those photos
- It’s easier to convey certain details such as your elite status without sounding overly entitled
What should you expect?
I gave you some examples of what you can expect above but by now you can probably tell that what you should expect to receive will depend on:
- 1) the severity of the issue
- 2) the type of hotel you’re staying at, and
- 3) your ability to clearly and calmly articulate your frustration level.
For your average issues like subpar cleanliness, very poor service, prolonged waiting for fixes, here are some different types of compensation you might expect:
- Transfer to a different room (maybe with an upgrade)
- Food or beverage credit ($20 to $100)
- Late check out
- One Free Night
If you’ve experienced something especially flagrant then you may have grounds to request a full or partial refund for your stay. In my experience, refunds tend to be pretty rare unless you have a strong conviction that you deserve one.
This would be a situations where:
- You were forced to accept an inferior room on a major occasion like your honeymoon or maybe an anniversary
- You were verbally assaulted by a staff member
- You found something unimaginably disgusting in your bed (use your imagination)
- You experienced incident after incident throughout your stay to where you just could not take it anymore
My preferred choice when a hotel asks how can they make things right is to offer the option of a food and beverage credit but to leave the amount open ended.
Saying something like “I feel like a food and beverage credit would help make up for the shortcomings” is reasonable and open ended enough so that you were not limiting yourself. You can also apply that to requesting points.
The first step when complaining to a hotel is to manage your expectations based on the type of property you are staying at. Then you want to think about the severity of the issue you are experiencing and what type of compensation it might entitle you to. Once you do that, it’s all about articulating your issues to the hotel in the best way possible.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.