Making a hotel reservation.
It sounds easy enough, doesn't it? You call the number, you tell the person what you want, they book it for you, and then you hang up. Easy as pie. And ideally, that's how it would work. But there are a lot of small details that people often overlook when they call to place their reservation.
I've worked for various companies taking reservation calls for over 3 years now, and in that time I've managed to get a good feel for good calls and bad calls. I know, pretty much by heart now, what the wrong kinds of questions are, and what are the right kinds. I know the information that you need to know that you may not even think of when calling. And so here I am to give you advice, not only on how to get the best service when you call a reservation line, but also what not to say when doing so.
* First and foremost, make sure you're calling the right place, or at least the right brand that owns the hotel you're looking for. If you call Wyndham hotels and say, "Yeah, I see it on this website. It's the Hilton Anatole, formerly a Wyndham," then you're probably not leaving people with the best impression of your intelligence. Mistakes get made, but a little bit of attention will save everybody a lot of hassle.
* Have your credit card ready when you place the call. Even if you may just be shopping around, if that perfect deal comes up and you're not ready to take it, in the time that it takes to pull your credit card out of your wallet, that room could theoretically be booked up by someone else. And even if it isn't, making the phone agent wait around while you do something you should have done in the first place isn't good etiquette. Have it in hand, just in case.
* Answer the questions that you're asked, when you're asked them. If you're asked, for example, how many people will be staying, do not reply with the fact that you are a member of AAA. If the agent needs to know that, they will ask you at the appropriate time.
* Listen to what the agent is saying, especially when they're telling you deposit and cancellation policies. Even if you've stayed at that hotel 10 times in the past year, sometimes policies do change. The hotel is not obligated to call all past guests to inform them of such changes, after all, and if you miss important information because you kept interrupting the agent to tell them you already knew this, you'll have nobody to blame but yourself.
* With that in mind, do ask for such policies if the agent doesn't volunteer them.
* If there's anything you're curious about, ask. Even if it seems trivial. Reservation agents often have the weirdest information about the hotel or inn at their fingertips, especially if it's a commonly asked question. If they don't know it offhand, sometimes they have ways to find out.
* Understand that the agents also don't know everything. Especially when you call a chain's 1-800 number, you're not going to get connected to the specific hotel you're looking for. You're going to get connected to 1 agent who's at 1 call centre which may be nowhere near the city you're looking to stay in. As such, they might not be able to tell you things like the current weather, any local festivals, etc.
* Make sure you're in a relatively quiet area before placing your call. If the background noise is so loud that you can't hear the agent and they can't hear you, then there's a problem that needs to be fixed. Step into another room or outside while you call.
* Know the dates that you're looking to stay. Some inns and hotels have rates that can change depending on the day of the week, or in accordance with availability. Saying that you want a room at the end of March isn't going to help. Saying you want a room from March 27th to the 30th is much better, and the agent can give you the most accurate information about the time you're looking to stay.
* Be aware that rates you see on sites like Expedia and Travelocity work differently than normal rates. Those rooms are bought from the hotel at discount rates, and then the website can sell those rooms for any price they see fit. Often their rates will be lower than the rates that the hotel will quote you directly. However, if you want Expedia's rates, you'll have to book with Expedia, even if it means taking a risk or two. In a nutshell, they are special rates that can only be booked by the company immediately advertising them.
* Keep your confirmation number. If you have to call back to make changes to your reservation, it's much easier to look up your reservation by that number than it is to do it by your name, the hotel you're staying at, or the dates you reserved.
* Understand that the policies are rules, not suggestions. If you're told that you need to cancel more than 7 days prior to your check in date to get a refund of your deposit, then that's what you'll have to do. Sometimes exceptions get made for medical emergencies or deaths in the family, but not for things like getting your dates mixed up or your car breaking down.
* Hotels change brands all the time. Don't assume that just because the hotel was a Howard Johnson when you stayed at it 5 years ago, it will be the same when you call now. Please don't argue this fact.
* Don't assume that because the agent is in a call centre that they're stupid, or that they're information is less valid that the information given by someone on site. The hotels are the ones to give all the information to their central reservations offices, and the information the agent has is 99.9% likely to be the most current information on the hotel.
* Don't wheedle, and don't try to cut deals unless you're speaking to the innkeeper or hotel manager directly. Pulling the whole, "It's the last minute, don't you want to make some money rather than no money" spiel will get you no respect and no room, because most agents do not have the ability to authorize a discount no matter how much you nag them.
* If you call a 1-800 number for a hotel chain and are asked which hotel you'd like to stay at, don't say the street address. If you're calling a big hotel chain such as Ramada or Hilton, the person you're speaking to may have to deal with over 100 hotels across a given country, and they can't be expected to remember the full mailing address of every single one. Instead, give them the name of the city. If there are multiple hotels in that city, the agent will ask more detailed questions to determine which hotel you're looking for.
* Don't act as though the hotel or inn is your own personal 1-900 number. Pervert calls are one of the biggest pet peeves of anyone who works with phone systems. Do not prank call, do not call someone looking to get your kicks. That's not what the agent is there for, you will find yourself hung up on, and possibly reported to the local authorities. Yes, even some big impersonal call centre way up in Canada can pull up your Florida residence number and report you.
* Do not assume that just because you stayed in the past, your information will still be in the reservation system. Privacy issues often demand that old reservations are wiped from the system after a certain amount of time. This is to lower the liklihood of your personal information, including your credit card number, being stolen. it's for your safety, not your annoyance.
* Don't get angry with the agent if they try to upsell or offer some other deal at the end of the call. Trust me, they're only doing it because they have to. In fact, if they don't meet a certain quota of people actually accepting an upsell or deal, they can be punished, up to and including termination. I'm not saying this to guilt trip you into saying yes. I'm saying it because ranting and raving at the phone agent will not change the fact that the company wants more of your money. If you're not interested, simply say no and let that be the end of it. They're just doing their job, and they probably don't like it any more than you do.
* Do not hang up if you don't like the answer you were given. The nights may not be available, the rates are too high, and the inn may not allow your dog to stay. But that doesn't mean you have license to be rude and just hang up. Say that isn't what you're looking for, say goodbye, and then hang up. There's no excuse for rudeness. It's not appreciated.
* Do not complain about long hold times. Yes, they annoy everybody, but complaining to the random desk clerk that you had to wait for x-number of minutes will not change the number of phones or people available to answer them. All it does is make someone feel guilty.
* Don't call a hotel chain's 1-800 number and expect to be connected to a certain room in a certain hotel in Boston. 800 numbers, more often than not, route to call centres, and most call centres are unable to transfer lines to specific places. Whining to the agent that you don't want to pay a long-distance charge isn't likely to make them very sympathetic to your plight, either, nor will it get you what you want.
* It's a little-known fact that if you try to cancel your reservation late and tell someone that it's because of a death in the family, the hotel may actually require you to fax them a copy of the death certificate in order to refund your deposit. So don't try that one unless it's true, or you may find yourself facing charges of fraud on top of not getting your refund.
KCjones on February 15, 2016:
But for me, instead of doing the reservation over the phone I'd do it directly by searching my hotel on my preferred online booking site like RoomHopper.com. Then if there are things that needs to be verified I usually contact them or the hotel directly.
Ria Bridges (author) from Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada on September 08, 2010:
Thanks, TravelMonkee. Working in the industry for years has given me plenty of tips, tricks, and stories along the way, and I was honestly amazed at how many people would call looking for a room and have no idea how to go about it.
TravelMonkee from Taupo New Zealand on September 08, 2010:
Nice article, as an accommodation operator your advice is spot on.