It is possible to check-in before the standard 3 PM
It is possible to check-in before the standard 3 PM – guvendemir (canva)

How many times did you have to set up camp in a hotel reception, because you happened to catch an early flight and the check-in doesn’t start until the afternoon? If you wonder what the reason behind it is and how to avoid the inconvenience during future trips, let’s find out why do hotels have a 3 PM check-in.

One of the main reasons for 3 PM hotel check-in is to give the staff enough time for the process of arranging the room for your arrival, which consists of housekeeping activities alongside preparing all the facilities for you.

Although understandable, this is not always the case. Do all hotels apply this policy? How can you ensure your room is ready when you plan to arrive early? And what are the check-in and check-out rules anyway? Keep reading, as we try to unravel the big hotel mystery.

Unveiling afternoon check-in secret

Is it really a secret? Not quite. The staff simply needs enough time to prepare rooms for their new guests. The 3 PM rule came to play a long time ago, when housekeeping services weren’t as efficient as they are today, so the gap between guests leaving and checking-in had to be reasonable. Imagine a hotel in high level occupancy with understaffed cleaning crews and a long line at the front desk. Unacceptable.

Nowadays, extremely disciplined teams with state-of-the-art cleaning equipment can turn around a hotel room in as quick as 30 minutes. This really depends on the condition they find it in, but on average, half an hour is enough. Why keep a nearly 4-hour gap from 11 AM checkout time then? Maybe just as a precaution, or maybe certain “benefits”.

It is no surprise that sales geniuses have decided to use the traditionally set times to recommend hotel customers various upselling offers such as late check-out for a certain fee or access to an executive lounge while guests wait for their room to be ready. For a tired traveler, this is a much better option than squatting in the lobby, so whatever the price is, they will pay it. If it brings money, why change it, right?

Do all hotels in the US use the 3 PM check-in rules?

We come with good news. Although most hotels start the room occupancy at 3 PM and typically set check out for 11 AM, there are hotels with different rules, accessible variations to the rule, or even fully flexible schedules.

For example, there are certain sites that let you rent specific hours at a hotel, whether you plan an early arrival or a late departure such as hotelsbyday or dayuse. They use robust planning tools to ensure your desired availability and charge individual rates based on your choice.

Some hotel brands created a benefit allowing an all-day round check-in for their most faithful guests. One of them runs an initiative called Your24, where it is up to the guest to pick a check-in and check-out time for their room, which is then priced accordingly.

Why hotels do not let their guests check-in early?

As the old saying goes: if you don’t know what something is about, it most likely is about money. Similarly here, whether it is about direct sales, the housekeeping resource, or just the impression of being unattainable even in the smallest part, it all comes down to increasing the hotel’s profits.

Keeping expectations in check

As widely known, humans, and especially customers in the hospitality industry, are creatures of habit. If the front desk makes allowances and lets you check-in early, you will always expect that you will be met with this type of treatment, should the need arise. What if one day they won’t be able to accommodate your request? You will complain. Will they lose you as a customer? Possibly.

Let’s play out an opposite scenario. You arrive in the morning and ask the receptionist for an early check-in. She comes back and says that there aren’t any available rooms yet due to high level of occupancy. What would go through your mind? Probably that they are at full capacity, which means they must be a good hotel. You want to experience this great service, so you won’t take your business elsewhere. Instead, you will spend some money in the lobby bar while you wait for your room to be available. Ka-ching!

Operational procedures (different at each hotel)

There are of course some other, more down to Earth reasons why hotel guests can’t check-in early. Sometimes it comes down to simple logistics. As each room needs to meet certain standards, cleaning, preparing, and setting up various amenities also takes time. Some hotels require the rooms to be checked by a housekeeping supervisor to be signed-off for check-in. All those safety measures and precautions take time. In a big establishment, especially when short-staffed, it can sometimes be a challenge. In those cases, there is nothing you can do or say to get your keys earlier.

What to do while waiting for your room to become available?

The world is your oyster here, but let’s assume you want to stay in the vicinity of the front desk in case they are ready to hand you your keys. Each hotel is different and has various facilities, but in general there is a set pool of choices you have in this situation.

