When accounting outsourcing specialist Julia Ellek Donavant flies into Los Angeles weekly for meetings from her base in Arizona, the last thing she wants to do is to go straight from the airport to the boardroom. “I’ll get in at 6:30 a.m. and it’s nice to go to the hotel and drop my bags before heading off to work,” she said.
Her chosen hotel, the Four Points by Sheraton Los Angeles International Airport will accommodate her at any hour of the day with its 24-hour check-in policy, allowing all guests to choose the time of their check in in advance for a 24-hour stay. In by 10 a.m.? Out by 10 a.m. the next day, for the same standard room rate.
The 570-room hotel has offered the service since 2002, proving itself an early adopter. Now 24-hour-stay policies, either as a frequent-stay perk or a loyalty-courting freebie, are catching on at a small but steady stream of hotels. The new Capella Washington D.C. in Georgetown offers flexible check-ins, as it does at its five other Capella locations, including Singapore and Dusseldorf. Opened in September, Only YOU Hotel & Lounge in Madrid targets international business travelers arriving in the early hours with its 24-hour check in. The year-old Andersen Hotel in Copenhagen offers 24 hour check in because, as Karen Nedergaard, general manager put it, “I wanted to offer the best service from a customer point of view.”
Sometimes the 24-hour option aims to fill business hotels with leisure guests on the weekends, as in the case of The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte which offers 24-hour stays on Saturday nights only, including a $100 food and beverage credit with rooms. Other times it’s a bonus for the most loyal customers. Starwood Hotels & Resorts offers members of its Starwood Preferred Guest program who stay 75 nights or more per year the 24-hour check-in option.
But you don’t have to qualify for the service at the Four Points LAX. “People that use it love it and it becomes a hug and hold strategy,” said Phil Baxter, general manager. “Once you get somebody, you don’t want to let them go.”
Twenty-four-hour stays originated in the 1970s at Asian airport hotels seeking to accommodate fliers arriving and departing at all hours, according to Chekitan Dev, associate professor at Cornell School of Hotel Administration and author Hospitality Branding (Cornell University Press, 2012). The Peninsula Beverly Hills was the first to adopt the practice in this country just over 10 years ago, he said, noting the luxury hotel had to learn to capture check-in times, add an overnight housekeeping shift and adjust some cleaning protocols to make the program function.
His research has shown travelers’ appreciation for flexibility can color their entire experience. “If you give guests control, within limits, of things like when they can check in, complaints go down, satisfaction goes up, intent to repeat [visits] goes up and intent to refer [other guests] goes up,” he said.
Yet as crowd-pleasing as 24-hour check ins are, they remain relatively scarce, likely due to the need to add that overnight housekeeping shift to clean rooms for a relatively small number of travelers. At Four Points LAX, only about five percent of guests take advantage of the flexible check-in policy. “It’s a bit of a challenge for hotels to offer as occupancy rates get higher because it does require some extra expense,” said Robert Mandelbaum, director of research information services at consulting firm PKF Hospitality Research.
But for frequent business travelers, taking advantage of an early check in can be a way to minimize expenses. “As airfares become higher, people are taking flights at hours when they’re cheaper,” he added. “To control travel budgets you might want to get in as early as possible to avoid staying the night before.”
None of these hotels charge extra for the service, and that’s – generously – by design. “We try to add value that doesn’t show up in the rate,” said Mr. Baxter of Four Points LAX.
Chicago-based Elaine Glusac covers travel and transit for The New York Times and National Geographic Traveler.