How to book a hotel the smart way: 1. Start with a thorough search. Check an online travel agency like Expedia or Booking.com or call your travel agent. Check the rate against the price your preferred hotel would charge if you book direct. 2. Review the restrictions. Hotels can impose restrictions for booking through their site, like making their rooms non-refundable, so read the conditions closely before deciding where to go. You might be better off working with a big agency that has negotiated better terms. 3. Check the incentives. Ask yourself if you really need the points or the upgrade. Red Roof
Tips on avoiding tips: 1. Take out instead of eating out. If you order takeout, no tip is expected because no table service is provided. 2. Visit a business with a no-tipping policy. But beware: Instead, some "no tipping" restaurants add a mandatory "service charge" of 18% to 20%. 3. Avoid the outstretched hands. (You can.) You can stay in vacation rentals, rent a car or use mass transit, buy your food in a grocery store and take the self-guided tour and avoid having to leave a tip. Getty Images/iStockphoto
How to avoid missing amenities in your vacation rental: 1. Carry a vacation rental emergency kit. If you're staying at a rental, be prepared. Consider an emergency kit with towels, toilet paper, soap and detergent. 2. Consider renting through a service. Companies such as Vacasa, Wyndham Vacation Rentals and TurnKey Vacation Rentals go beyond bare-bones listings. 3. Just ask. Vacation rental owners can be very accommodating. Getty Images
How to opt out of aggressive email campaigns: 1. Click the unsubscribe button. Every legitimate email campaign must have one. The sooner you click it, the louder your message to the hotel, tour operator or cruise line that these high-pressure tactics won't be tolerated. 2. Say "no" — and say why. Most travel companies will offer a "feedback" option when you opt out of an email campaign. Tell them why you're unsubscribing, especially if the annoyance affects whether you'd do business with them again. 3. Tell the feds. Complain to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) if a business is emailing you without consent. Under the CAN-SPAM Act, you have the right to end the seemingly relentless emails. Getty Images/iStockphoto
How to handle a rude TSA agent: 1. Report the agent to a supervisor. Ask for a Supervisory Transportation Security Officer (STSO) immediately. 2. Complain in writing. You can send an email directly to the TSA (tsa.gov/contact-center/form/complaints). 3. Contact your elected representative. You can contact your representative online at house.gov/representatives/find. Congress has tried to hold the agency accountable for its actions in the past, and its vigilance is bipartisan. Scott Olson, Getty Images
Who to call if your travel insurance claim has been denied: 1. Your state insurance commissioner. To find your insurance commissioner, visit the National Association of Insurance Commissioners site: naic.org/index_members.htm. Some travelers have reported that their claims were honored after copying their state insurance commissioner on their appeal. 2. The Better Business Bureau (BBB). The BBB investigates claims of this nature, but it has little sway over the final outcome of your appeal. 3. A consumer advocate. Even though travel insurance companies operate "by the book," they can be prodded into changing their minds by an outside party. Check out the National Association of Consumer Advocates site for a referral: consumeradvocates.org. Getty Images/iStockphoto
How to avoid an in-flight emergency: 1. Know when you shouldn't go. Generally, you should avoid flying if you're sick, recovering from a serious illness or have a condition that is easily exacerbated by the stress of flying. 2. Don't fly if you're contagious.Airlines will issue a credit and may waive the change fee if you can prove you were sick at the time you were supposed to fly. 3. Avoid flights that could divert. Some flights are likelier to experience a medical emergency than others, particularly those to destinations that tend to attract retirees or passengers in poor health. Flights to Las Vegas, Miami and Fort Lauderdale may fall into that category. Getty Images/iStockphoto
How to avoid wrinkled clothes: 1. Roll, don't fold. It doesn't just save space, it can prevent wrinkles. 2. Spray 'em out. Wrinkle-release sprays can fix travel-related wrinkles in a pinch. 3. Don't overpack — or underpack. “Wrinkling is caused when the bag is underpacked or overstuffed, so add or remove items until you have the perfect amount of items to keep the items in place while traveling," advises author Tori Toth. Getty Images/iStockphoto
How to keep your travel complaint from being ignored: 1. Cite the rules, chapter and verse. If you have a strong case for compensation or a refund, it'll be in the contract. 2. Lawyer up — without lawyering up. Without threatening to go to court, let the company know that it may be violating the law (if, indeed, it is). 3. Appeal to a company's customer service culture. Travel companies frequently promote warranties, customer promises or mission statements that claim to put you first. A quick reference to these documents can be enough to persuade an airline, car rental company, hotel or cruise line to do the right thing. Getty Images/iStockphoto
What standard travel insurance doesn't cover: 1. Pre-existing medical conditions. Though some policies offer a waiver for medical conditions, you have to make sure you meet all of its conditions. 2. Changing your mind. Don't want to take the vacation? Most insurance won't cover you, but you can always go for a more expensive "cancel for any reason" policy, which would. 3. Psychological or nervous disorders. If you can't board a flight because you're afraid of flying, you generally can't file a successful claim. 4. Partying too hard. If you had a little too much to drink the night before your return flight and missed it, don't bother filing a claim. scyther5, Getty Images/iStockphoto
How to avoid visa problems: 1. Mind your expiration dates. Both visas and passports have an expiration date. Be aware of them, and make sure you don't overstay. 2. Take the right photo. Countries are specific about their requirements (no sunglasses, no hats, specific formatting). 3. Remember, a visa isn't a guarantee of admission. Getty Images/iStockphoto
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Too often, electric outlets are few and far between.(Photo: Norasit Kaewsai, Getty Images/iStockphoto)
If you've stayed in a hotel recently, you've probably noticed something missing from your room. For me, it was bathroom doors.