1. Waiting in the hotel lobby

The most obvious option is to wait in the hotel lobby. Depending on the time, you can still catch the breakfast serving (probably for a fee), grab a coffee or a drink in the lobby bar or catch up on news. The ambient atmosphere usually creates a perfect environment to read a book or scroll through social media. You will probably find many people glued to their laptops as usually the Wi-Fi signal is strongest in hotel’s common areas.

2. Use the hotel’s facilities

If you represent the verbally gifted kind, you can always talk your way into getting some extra options. Does your hotel have a spa? Maybe you can’t check into your room but could take advantage of the pool and relaxing zone in the meantime. Not a fan of prancing around in a bathrobe? Perhaps there is an executive lounge, where you can unwind while you wait. They often come with a great spread of drinks and snacks to make the time go quicker. Worth asking.

3. Leave the hotel until regular check-in time

Another option is to actually leave the hotel until your room is ready. You can always seize the day and start your sightseeing early. Most hotels have a luggage room, where you can store your belongings safely. You could leave your contact number at the front desk for them to notify you once check-in is possible and get started on your trip itinerary.

Best option is always to call beforehand and ask about check-in possibilities, as well as, what can they offer you while you wait. In fact, it is a great practice to call the hotel before you book. Have a look here to find out more about what questions to ask before booking a hotel room.

Ways to check-in to your hotel room early

You like your travel experience to be as smooth as possible. You got there in the morning and you don’t want to wait. Understood. Here are a few tips and tricks on how to get access to your hotel room earlier than 3 PM.

1. Ask before you arrive

Easier said than done as they say, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Explain your situation to the front desk prior to your arrival via phone or email. Tell them about the long journey you will have and how difficult it is to travel with young children or an elderly parent. It won’t hurt to mention that you are a loyal customer.

The receptionist will most likely say that they will try their best, although they cannot guarantee anything until the day of your arrival. At this point it’s a good idea to also ask for a room in one of the best hotel floors for convenience and safety.

Good luck!

2. Use your membership

The most reliable option, although not always successful, is using your membership. In most hotel chains, their members get preferential treatment. Of course, it depends on the level of your membership or brand policy, but in a scenario where you compete for an early check-in with a non-member, the score is set. Take full advantage of your loyalty and read all the fine print to avoid disappointment.

Here’s our list of the top hotel loyalty programs for various perks including early check in. Check it out!

3. Try the day rates

Some places, especially if they are located close to an airport or belong to an international chain, have something called ‘day rates’. This allows you to have access to a room for a few hours in the day for a fraction of the usual price. Designed mostly for people whose flights arrive and depart at ungodly hours, those are available usually between 9 AM and 5 PM. Definitely worth a try.

4. Pay for an extra day

There are situations, where you absolutely cannot imagine yourself waiting for hours to be let into your room. If the hotel really can’t do anything to accommodate your situation, just book an extra night prior to your arrival. That way you will be given your key card as soon as you arrive. A good practice is to notify your hotel when you will be arriving, so they don’t write you off for not showing up.

Read more in our article on proven ways to ask for an early check in.

If you didn’t manage to arrange any of the tips above, here are 2 tips to make the most of the situation

1. Deposit your luggage

This is not quite getting access to your room, but at least you don’t have to carry the heavy load all around town. You can simply leave your suitcases in a safe room by the reception desk and enjoy the extra time you have. Hotels very often will have certain facilities available to guests in this situation, such as toilets, showers, water, or snacks. Top tip: leave your contact details, so you can be notified once your room is ready for check-in.

2. Use the business center

If you are traveling for work, it is understandable that you want to get into your room as soon as possible to get on with your responsibilities. Thankfully, many establishments have dedicated working spaces or even, so-called, business centers, where you can comfortably set up your laptop, get your work done and even print if needed. That way you can enjoy complimentary tea or coffee, uninterrupted Wi-Fi signal and your boss won’t get angry.

That being said, remember the most important tips: be kind, be patient, and be flexible. Unless you come in full of negative attitude and unreasonable requests, your front desk assistants will do everything in their power to help you.

