Prep me for a fancy hotel
September 28, 2018 11:19 AM   Subscribe

I have one night in a ridiculously nice hotel. How do I get the most out of it?

The spouse and I are the sort of people who have a favorite Red Roof Inn. We’ve cashed in our credit card points for a night at the Four Season in DC. How do we five-star hotel?

We’ll arrive at check in time and probably do the spa around check out time the next day to get the most out of the stay. We’re able to put on clothes and generally fit in. But having no experience with luxury hotels, what perks can we take advantage of without driving up the cost?

There’s a TripAdvisor review from a guy who said the manager gladly swapped out his Pellegrino for Perrier. This floored me. I don’t care about water brands but I don’t want to do anything that would result in being charged $10 for a seltzer.

We’ll splurge at the bar/restaurant and understand that will be expensive in itself.

I’m not looking for DC advice, we’ll stay at the hotel the whole time, just generally, what can I ask for, what can I expect, how do I make the most of a night that costs the same as most of my week-long trips?
posted by OrangeVelour to Travel & Transportation (39 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
If it's a special occasion, like a birthday or an anniversary, let them know ahead of time. I've been treated to some desserts and champagne in lesser hotels.
posted by bondcliff at 11:24 AM on September 28, 2018 [4 favorites]

I take roughly 500 baths with all the hot water in the world. Like, I take a fancy bath with loads of hot water, don a lovely robe, sit around until my skin is dry and I'm warm and drowsy, and then it's back in the bathtub. Sometimes, if I'm feeling extra decadent, I'll call down for extra bath towels to be brought to the room and tip a couple bucks.

Endless hot water.

Endless fresh clean towels.

Fancy clean bathrobe.

Not having to scrub out the bathtub at the end.

(I also like to bring a fancy-ass candle and burn it all night long while I do my laps between the bed and the bathtub.)
posted by joyceanmachine at 11:26 AM on September 28, 2018 [20 favorites]

If they're not already in the room, plush robes are nice to lounge around in.
posted by homesickness at 11:27 AM on September 28, 2018

I would call ahead and find out if you can check in early.
posted by avocado_of_merriment at 11:36 AM on September 28, 2018 [11 favorites]

You can bring a fancy bottle of wine with you to not pay their up charge but ask them to send up glasses/corkscrew etc.

Also seconding BYO candles and bath bombs and take at least two baths. Definitely try to show up early for check in
posted by wowenthusiast at 11:40 AM on September 28, 2018 [4 favorites]

Send the hotel a link to a photo of you and your partner. Ask if they could print that photo out, and put it in a frame on your bedside table, for when you arrive. Do not tell your partner you are doing this.

Concierge might not be able to accommodate but for the possible partner 'wow' factor, it is worth a shot.
posted by enfa at 11:42 AM on September 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

Maybe some concierge ideas here? 4 Hours in the Life of a Four Seasons Concierge
posted by anastasiav at 11:45 AM on September 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

You'll probably get a knock on the door for turn-down service in the evening. If you say yes, a staff member will come in, literally turn down the blankets on your bed. They might also leave a little goodie, like some chocolates or something. When we stayed at the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco, the staff person also put down a little rug-like towel on the floor on each side of the bed so we could wipe our feet before getting into bed, and we each got a pitcher of cool water and a glass on our bedside tables.

If you don't plan on being in the room in the evening, let the front desk know that you'd be amenable to turn-down service in your absence, if in fact you are amenable to it.

Do tip the maid service at the end of your stay, just as you would at any hotel.
posted by cooker girl at 11:45 AM on September 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

What sets fancy hotels apart isn't so much the room, but the areas/amenities within the hotel itself. There may be all kinds of nooks or small bars or a rooftop view or a rooftop jacuzzi. Take a walking tour of the place once you're there to see where you want to spend time, maybe bring a book to read in a quiet place.

Also, the concierge might have special deals with nearby places, so ask them what they recommend and they might hook you up.
posted by Dashy at 11:47 AM on September 28, 2018 [5 favorites]

If you have time to prep, read Class Acts which talks a lot about the kind of service people get in luxury hotels.