"Not all hotel rooms are created equal," says Sara Fahy, a vice president at Resonance, a company that advises resort and real estate developers. In fact, hotel amenities and services are so inconsistent that she has begun to pack her own travel emergency kit.
It's not just her. I also have a travel kit, which includes an extension cord, moisturizing lotion, shampoo and soap (see below for details). If you travel a lot, you probably have one, too. And you've probably also wondered: Why is this necessary? Shouldn't hotels offer at least some of these things?
Of course they should. Part of the problem is that in their efforts to lower costs and increase profits, hotels cut too much. Glenn Haussman, publisher of NoVacancyNews.com, a hospitality news site, recently released a list of amenities quietly removed from "modern" hotel rooms. They include soaps and lotions, desks, dressers and glassware.
More: Hotels eliminate guestroom desks
"For hotels, these reductions can save millions of dollars each year," he says. "But to guests, the cuts seem downright uncivilized."
I'm not kidding about the bathroom doors, by the way. Many of the newer hotels, in an effort to conserve space, have replaced regular doors that close and lock with sliding doors that neither lock nor fully close. I've stayed in several properties recently without locking bathroom doors. Am I the only one who think this is a bad idea?
So what else did they take away when you weren't looking?
• Half the stuff in the bathroom. The list is long and includes a reserve roll of toilet paper, hooks, towels, washcloths and tissues, says frequent traveler and tour guide Annika Hipple, who lives in Seattle. "Also, trash cans," she says. Removing trash cans from the bathroom may be convenient to the housekeeping staff, but not the guest. Trust me on that one.
• Coat hangers. Several readers, including Kashlee Kucheran, have mentioned the absence of usable hangers. "There might be three wooden hangers in total, which is not enough for a full-time traveling couple," says Kucheran, a former real estate agent who is now traveling around the world. But even if there's enough, they're not real hangers if they're permanently attached to the rail, are they?
• Light. It's not your imagination: Hotel rooms look downright gloomy, according to many guests. Both ambient and artificial light are in short supply, particularly in the bathrooms. Michelle Fiegehen, a director for a human resources company based in Mandaue, Philippines, says she longs for a hotel with "excellent lighting" in the bathroom. "Preferably, adjacent to a mirror that doesn’t have a barrier in front of it."
• Power outlets. OK, maybe they haven't taken them out — that's kind of hard — but some hotels haven't kept up with increasing demand, either. No excuse for that, says Joshua Zinder, a Princeton, N.J., architect. "Power outlets can be built into desks, lamps and other convenient locations as appropriate, making them accessible without having to move furniture or crouch and crawl," he says.
I could keep going, but you probably have your own list, and if you're reading this story online, I would invite you to share it in the comments.
But there's reason for hope. Some hotels know they're missing the extra amenities you want and are trying to fix it. For example, the latest version of Hilton's Honors smartphone app lets you request items such as extra pillows and towels so that the items are waiting in your room when you check in. More hotels are also doing what the upscale Ballantyne Hotel in Charlotte does, stocking extra chargers, toothbrushes, toothpaste and shaving kits.
"We anticipate their needs," guest relations manager Alan Grant says.
Hotel executives aren't mind readers, and they can't think of everything. But maybe they should start thinking of some of the things that we miss — and that we want.
More: Hotels get rid of closets, add other storage solutions
Pack an emergency kit
Some hotels are omitting basic amenities in order to boost revenue. Here's what you should consider packing for your next trip:
• Toiletries. Most hotels stock soap, although it's miniaturized, but you can't always rely on having shampoo or conditioner to your liking, and rarely moisturizing lotion. Bring your preferred brands and ask for an extra roll of toilet paper when you check in — just in case.
• Entertainment. If you plan to use the hotel TV, you may want to bring a reliable remote control that you know how to use. Better yet, skip the TV, the in-room radio or sound system, and just bring a PC with all your entertainment preloaded.
• Power. The power strip with a universal power adapter is a must. If you use an electric razor, make sure it's charged before you take off. Too often, electric outlets are few and far between.
Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit elliott.org.