Does A Hotel Owe You Anything When Your Room Is Not Ready By Check-In Time?

Travel can be stressful, and after an exhausting day of navigating hectic airports, long TSA lines, unexpected flight interruptions, and long taxi rides, there's nothing you'll want more than to check into your hotel, take a long shower, and collapse into a comfortable bed for a nice long nap before exploring your destination. Except sometimes, when you arrive at your hotel excited to settle down, you are told horrible news: The room isn't ready for you, despite having arrived at the right check-in time. It can be especially frustrating if you've booked a reservation at a unique themed hotel that you're really excited about or saved up for an expensive stay at a luxurious hotel that's worth the splurge. 

Unfortunately, hotels aren't contractually obligated to have your room ready by a specific time in most cases. Check-in times are more of a guideline than a guarantee, which seems a little unfair considering you are paying for a room for a specific time frame. For many hotels, there is not a specific policy in place when rooms aren't ready in time. Instead, it is up to the manager on duty to handle the situation as they see fit.

Reasons your hotel room isn't ready

Arriving at a hotel to find that your room isn't available at check-in time is a rare occurrence, but it does happen. Many frequent travelers encounter the situation at least once or twice throughout their travels. There are all kinds of reasons why rooms might not be ready in time, and it's usually because the guest who stayed in your room before you got the hotel to say yes to a late check-out.

Late check-out is a bonus offered by some hotel brands, like Marriott, as part of their membership perks, which can be as late as 4:00 p.m. Some hotels also offer rooms with day rates to cater towards guests who need rooms at irregular hours — such as airline crew members who fly in on a red-eye and need to get their designated rest before they fly out again, or travelers with long layovers.

Overbooking is another problem that can cause delays, because hotels are counting on no-shows or cancellations. If everyone shows up, there won't be enough rooms ready. Sometimes, hotels might just be short staffed and won't have enough time to clean all the rooms before the designated check-in time. If you find yourself in this situation, try to stay calm and know that the hotel staff is doing everything they can to get you into a room as quickly as possible. It's totally appropriate to politely ask for some kind of compensation for your time if the late check-in is inconveniencing you.

What to do if your room isn't available at your scheduled check-in time

The main thing you're going to want to do is stay polite and friendly. Remember, your room not being ready is almost never the fault of the person working the front desk. Even though this situation is extremely frustrating, try to keep your cool. People are so much more willing to help you if you behave in a professional way. The same is true at airports, and basically anywhere you interact with people working in customer service. It costs nothing to be kind.

If your wait is less than an hour, you could ask to be placed in a different room until yours becomes available. You could also remind the person working the front desk once or twice, and perhaps they'll give you a complimentary coffee or cocktail at the hotel café or bar. It's up to you whether or not you feel appropriate asking for something like that, but it doesn't hurt to try. If you wait for more than an hour, it's a good idea to speak up and ask for some kind of discount or complimentary upgrade for your inconvenience — just make sure what you're asking for is reasonable given the circumstances. If your scheduled check-in time was 3 p.m. and your check-out time was noon the next day, but you weren't able to check in until 6 p.m. — you've missed a significant portion of your stay. Expecting some kind of discount or compensation is fair.