Also, is the tub a hot tub with jets? Bring bubble bath. Be careful. I was in a hotel with jets once and they stupidly provided bubble bath. I spent much of the evening mopping bubbles up off the bathroom floor because I felt terrible about the housekeepers having to do it, but before the mopping, the actual bubble-bath part of the evening was fabulous.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:48 AM on September 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

I would call the hotel and ask to speak to the concierge in advance and basically ask the same question, explaining in particular that you'd like to surprise and delight your spouse in some small way(s). My guess is that they would enjoy making your once-in-a-blue moon stay special more than dealing with the unreasonable demands of the crown prince of Wherever-istan.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:52 AM on September 28, 2018 [16 favorites]

Cheese plates. All the fancy hotels have fantastic cheese plates. Room service or in the bar. That always seems so decadent.
posted by Ftsqg at 11:54 AM on September 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

There may be a free happy hour drink or two available. Many upper-class hotels give you a free alcoholic drink each day. (Of course it's paid for with your 'resort fee,' but a drink is a drink.)
posted by hydra77 at 11:56 AM on September 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

A bellhop would likely be glad to show you around after check-in, as well as taking your bags and showing you to your room. (Have some cash ready for a tip if you use their services.)
posted by asperity at 12:04 PM on September 28, 2018

If you bubble bath in a jetted tub (I highly recommend!), put the bubble bath in sparingly a little at a time until you have the right amount of bubbles and the right amount of control over those bubbles.

If they get out of control, hair conditioner kills them right off. Put it in the tub near a jet intake and it should bring it back under control. (I do this all the time!)
posted by MultiFaceted at 12:10 PM on September 28, 2018 [6 favorites]

IIRC, not all the rooms have tubs, so call ahead and make your preference known. Same if you want a higher floor, specific view, etc.

The in-room mini bar has free snacks and drinks, and provided your requests aren’t too outrageous, they will substitute items.

If you like the toiletries, ask for extras.
posted by evoque at 12:44 PM on September 28, 2018

This won't be cheap but get a few items of clothing laundered - they will come back looking like new and its like a tiny memento to last you the next day or two.
posted by Lanark at 1:24 PM on September 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've never been to that particular hotel, but as someone who's bounced around the price ranges, I think the key point to keep in mind that distinguishes the base service without extra expense at a place like this from the Motel Six is that if you run out of something, or are missing something, you can usually just call and they'll bring more. More towels, more ice, more toiletries, more pillows, etc. I remember the first time I stayed at what would qualify as a quite expensive hotel (and was feeling skeptical about the value proposition of same), I got a migraine and so I called down to see if they sold any aspirin, etc., at the front desk. They were rather baffled by the concept, but did send someone out in the middle of the night to the nearest 24-hour Boots to get me some! I assumed there'd be some ludicrous twenty-five-pound service charge on the bill the next day, but there wasn't. Basically, you shouldn't be shy about asking if small things that would be convenient or comfortable are available.
posted by praemunire at 1:26 PM on September 28, 2018 [6 favorites]

(Also, I would take turndown service at a place like that for granted--you'd have to opt out rather than request it!)
posted by praemunire at 1:29 PM on September 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

Others have mentioned asking for an early check-in; late check-out may be another option.

Also, re: the suggestion above about free minibar items: definitely check prices- while some items like bottled water may be free, definitely do not assume everything is!
posted by sunflower16 at 1:38 PM on September 28, 2018 [6 favorites]

You could always do the Vegas Soap Trick.

Seconding tell the hotel about your special occasion. Pro Tip: They do not know when your anniversary is, and will not ask for a marriage certificate. They WILL log it into their system though, so date-shifting may only work once.

It's worth flipping through the "About the Hotel" book/pamphlet. Some hotels have agreements with spas or gyms in the area, or other perks the book will tell you about that you may not know about.

I enjoy having my own wine/beer in a hotel room; also remember that you can order takeout from just about anywhere these days.

And yeah, talk to the concierge/front desk about how to make Special Trip Special. They may surprise you.
posted by craven_morhead at 3:01 PM on September 28, 2018 [5 favorites]

Oh, man, the soap trick rules! But you have only one night, so might not work in this case.

