Thursday, November 02, 2006

Five-Star Hotels: A Rant

You can tell you're in a five-star hotel by the beautiful view, the plush bathrobes, and the disquieting sensation of a disembodied hand rooting around in your pockets for every last bit of spare change.

That's the sensation I had recently when I was covering the biennial meeting of the International Gynecologic Cancer Society at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel in Santa Monica, California. (Parenthetically, this was a terrific meeting with lots of good news stories, but I believe I was the only reporter there.)

I wasn't too surprised that the room rate was $279 a night plus tax. After all, this was a hotel a few steps away from the Santa Monica Pier, and it had ocean views and the aforementioned plush bathrobes. But the (required) valet parking was 28 FREAKING DOLLARS A NIGHT, and even that understates the cost, because of course you have to tip the valet a couple of dollars every time he brings up your car.

But the charge that really gets my knickers in a twist at these five-star hotels is the $10 per day charge for Internet access. At this particular hotel the charge was $10 a day for wired access in the rooms, and another $10 a day if you want to use the wireless in the lobby. These days even cheap motels have free wireless in all the rooms and public areas. Providing free wireless is so inexpensive that most mom-and-pop coffee shops make it available to their patrons for the cost of a small latte. Why can't a hotel charging exorbitant rates absorb this minimal cost?

But since I need Internet access for my job, I have no choice but to pay, or rather my employers have no choice but to pay. And the day I arrived I would gladly have paid, because I had some work to do. But guess what? After wrestling it for 20 minutes or so, it seemed like the wired connection in the room wasn't working. I called out to the front desk, and the person on duty quickly explained, "Oh, that's because we're installing new flat-screen TVs in the rooms."

I didn't quite get the connection, but I let that pass. "How soon can you fix it?" I asked. (It was about dinnertime on Friday night.)

"Well, our technician has gone home for the day, and he won't be back until Monday."

"Can you switch me to another room?"

"We're having the same problem in all the rooms."

"You mean to tell me that you're hosting an international meeting of several hundred gynecologic oncologists, and you're going to go entire weekend without even attempting to get the Internet connections fixed?" If their technician was unable to pull a little overtime, perhaps they could have picked up the phone and called the Geek Squad.

To the hotel's credit, they did offer me free use of the business center, and free use of the wireless in the lobby. And they even sent up a bottle of wine to apologize for the inconvenience. I was somewhat mollified until I went to the business center and found that the Internet connections weren't working there either. The wireless in the lobby worked that evening, but by the next day it was no longer working, and it was apparent that management had no intention of even attempting to get anything fixed before the following Monday.

In contrast, I recently stayed at the Tremont Plaza Hotel in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, probably a 3.5 or 4-star hotel. The rooms, all suites with a kitchenette, cost $139 a night, including free wired Internet access in the rooms and free wireless in the public areas. The view wasn't bad, but there were no bathrobes, plush or otherwise. In comparing the two hotels, I can't help thinking that it cost my employers about $150 a night to rent me a bathrobe.


Joseph said...

Reasonable comment but join the 21st century. All but budget hotels charge $10 to $15 per night. That is STANDARD.

The work around is to get yourself a wireless modem for about $60 per month you get unlimited access to net including waiting in the airport and in the cab to and from hotel and your home.

Rouche said...

Thanks for your comment, but respectfully, I believe you're mistaken. Take a look at this New York Times article of about a year ago -- If Parks Offer Free Internet , Why Can't Costly Hotels ? - New York ... -- and this web site that lists dozens of hotels and hotel chains, including many that are certainly not budget hotels (Hiltons, Sheratons, etc,) providing free high-speed access -- Hotels,Motels, Inns and Resorts with Free Wi-Fi.

Mike said...

I stayed in a hotel room recently that cost around $180 per night. I had something like 13 television channels, with two of them trying to sell me something. How is this worth it?

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