Get rewarded for making your own bed away from home

During your next hotel stay, would you give up clean sheets in exchange for food vouchers or discounted Internet access?

That was an easy choice recently for Glenda Oakley, 31, who stayed at a Westin hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina. When Oakley checked in, she was offered vouchers for hotel services or loyalty points to forego housekeeping – everything from having the bed made to having the bathroom cleaned. She ended up parlaying the hotel credits into $100 worth of Internet service during her nine-day stay.

“I don’t need extra towels…or someone else to make my bed daily,” said Oakley, an Army veteran and motivational speaker from San Antonio, Texas.

Giving up in-room hotel housekeeping in exchange for points, discounts or a cash voucher is a growing trend, fully embraced by Starwood, one of the largest hotel operators in the country.

Also on board are an assortment of independent properties, like the Amway Grand Plaza in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Lake House at High Peaks Resort in Lake Placid, New York; and Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania.

In Starwood’s case, guests are given the choice of a $5 voucher to use on-site, 250-500 points in the Starwood frequent traveler program (depending on the hotel), or other ways to trade for on-site services for each day other than checkout day.

About 3.4 million guests participated in 2012, and a projected 7.5 million will participate in the “Make a Green Choice” program this year at Starwood’s properties, among which are Sheraton, Westin, Four Points, Luxury Collection and W, said Andrea Pinabell, vice president for sustainability, global citizenship for Starwood. The options should be available at most of the company’s properties globally by next year.

Starwood benefits by saving on labor costs, utilities and supplies. It also gets to tout a “green” initiative, said Jason Cochran, editor-in-chief of the travel website Frommers.com.

“They have the happy effect of both letting housekeeping off the hook for cleaning, which can save a hotel money, and establishing a lower expectation of maintenance on the part of the customer, which can result in a higher satisfaction rate,” Cochran said.

UNMADE BED

Experts say the key question to ask yourself is: How important is it that the room be cleaned every day? At most hotels that offer these deals, you can still get certain amenities upon request, like clean towels or a bottle of shampoo. But are you really going to miss having the bed made?

Washington, D.C.-based business strategist Jonathan Smith, 44, was happy to skip the service and take 500 points during a stay at a Sheraton in Hartford, Connecticut. “I made my bed just as I do at home and called housekeeping when I needed fresh towels,” Smith said.

If you go the DIY-cleaning route, be sure to grill the staff on what is being offered and the duration of the deal. Travel experts say hotel points, when offered, typically have a greater value than $5 food and beverage vouchers. Ryan Lile, who runs the Frequent Flyer Academy, says 500 Starwood points are worth about $20. Food vouchers, experts say, are more likely just to get you to spend more money.

Another key point: What do you have to do if you want to switch back to full housekeeping? Simply call the front desk is all that’s needed, according to Starwood, but cleaning won’t start until the next day. Once you’ve opted out, your room is not eligible for cleaning that day under the program’s rules.

RATCHETING UP THE OFFERS

For the past two decades, hotels have been encouraging guests to dial back on cleaning services. See a card requesting that towels be left on the floor in order to be replaced? Notice that placard by the bedside you can use if you want to skip having the sheets changed? Even the “do not disturb” signs have morphed into a way to opt out of the process.

Cochran says some hotel chains – like the no-frills Malaysia-based Tune Hotels – have gone to another extreme: Instead of crediting back guests who choose to not have housekeeping, they charge extra for such items as towels, soap or shampoo.

“I don’t think the major international chains will be unbundling prices to that extreme,” Cochran said. “Their core customer is the business traveler who is happy to pay for the standard slate of extras.”

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