I like this one book Heads in Beds to let you know how to be the nicest you can be to staff and what to avoid doing or saying or not doing or saying. For one, go ahead and let the bellhop take your bags up, and be sure to tip.
posted by Don Pepino at 3:04 PM on September 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

I haven't been to that particular nice hotel, but one thing I love to do in nice hotels is go to the hotel bar and have a drink or two and some fancy snacks, and gossip with my traveling companion about all the other people in the hotel bar. You can get schnookered and then just wander into the elevator and glide up to your room! No designated driver needed!
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:09 PM on September 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

See what kinds of free items the concierge can bring you. My boyfriend and I stayed in a fancy hotel recently and we realized that the services guide listed all kinds of neat free gadgets. The most memorable one was a shoe mitt.
posted by capricorn at 3:33 PM on September 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh man, I also just went to the hotel's website and saw that they have steam rooms. Steam rooms are magical; you should 100% try it. I also live in DC and work literally two blocks from the Four Seasons, so please feel free to MeMail me if you have any specific questions or needs in the area!
posted by capricorn at 3:37 PM on September 28, 2018

There’s so many awesome suggestions here. I think I wasn’t clear enough about the self-esteem/class issues bound up in this, so I’ll be super direct: how do I know if they’re going to charge me if I ask for a shoe mitt? Since they’re all about providing the best service to VIPs, if I tell the concierge this is a big deal for us, won’t I get treated like the regular folks I am? How do I not look cheap?
posted by OrangeVelour at 4:31 PM on September 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

I don't have direct experience at the Four Seasons, but I've stayed at similar price-range hotels as one of the hoi polloi. They don't tend to nickle and dime you. You are basically paying a flat fee in the form of the room. (Though, you know, normal hotel stuff still applies--the booze and snacks in their mini fridge ain't free.)

Definitely when you make your restaurant and/or spa reservations tell them it's a special occasion if there is one you could plausibly use as an excuse. At the Omni resort I go to once or twice a year we always get comped dessert in honor of whatever anniversary/birthday/whatever we are using as our excuse for spending an absurd amount of money at a hotel.

I don't go out of my way to look fancy when I roll in. Last time we were at Bedford Springs, we were using a suitcase so old and patched up and ugly it looked like it came out of a cartoon about hobos. The people who work at hotels are just regular folks making a working class paychecks and it is literally their job to make everyone who walks in the door feel welcome. I've been treated like a Kardashian at the Watergate despite looking like I just spent all day packed like a sardine on a train, which I had. They're used to dealing with difficult, entitled people. If you're nice to them and appreciative of their service and hard work, it doesn't matter what you look like, you'll be a favorite client.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:01 PM on September 28, 2018 [5 favorites]

if I tell the concierge this is a big deal for us, won’t I get treated like the regular folks I am?

Nope. They want to make every guest happy, even the ones who have scrimped and saved. Those guests are more likely to be appreciative and thankful than J. Random Influencer who always wants to play the "don't you know how many Instagram followers I have?" game. And they have stuff they can give you for basically any reason at all, so you should definitely say what occasion you're there for (birthday, anniversary, whatever). Chances are they'll send a bottle of their finest Champagne cheapest cava and some chocolate dipped strawberries or something, because it costs them like $5 to do that, and it gets them much more than $5 worth of value on TripAdvisor.

My wife and I usually look more for deals than Top Luxury Hotel sorts of places (spend less on the hotel, take a longer trip, eat at fancier restaurants, have another round at the bar). On a trip to Prague a few years ago, though, we stayed in a ridiculous hotel. They looked at us in some amazement as we walked up from the tram with our luggage, arriving just as a car service dropped off another guest. We asked about local holiday celebrations. "Oh, that's just a local tradition." "We know. That's why we want to see it." We asked them about the cookies they had in the lobby. "I don't know, but my grandmother makes them. Everyone's grandmother makes them. I can ask the chef." The next day they handed me a scrap of paper with the word pracny written on it. (In hindsight, I should have asked them for the recipe, because nothing I've found on the internet is quite right). Eventually we asked them where to go shop for liquor to take home because all the places on the high street were terrible. "What do you want? We can bring it to you." "What I want is to look at the shelves and see all the stuff I don't already know about." In the end they sent us to the Tesco at a mall. It was perfect.

After a 16 day road trip my wife and I arrived at the Bellagio, exhausted, dirty from a hike at Zion National Park that morning, exceedingly punchy after so much travel but also very clearly cheerful and happy. "We are looking forward to a comfortable, KING SIZE bed and a nice bathtub." The desk agent worked for like five minutes to figure out what free thing she could give us just to make our stay there that much more memorable. It was actually kind of fun to watch her offer things we wouldn't have the time or appetites to use since we already had dinner reservations and weren't going to be around for spa hours. Eventually she talked us into going to the buffet before dinner ("you don't have to eat much, but you really should see it") and she also comped our breakfast the next day.

