Don’t pay for the minibar: hotel insider’s secrets revealed

Veteran front desk agent Jacob Tomsky reveals some of the best-kept secrets of the hotel industry.

You don’t have to pay for the minibar (part one)
The minibar is checked (maybe) once a day by a slow-moving gentleman or lady pushing a cart of snacks. You might never even see a minibar attendant. They are like mole people. They peer into the confusion of bottles and bags, looking for something to be replaced, looking for something that is no longer there. They replace it and put a mark on their room chart. These marks are then, at some point in the future, delivered to another fallible human who manually inputs them onto a guest account. Can anyone see the margin for error in this process? Because it’s HUGE.

Maybe the attendant failed to notice the cashews were consumed Monday but catches it on Tuesday and the charge is applied to your bill on Wednesday, even though you just checked in five minutes ago. Even before a guest can manage to get through half of the “I never had these items” sentence, I have already removed the charges and am now simply waiting for them to wrap up their overly zealous denial, so we can both move on with our lives. And this is why, essentially, you are able to eat and drink everything for free.

Never, ever, will the hotel accuse you of lying. That is the absolute last stance hotel management wants to take. You think a respectable hotelier wants to go through your garbage looking for spent M&M’s wrappers?

You don’t have to pay for the minibar (part two)
Check in at the desk and make a strong request for a non-smoking room, possibly mentioning allergies. Refuse help from the bellman and go up to your room unaccompanied. Immediately open the minibar and shove every goddamn item into your suitcase. Then: smoke a cigarette on the bed and gaze out the window. After: call down to the desk and complain about the smoke smell in the room. Request to be moved. Go to your new room, close the door and get fat and salty and drunk on your suitcase of snacks.

They will never trace that minibar to you. Moving rooms in the system, when it’s done the same day you check in, leaves almost no trace, no overnight confirmation that you ever occupied that suite. Certainly nothing that allows them to track down those five minutes where you stole $500 worth of individually wrapped snacks.

You don’t have to pay for the in-room movies, either
|Even those of you who blushed when I offered up the minibar might find yourselves morally creative enough to steal a movie, simply because for the in-room movie service, the hotel usually pays a flat “subscription fee”. Watching a movie and claiming you never watched a movie has no negative effect on the hotel’s revenue stream. It just doesn’t have a positive one. So stop blushing and we’ll take it in three steps:

1. Watch and enjoy any movie (any movie).

2. Call down and say you accidentally clicked on it. Or it cut off in the middle. Or froze near the end. Or never even started. Would you like them to restart the movie for you? No thanks. You need to go to bed/leave now. Just remove the charge, please.

3. Order another movie and this time hit up the minibar like it’s an unmanned concession stand!

How to avoid a same-day cancellation penalty
This will not work with anything prepaid online, only “natural” reservations, booked through any channel as long as it’s not prepaid. Let us assume, for whatever reason, it’s 10pm and you have a reservation for this evening. However, you will not be making it in. At all. Call the property directly and ask for the front desk.

“Excuse me, are you the manager?”If they say yes, hang up and call back. What we want here is certainly not the manager.

“No, I am not. Would you like to speak to the manager?”

“No, I just have a quick request. I was supposed to fly in late tonight but my 12-year-old daughter is sick …”

Let me stop you right there, dear guest. Sure, you need a reason, but what you don’t need is a 45-minute story. Remember, it’s me on the other end of that line: I’ve got about 10 minutes left in my double shift and I’ve been standing up for 13 hours straight. Try again.

“No, actually, I just have a quick request. I think you can help me. I’ve had a personal emergency and won’t be able to check in tonight; however, I have already rescheduled my meeting for next week. Do you think you could just shift tonight’s reservation to next Friday without a penalty?” “Sure. Next Friday the 24th, all set. Same confirmation number. See you then.”

Done. Now you have a reservation all set for next Friday! Why is that good? Well, tomorrow, call the hotel back and just tell the front desk you want to cancel your reservation for next Friday, as you are well within your rights to do. No problem. Fee avoided.

How to get an upgrade
People will do almost anything and say almost anything to get an upgrade. But words rarely work. In a hotel, money talks.

It’s your birthday? No one gives a f… First time in New York City? Who cares. Anniversary? You’re boring me. Trying to impress your lady friend? I’m not. So happy to be here? Write it in a postcard and send it to your mother. Maybe she’s interested. You never get upgraded? There is probably a reason for that and it’s not going to change today.

The bellmen have a Psalm for this: “You can’t pay your rent with ‘thank yous’. ” Money. Cash on the desk. Think of it this way: who is doing the typing? Who’s assigning you a room? Who knows the availability of every room in the property today, tomorrow and three months out? Me. Your cute little hero; the front desk agent.

Walk up, smile, give them your credit card, drop $20 on the desk and say, “This is for you. Whatever you can do for me, I’d appreciate it.”

Never threaten the front desk
Threatening a front desk agent gets you nowhere. Well, that’s not true. It gets you into a worse room. That’s just the beginning of the ways I can and will punish guests.

In my second year on the front desk, I invented the “key bomb”, and it became instant protocol. Any arriving guest should receive what’s referred to as “initial keys”, which are programmed to reset the door lock when they are first inserted, deactivating all previous keys. Not until the keys expire or a new “initial key” enters the lock will the key fail to work.

What I do is cut one single “initial” key, then start over and cut a second “initial” key. Either one of them will work when you get to the room. Slide one in; you get green, and as long as you keep using the very first key you slipped in, all will be well. But chances are you’ll pop in the second key at some point and then the first key you used will be considered, as far as the dumb-ass lock is concerned, as an old key and invalid.

Without a doubt, at some point, you will be locked outside your room, jamming your first key into the slot, fighting that damn red light or maybe the yellow light (whatever the yellow light means, I don’t know, but it won’t get you in either). And that’s the key bomb. Trace that back to me? Not a chance.

This article originally appeared in Good Weekend.

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