Do Not Disturb



March 17, 2005 -- I wrote about hotel bathrooms and amenities a couple of months ago and I'm still getting E-mails that I'm trying to answer. So this week let's head back to the topic of soap, other guestroom amenities and a heinous hotel practice that needs to be condemned.

Most readers agreed with me that soap that pongs is a definite no-no. Some readers picked up our favorite editor's cries for soap that can be easily unwrapped while others agreed that a large bar is better than those teeny-weeny slivers. There was also some delicate (no pun) commentary from a couple of women lamenting soap that contains alcohol, which causes irritation to certain parts of their anatomy.

And Wolf Hengst, the Toronto-based head honcho of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, personally sent me 500 L'Occitane en Provence shower caps, the wonderful kind used at Four Seasons Hotels. I guess he got tired of me swiping them one-by-one out of his hotels and then boasting about it here. Hey, Wolf, have I ever mentioned that the Four Seasons house wine is the best in the industry?

But now to the most interesting comment from all your E-mails. Author Charlene Ann Baumbich vented her anger at hotels that charge mandatory "resort" or "service" fees for unwanted amenities over and above the room rate. As an example, she cited the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, where she was a guest whilst on a recent nationwide book tour. Since Charlene is an author of repute, I'm going to quote her verbatim.

"When I checked in, I was given a little packet containing a few inserts and the room key. During an idle moment (precious and few), while sitting in my cramped room with a worn-out bedspread and gross toilet, so old it was black under the water line, I read the packet. Among other things, it says: 'For your convenience [and that is the key outrageous phase here, to assume it is 'convenient' for me, okay for my publisher, to pay more] a Hotel Services Fee of $5.95 is added to your room rate each night. This fee allows for added value [Wait, haven't I just been charged for the amenities, which doesn't exactly seem like value?] during your stay such as unlimited 800 calls, admission to our athletic club, high-speed Internet, daily morning paper, overnight shoe shine, coffee each morning 5.30 a.m. to 7.00 a.m.' "

Charlene points out that she can get all those amenities at a Hampton Inn for free while paying a quarter of the Peabody's price for her room. She even disses the Peabody's little hand soap, which is shaped like a duck, the hotel's signature. It's cute, but not handy to use, she explains. She tells me that one of her favorite room amenities is the goldfish swimming in its bowl at the Hotel Monaco in Seattle. If there is a hidden charge for your goldfish, she notes, the Hotel Monaco is kind enough not to tell you about it.

I must agree with all Charlene says. I was at The Westin in San Juan to give a speech recently and was charged $21.95 a night for "resort amenities." The fee apparently covered the towels at the pool, something I neither saw nor used. Highway robbery! When in Cairo at the Sheraton, my partner and I were "forced" to sign up for the Starwood Guest Rewards loyalty program--and we were charged for it! When we protested that we didn't want to join, we were told it was a "government order"! Now that's truly forcing you to buy something you don't want.

Charlene's E-mail convinced me to call the Peabody and try to get some explanation. I spoke with Doug Brown, the general manger, who told me that the service fee was instituted "at the request of our guests."

Oh, yes, Mr. Brown, I'm sure it was. He also said it's a common practice in the hotel industry. Oh, yes, Mr. Brown, I'm sure it is, but not to this old geezer who's been in the hotel industry a lot longer than you.

Mr. Brown notwithstanding, I'm sure that I speak for most business travelers when I say the best hotel amenities are free--or at least bundled into the room rate and not tacked on at check-in as a nasty surprise. What do I want "free"? Free television, including movies (okay, charge me for the dirty ones); free in-room coffeemakers; free evening turndown service; free choice of daily newspaper; free high-speed Internet; and decent hangers, a bathrobe and slippers.

What are some of your favorite hotel amenities? Send me an E-mail with your thoughts and I'll report back to you in a future column.

This column originally appeared at

Copyright 1993-2005 by Michael Matthews. All rights reserved.