Just be appreciative, tip appropriately, and ask them every question you want. Anything that's already in the room that doesn't have a price noted somewhere is free for your use during your stay. The one thing that's always sort of confusing in a hotel like that is that they may put bottled water somewhere outside the minibar that they will still charge you for (possibly noted by a tag around the neck of the bottle, or a discreet card that's easy to overlook), but they may also have different, complimentary water. Honestly, I always feel like any bottled water in a hotel room is a trap until I've figured out where they hide the prices on the stuff that isn't free (and a $4 bottle of Dasani is a bit of a disappointment but it's also not the end of the world). The minibar will have a price list on a card, either attached or nearby. The laundry and shoe shine services will have a cost card, possibly clipped or stapled to the bag. But the soaps and bath gels and whatnot are complementary. Call down for more if you need the bubbliest bath ever.

BTW I haven't been to Bourbon Steak (the restaurant in the Four Seasons) in a while but the service there is excellent. We had a funny thing happen once, sitting in the lounge, when my wife tweeted a minor dish critique at them. Not five minutes later a manager came over and said, "excuse me, are you [wife's name]? … We're sorry you were unhappy with the dish. Is there anything else I can offer you?" I think we let them bring us a dessert to share because they wouldn't take no for an answer. Again, it costs them (basically) nothing for a dessert that's already plated anyway, and they make a guest happier. I'm not saying you should complain just to get free stuff, but if things aren't quite what you expect you should speak up and let them fix it. That's what they do.
posted by fedward at 6:08 PM on September 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

In my experience the thing that marks a really really nice hotel is that the room service food is actually really good (but not cheap). As is the turndown service chocolate (which should be free).
posted by potrzebie at 6:42 PM on September 28, 2018

Because Reasons I have the reason/occasion to stay regularly for work in the MO hotels. One little trick I learned is to ask about upgrades to the club floor. It's sometimes out of my price range, but sometimes surprisingly affordable. If you're on the club floor, there's generally a free open bar (a nice one!) and buffet in the evening and the breakfast is much nicer. If you're on the club floor, there's also often an extended checkout time. Sometimes if you sign up for the hotel loyalty card before you go, they random upgrade you to the club floor for cheap or free.

So-- if they leave fruit, cookies, or chocolate out for you in the room on a daily basis, then that is usually free. The rest of the minibar you need to pay for unless they say otherwise. Coffee and tea is generally free. The chocolate which comes with turn down service is usually free. Asking for appliances generally won't generate extra charge, but you can ask when you call. Rich people are hella cheap, so they won't blink if you ask. In fact, you can ask about almost anything. Just channel your inner rich cheap guy and ask away.

posted by frumiousb at 7:15 PM on September 28, 2018 [8 favorites]

Ooo we did this at the Shanghai-la in Kuala Lumpur. Based on one glorious decadent night before we shifted out to an Airbnb, my recommendations are: get room service (silver service by waiter on warming trolley at breakfast which we ate in our fluffy, fluffy, FLUFFY robes); visit to the swimming pool (there was a turn down service for the pool loungers where the pool attendant made you a towel bed on the lounger); ask the concierge to book your tickets to a show (we did this because we wanted tickets to the national theatre and their site was in Malay but the nicest bit was that the concierge slipped a sweet handwritten note under our door with information about the dress code); book in at the buffet for lunch (a level of extravagant ridiculousness and opulence that I just would not have believed without seeing it for myself); have tea, coffee or drinks in the lobby or atrium (people watching); and yes definitely go for a walk around the public areas. Just saw your note about looking like you fit in. My personal take on this is don’t try to be someone you’re not. Being sweet and honest (it’s your special night!) and just asking nicely (I’d love to take a souvenir - could I ask what it’s ok to bring home from the room?) and by being delighted and surprised is absolutely OK. I literally expected a Sultan to pop out of the lift the Shangri-la was so over the top. They had people in the lobby to press the lift buttons for you. It was crazy. My husband and I are... not fancy. The dress code note I referenced above recommended shoes. (We were wearing shoes. But clearly still looked like we needed the advice, ha!) We has no idea what the pool guy was doing and ended up in fits of giggles - so did he. The staff could not have been sweeter to us. Definitely leave a generous tip. Enjoy your amazing night!
posted by t0astie at 8:12 PM on September 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

