The Vogue in downtown Dubai doesn’t seem like the kind of hotel where guests would be surprised by anything. The furnishings are spare and modern, and the amenities are about what you’d expect from a boutique hotel.
But when Luke Fitzgerald tried to check out of The Vogue early, a smiling concierge greeted him, offering him a Mango Lassi, an Indian yogurt drink.
“I was handed a receipt,” recalls Fitzgerald, an American search engine specialist who lives in Ireland. “But what surprised me the most was a no strings attached free night at the hotel on my next visit.”
Hotels are using the checkout process as more than an opportunity to say “goodbye” and sign your folio. It’s a final shot at making a positive impression and inviting you back. Even though experts predict 2016 will be another record year for the lodging industry, some hotels will be more profitable than others. It’s farewells like The Vogue’s that could make the difference between a successful year and a so-so one.
The checkout process has become almost completely automated, experts say.
“A bill is placed under your door the night before and, if there are no disputes, you’re automatically checked out and the credit card that was provided at check-in is automatically billed,” says Margo Gorra-Stockman, a senior principal at Accenture Travel. Or there’s no paper needed, as “mobile check out through an iPhone or iPad offers an eFolio of your charges.”
But hotels are rethinking that impersonal bye-bye.
• At the Mirror Lake Inn Resort and Spa in Lake Placid, N.Y., guests receive house-made and “notoriously delicious” chocolate chip cookies for the drive home. Mmmm.
• On your way out of the Napa River Inn in Napa, Calif., don’t be surprised if the receptionist offers you a discounted return guest rate — and a bottle of wine.
• At Paradise Beach Resort on the Caribbean island of Nevis, guests receive a pair of Havaianas flip-flops customized to their foot size. At check-out — surprise! — they’re yours to keep.
Hotels are rethinking “check out” in other ways, too. For example, at Grand Residences Riviera Cancun in Puerto Morelos, Mexico, guests check out the evening before the last day in their suite “to allow for a stress-free departure,” says Carlo Bicaci, the hotel’s general manager.
“Guests appreciate the personal touch and respect of their privacy, especially when settling a bill,” he adds.
Connect all the dots and it almost looks as if some hotels are quietly eliminating those negative checkout surprises. Those include unwanted mandatory “resort” fees or surprise charges from the minibar (“I didn’t know that bottle of water cost $10!”) or a “misunderstanding” about the room rate.
Hotels collected an estimated $2.47 billion in fees and surcharges last year, according to an estimate by NYU professor Bjorn Hanson. Many of these extras, such as charges for receiving overnight packages, automatic gratuities, fees for unattended parking and baggage holding charges, are traditionally tacked on at the end as an unwelcome check-out charge.
Instead, what if checking out was easy, private, seamless and the only surprises were good ones — like the mango cocktail or the custom slippers? Hotels appear to be rethinking the way they bid you farewell. Instead of one last chance to stick you with a higher bill, they’re seeing it as an opportunity to invite you back.
If they keep it up, we might just say “yes.”
What to look for when you check out
You can eliminate the negative surprises on your next hotel bill by doing the following:
• Mind the tent. The “tent” cards in your room, often ignored by guests, contain important information about surprise charges. Experienced guests read them even when they look like they’ve seen them before. You never know how much that in-room call will cost.
• Tell them before they tell you. If you’ve helped yourself to items from the minibar or opened that $10 bottled water, let your hotel know and settle the bill before you leave. It’s better than waiting and receiving a possible late charge on your credit card.
• Read your bill carefully. Some hotels still stick it to their guests at the last minute by sliding a bill under their door that’s littered with industry acronyms. If you don’t understand something, ask. If it doesn’t make sense, ask for it to be removed.