I hate mini-bars

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In my last day or two at FlightSafety, I was going through my old engineering notebooks and remembering some of the projects I worked on. Occasionally some non-engineering thoughts were recorded on the page.

During a business trip to Montreal in the summer of 2001 I came up with an idea for a website devoted to helping business travelers find hotels with the kinds of amenities I wanted -- amenities that you couldn't usually specify when searching online for a hotel.

I was staying in the Hilton at the entrance to Dorval Airport, spending as little time in the hotel as possible. (Montreal is one of my favorite cities, but the area around the airport looks like the area around the airport anywhere else.) The Hilton is a full-service hotel, with a restaurant, a bar, meeting rooms, a concierge, a gift shop, and a pool.

Like most full-service hotels, every little thing at the Hilton was extra. Local phone calls had a surcharge. Long-distance calls had a surcharge. There were a dozen free TV channels -- and pay-per-view. And there was a refrigerator in the room, but it was a mini-bar -- stocked and checked daily, so I couldn't buy cheap sodas at the supermarket and keep them cold. The bed wasn't even that comfortable. I do not remember if there was a mint on the pillow, but I am sure I did not care. On subsequent trips, I stayed elsewhere.

Full-service hotels were apparently designed for the business traveler with an unscrutinized expense account. FlightSafety has a fixed $25 per diem for meals and incidentals in the U. S. and Canada, so I would find ways to save money, like buying sodas and snacks at a grocery store. A traveler could keep receipts for the whole trip, and get reimbursed for actuals, but it never seemed worth the bother, and I doubt they would have reimbursed me for a soda from the mini-bar.

The hotel rooms that have what I like are usually much less expensive than the full-service type, and the extras are included in the price. Here's what I look for in a hotel room, beyond the basics of comfort, cleanliness, and security:

  • Full extended basic cable -- all the channels you'd get if you lived in the town, including C-SPAN. Especially C-SPAN. C-SPAN is an effective noise-blocker and sleep aid. Extra-strength C-SPAN (officially known as C-SPAN2), with the special ingredient Senitcuvraj, is even more effective, and the only side effects are disturbing dreams about Orrin Hatch.
  • A free local paper. I'll read USA Today if I must, but I'd rather learn something about the city I'm visiting.
  • Free high-speed Internet access in the room, preferably wired access. This is non-negotiable, especially now that I'm a big-time blogger. The most frustrating Internet / hotel experience I ever had was at the Residence Inn in midtown Savannah, Georgia. The phone system was so old, it could only manage a 28.8 kbps connection when it could manage a connection at all. Of course, the Residence Inn charged for each local phone call. To her credit, the manager refunded the fees for the failed connection attempts, but I stayed elsewhere on future visits. The second most frustrating experience was at the Comfort Suites in Wichita. They offered wireless Internet "in every room," but it was done using a single wireless hotspot in the hotel's atrium. When I complained about the flakiness of the connection in my room, I was told that I should have requested a non-corner room if I wanted to use the Internet.
  • A fridge and a microwave, so I can have cold sodas handy, keep and reheat leftovers from enormous restaurant meals, and have something that isn't entirely starch and sugar for breakfast. The Hampton Inn in East Aurora, New York, offered a free breakfast each morning, but it was 100% carbs, so I'd eat in my room. I'd slap a pre-cooked ham steak and a slice of swiss cheese on a piece of bread, heat it in the microwave long enough to melt the cheese, then top it with good ol' Buffalo-style horseradish (and plenty of it) and another piece of bread.
  • An iron and ironing board. I never use one at home, but at home I can fluff a wrinkled shirt in the dryer.
  • Plenty of accessible outlets -- one for the laptop, one for the cellphone recharger. Don't make me move the bed out from the wall to plug something in.
  • A clock radio that can actually pick up the local news-talk station inside the hotel. Bonus points if I can move the alarm time forward and backward. Extra bonus points if the radio isn't reset to the chambermaid's favorite station every day.
  • A decent place to work -- a desk at the right height, a comfortable chair, a phone nearby, plenty of outlets and an Internet hookup, with a view of the TV.
  • Good pillows and plenty of them.

If the hotel is in an interesting, walkable area -- like Savannah's Historic District -- I can do without the TV. In a place like Altus, Oklahoma, it's an absolute necessity.

That really isn't too much to ask, is it? More and more mid-range hotel chains seem to be offering those sorts of amenities as standard features, which means my website idea isn't really needed now. Wingate Inns started offering free high-speed Internet in every room in 1999, along with a fridge, microwave, a cordless phone, ironing board, and full basic cable. Other chains have been slowly catching up. I've noticed that Hampton Inns appear to have standardized over the last year with free high-speed Internet in the rooms, WiFi in the lobby, hot breakfast with scrambled eggs and sausage, and free local calls.

So what are your business travel hotel must-haves and pet peeves? Leave a comment.


W. said:

-- How about real towels in the bathroom? I don't want those dinky ones that are barely larger than my washcloth at home. And make sure those towels actually have absorbancy, too. Even the higher-end hotels always seem to fail this test, while at the $35-a-night Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, N.M., supplies big, fluffy towels.
-- I want the local paper, not USA Today. We've stayed at the very reasonably priced Saga Motor Inn in Pasadena, and we always get a free copy of the L.A. Times.
-- A TV remote that actually works. You'd be surprised how often this screw-up happens.
-- Desk clerks that actually know the town. If you want to find a local barbecue shack or a honky-tonk where you can wet your whistle, make sure a hotel has someone who knows where these places are.

Anon said:

A real shower head without those water-saver add-ons and plenty of hot water at user-selectable pressure. A required jog in the tub to get wet is the worst disappointment.

Since I quit travelling so much, it occured to me that those cheap little door alarms advertised on TV would be good to have in a hotel room. I hate coming out of the shower and being greeted by a maid standing there holding the suite door wide open for all the passers by. And, it would make sleeping better not having to wonder who might still have a key to the room. Passcards seem even more subject to potential abuse.

Back when computers were a lot less portable, I'd often pull up with a whole trunk full of equiment for presentations. Not wishing to leave it in the car (it was actually an SUV type with visible storage from the windows), I'd have to haul it all up to the room. So, I always appreciated those places which offered a luggage cart to assist the move. Those places with more than one story and an elevator were also desirable.

Steve Bragg said:

Good post. Altus, Oklahoma? I used to live near there. And, yeah, other than the Air Force base, there's nothing to do but look at the Wichita Mountains ;-)


mad okie Author Profile Page said:

for some reason some motels & hotels no longer have clocks in the room...

Doc Stock said:

The Hampton Inn is where I stay when traveling. With the Hilton Honors system you can receive up grades depending on your status. I had a client in Montreal also and stayed only once at the Hilton Duval. It was not good. The Hilton in Laval is much better and newer.

The thing I don't like about the Hampton and many others is the plastic cups. Sometines I have destroyed a cup trying to unwrap the plastic around it.

Last year I stayed in a new Hampton in Layfette, LA that was perfect. The desk was L-shaped and you could really spread your work out and get something done. In the next 5 years I think this will be the businessman's choice when on the road.

I am new to your web page but will be reading it more often.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on May 2, 2005 10:07 PM.

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