Make sure you're not tired! I was once gifted a night in a fancy hotel, but it was the day after a huge all-nighter project... and I just... fell asleep.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:56 PM on September 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

Breakfast in room. This will run up the bill, but it’s one thing luxury hotels do very well and really does feel ‘worth it’.
Have fun.
posted by artdrectr at 11:35 PM on September 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

One of the main things that distinguishes a newish business hotel from a hotel in that category is that somebody will show you in your room personally and explain all the features. Everything in the room works, there will be really nice toiletries. If you don’t have what you want or need somebody will gladly find it or get it for you and everything will taste good, if it doesn’t say the word and they’ll make it to your specs. Basically, whatever normal people feel is an outrageous request does not even register as demanding compared to what the entitled prats they have to deal with all day ask for. So be appreciative of the service and kind to the people providing it, that is what truly sets a hotel in that category apart from a new hotel in the more middling categories. And the spa/pools/sauna and steam room! Ask about using those after vacating your room, too!
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:28 AM on September 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Be aware that if your reservation is through an online travel agency such as Expedia or, etc, you are likely to NOT get any free upgrades. Hotels have a really bad setup with the online places, so they are often unable and usually unwilling to prioritize guests who did not book directly. I don't know what the deal is with using points, but if you booked through the hotel you'll have a much better chance of getting good treatment.
posted by Stewriffic at 6:18 AM on September 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

@joyceanmachine, who said they burn candles:
I've wanted to do that but always figured it would set of make alarms. It doesn't??
posted by mkuhnell at 9:30 AM on September 29, 2018

Haven’t in any of the fancy hotels that I’ve done it in, though I tend to burn single-wick, fairly clean burning ones with cotton or paper wicks rather than a three-wick giant with metal cores. I also usually stick them in the bathroom, partially because you can get noseblind/stop smelling them if you have them in the main room/it feels more luxurious walking into a tiny super scented room, but also because I figure that the smoke detector in there has to have a certain amount of flex because of shower fog.
posted by joyceanmachine at 6:22 PM on September 30, 2018

So...I've stayed at that Four Seasons, and it's not scary fancy. Don't get me wrong, it's a nice hotel, but it's not terrifyingly nice like the Hay Adams. It's ... boutique hotel fancy, by which I mean, the lobby is magnificent, and you'll see power movers and shakers at the breakfast area when Congress is in session, but the rooms are old, tiny, cramped, and in the two rooms we had, moldy because of the humidity.

There is virtually nothing at this hotel that does not have a fee attached to it. IIRC, they had a "resort fee" of around $30 a night that gave you limited wireless access, access to the workout facilities, pools and hot tub. I think they have a limited coffee/tea service in the room, perhaps enough to make two cups. I think the bottled water was a fee.

Some of the rack rates include a breakfast buffet, and in DC, if you're getting the buffet for under $20 a person on the weekend, that's a bargain if you're a breakfast person who can face humanity before coffee. Else, room service all the way.

The toiletries are yucky (IMHO) but complimentary, and we went and bought toilet paper because the provided was so sandpapery and tissue thin, so you may want to bring some if you're picky. (To be fair, I'm never happy with hotel toilet paper and have started just packing a roll. There exists the possibility that I'm weird.)

The club room upgrades are only good m-th evenings, and even then...meh.

Specifically ask to be away from the elevators. They are ancient, slower than death, and LOUD, and the crowds of people waiting for them are also ancient, slower than death and loud. ;)

The garden area is lovely, although usually covered in brides. It backs up to a big wooded area with deer and poison ivy. As long as you don't go over the fence into the woods though, the gardeners do a good job of keeping the deadly stuff at bay, and it's a pretty stroll.

You don't have to dress up for hotel staff. They will respond better to a smile and a ten spot than your wardrobe. Do not let a place you are paying for services to intimidate you in any way shape or fashion.

But mostly, just enjoy yourself. Gather your inner Beyonce, and girl, you do you. Queen up the place. ;) Have fun, enjoy each other, and don't worry about what anyone else thinks.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 8:00 AM on October 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

i know people who work at a four seasons in a different mid atlantic city and the biggest perk the consierge could give is that they could get clients in to booked shows and restaraunts, so I know you said you didn't want to spend extra, but if there is a show going on that night or a restaurant you have wanted to try but can't commit to a reservation months in the future, it can't hurt to ask the consierge if they an get you in.
posted by WeekendJen at 7:36 PM on October 1, 2018

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