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Why Do Hotels Have Check in Times?

A woman in the front desk handing a credit card to a guest.

On my first trip to Iceland, I booked a stay at a guesthouse. This type of lodging is common in Reykjavik and I thought it would be a great opportunity to get some insight from locals. The website where I made the reservation listed that they were open 24/7 with no distinct check-in time.

When I arrived at Keflavik Airport, I called the guesthouse for transportation. It was listed online that they also would come to pick you up from the airport, about a 40-minute drive away. I could not get an answer so I called back multiple times. To be fair, it was just after five in the morning when I rang them up. That might be why I did not get a warm reception.

Essentially, I was chastised for calling so early before they opened. Okay, so the listing was incorrect. They were not a 24/7 establishment. I also found out they didn’t offer transportation either. By the time I arranged for a shuttle to drop me off, it was after 9 am.

That’s when I found out that they also weren’t as flexible as I had believed with check-in time. I was fortunate because no one had booked the room the night before. That and they felt guilty for yelling earlier, so they let me take possession of my room early.

Uncommon Check-In Times

A woman fixing a bed at a hotel room.

Getting to a place uncharacteristically early isn’t necessarily uncommon. My experience of flying from the US to Europe and arriving before dawn happens all the time. A high percentage of flights across the ocean happen overnight. What’s a person to do when they land at their destination at 5 am but can’t check in until 3 pm?

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I’ve also been at the opposite end of the spectrum. Driving all day to get to a hotel and arriving in the middle of the night. Luckily, my Iceland trip has instilled within me the wherewithal to check lobby hours.

Most major hotel brands are 24/7 when it comes to being able to check-in. If the automatic doors don’t open right away, there may be a call button around the entrance that will alert the appropriate staff that you’re there.

A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Cleaning Go Down

A hotel staff fixing a bed in the hotel.

The most agreed-upon reason why hotels implement a specific check-in time is all about the cleaning. Between the typical check-out time of 11 am and 3 pm, the check-in time, is a block designed for the cleaning staff to be unbothered in their work. That means every room in the hotel has to be cleaned and prepped in a four-hour span.

The usual schedule for housekeeping is from 8 am to 4 pm. So, there’s a lot of prepping and washing that goes into the day before the rooms are even available to clean.

As an executive housekeeper Rick Baker explains, “It takes 25 to 90 minutes, depending on the size of the space, to clean each Morongo room or suite.” That’s quite a load sitting on the shoulders of the entire department.

So, four hours isn’t a lot of time but it is necessary in order to make sure rooms are turn over ready. When a hotel is at maximum capacity and running behind, telling a customer they need to wait because cleaning would not be good.

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The pressure they’re under to make sure you have a good stay is a reminder that leaving a tip is a nice gesture, even more so when you have them clean each day of your stay.

Check-In Etiquette

A woman looking a the window holding her luggage at the hotel room.

If you ever felt uncomfortable about a request or wonder if you are required to stop by the front desk on your way out, we’ve got some tips here that might help your hotel stay.

  • Early Check-In. If you know ahead of time you’ll be at a hotel in advance, ask for an early check-in time. Giving the staff a heads-up is meaningful and practical. Knowing you’ll be early means they can plan to get your room ready when you need it, within reason. This isn’t always possible, especially during the busy season, but it’s worth asking.
  • Late Check-Out. The same sentiment here, if you let the crew know you are running behind packing up the whole family, it’s likely they will be understanding. Again, if someone has the room booked after you leave, they might not be able to squeeze out a lot of time for you. However, if you’re prone to being slow in the mornings, maybe you can just be preemptive.
  • Know Yourself. If you’re a light sleeper, ask for a room far from an elevator or common spaces. If you have mobility issues, you might want to request a room on the first floor.
  • Give Accurate Information. No matter how much you go through a room before you depart it, occasionally you leave something behind. These accidents happen all the time in the hospitality industry. So, don’t fluff off giving the correct email and phone number. If you leave something, they can get in contact with you. This also means you won’t need to do a formal check-out. As long as you’re out by the correct time, your job is done.
  • Be Aware. When you come in and have a lot of special requests, do so by being as professional as you can. The front desk agent who checks you in has discretion about where to put you. If you give them a hard time or come in with an attitude, you might not get your wish. You will also want to check your bill. It’s not unheard of for a hotel to overcharge a patron or charge for things they don’t use. When the mistake is brought to the attention of a hotel, they will probably take it off.
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On a side note to that last point about looking at your bill, it’s important to try to get an answer if you are overcharged. I once stayed at a hotel in New Orleans that did not tell me up front they were charging $30 a day to park my car there.

After I got back home and saw the final charge on my account, I could not account for $75 of that stay. I called regularly over the next few months and after the initial phone call, they’d never answer me again and I never got that money back. Don’t let that be you, if possible.

Checking Out Before Leaving 

A woman sitting on a hotel bed with her luggage.So, we understand better now that this time is necessary between checking out of a hotel and when the next person checks in for your room. But what happens when check-out time is 11 am and your flight isn’t until 7 pm? It’s not enough time to book for another night, but it’s not short enough to just head to the airport.

The problem here is with luggage. Who wants to lug around an assortment of bags all day long? Well, if you’re lucky, you can work that out with the hotel. I would say as long as you’ve been a reasonable guest, most hotel staff are happy to accommodate you when they can.

I once was in this predicament when visiting Orlando. The staff let me leave my luggage with them all day for free after I had checked out. I’ve also used pay-per-use lockers, something you can find especially at hostels. This goes back to being aware of yourself. If you know this is a situation you see yourself running into, it would not hurt to speak with the hotel staff before booking.

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While you can always hope for the best that most establishments will do you a favor, one can never be too sure. As HotelTonight co-founder Sam Shank puts it, “I have found that early check-in and late checkout is as easy as asking nicely about it at the front desk and be willing to trade a particular room type for early access.”