How to successfully ask for a later check-out in a hotel

Why do we ask for a late check-out? There can be plenty of reasons. Your flight is delayed, you had an eventful night and you need to sleep in or maybe you have an important appointment. Regardless of what the reason happens to be, here are some helpful points on how to ask for a late check-out from a hotel room.

1. Notify the hotel earlier

Failing to prepare is a preparation to fail as Benjamin Franklin said. The earlier you notify your hotel about your desire to leave later than anticipated, the better. It gives them time to plan everything from housekeeping schedule to room allocation. Some hotels allow you to make such request at the booking stage. Otherwise, try to do it as soon as you arrive or at least the night before your departure.

2. Ask in person

Hospitality workers aim to please, but they are still human. A kind smile or friendly attitude is always helpful and it is definitely easier to detect it in person. Although there are numbers of things you can fix in a hotel simply by calling the reception, some requests like a later check-out, complaints or asking for a refund should really be done face to face. Here are some steps on how to ask hotel for a refund if you don’t know where to start.

3. Give a reason

Let your front desk know why you need to stay with them a little longer. Mention how much you enjoy the place and want to finish your stay with a good lunch not just breakfast. Tell them how you have a long journey ahead of you and you would appreciate a couple of hours rest before you take off. Maybe share how you have an important business meeting in the area and if it goes well you will be staying there more often. Work your charm and you may be able to succeed.

4. Pay for a late check-out

This is a magical guarantee for you to enjoy your stay for a few more hours. Most hotels have strict policies on their late check-outs and an hourly or fixed rate attached to this request. If you don’t mind paying, they should be able to grant your wish and in some cases prolong your room even until 6 PM or so. The rates vary, but it shouldn’t break the bank. In most hotel chains you can tick late check-out option and pay for it at the same time as the whole reservation. Saves the conversation upon your arrival and gives you peace of mind.

5. Membership

An all-access pass for everything extraordinary. It is no secret that having a loyalty card or a member status will open doors to preferential treatment at hotels far and wide. Check the benefits and privileges of members in your hotel chain, as some include a guaranteed late check-out. If not, your gold card will definitely make an impression at the front desk, while asking for the few extra hours. Although it may still come with a fee, it will most likely be far less than for an ordinary guest.

6. Book an extra day

If your flight gets significantly delayed or you need to stay in your room past 6 PM for any other reason, it might be worth to just booking an extra day. While it may not seem economically attractive to you, there is only so much a hotel can do for you. At the end of the day it is an operating business. You can always call ahead and ask for any discounts or other options they could offer, but at some point you will just have to bite the bullet. Just think of all the extra comfort you will have upon your departure.

Checking-in past midnight

Are there usual times to check-in to a hotel? It all depends on the way you travel and how far you have come from. Some flights arrive at crazy times and hotel guests have no other option, but to check-in after midnight. The majority of modern hotels are open 24/7, but there may be some smaller establishments that close their front desk at certain times. Below are a few pieces of valuable advice if you are in a similar situation.

Let the hotel know

Whether it is while you book, the week of your arrival or even on the day in the morning, it is important you contact the front desk and inform them about your late arrival. The reception usually checks for unclaimed bookings and writes them off in hope of selling the rooms to other guests or depending on the conditions of your booking, sometimes even charging a no-show fee. Better safe than sorry, so pick up the phone or send them a quick email.

Be patient

Night time receptionists do their best even in the middle of the night, but in smaller or family-owned hotels, very often you can just find a security guard managing the check-in at that time. Have all your documents ready, get your room keys, and save all the pressing questions for the morning, when the font of all knowledge front desk assistant will help you with even the most bizarre query.

Ask for a discount

Yes, it is a long shot, but closed mouths don’t get fed. After all, you will be using the room for a significantly shorter time. Even if a discount is not an option, you may get a late check-out or a complimentary drink at the bar for your inconvenience. This may not work in big brand establishments, but in smaller boutique hotels your chances to get some extras are much greater.

We cover more about this at checking into a hotel after midnight if you’re interested.

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