NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Old school travel advice - told by wizened bosses who had heard it from their bosses - is: get to know the hotel GM and the payoffs for you will multiply, from free upgrades to suites through comped bottles of chilled wine waiting for you in your room when you check in.
That was then, this is 2014 and the question has to be asked: in an era of big data tracking of guests by every major hotel operator, is it still worth your time to cultivate the GM?
Yep, said travel blogger Joe Brancatelli, who posts at JoeSentMe.com. He insisted: "The better the hotel, the wiser it is to cultivate the GM. In fact, most GMs want you to cultivate them. It's a two-way street. They throw some perks your way in exchange for your business."
Absorb this fact: if you routinely stay at motels with rates south of $100, this advice is not for you. Those GMs typically have few perks to dole out anyway.
But if are staying at four-star and better hotels, get to know the GMs and see what blossoms, insisted the travel experts. To a person, everybody pinged for this story came back urging that travelers - especially ones who likely will be frequent guests at one particular hotel - go out of their way to cultivate the GM because, they insisted, the payoffs are plentiful.
Hold on for that. First, understand that one tactic that is cautioned against is the age old discreet sliding of a $20 (maybe even a $50) to the front desk clerk when asking for a "free" upgrade to a suite and, do understand, suites frequently stand empty, they are available as upgrades, but bribing the desk clerk probably is not going to get you in the big room in 2014.
Chris McGinnis, who blogs about travel at YouMustBeTrippin.com. said: "I rarely hear of cases where bribes offered at the front desk result in upgrades. I think it's more likely that the $20 will be discreetly proffered back to you. Many clerks will likely be wary that you are a 'secret shopper' out to foil tactics like that."
A fact: contemporary, computerized hotel room inventory systems track what rooms are in use, at what prices. If the Maharajah Suite - with a rack rate of $999 - goes out at $99, somebody at the desk might well have some 'splaining to do.
Another fact: If you are enrolled in a hotel chain's loyalty program - and you should be for the perks such as free WiFi in many cases - the chain already knows your stay history. There's no bluffing that you stay a week a month when you have not been in town for months.
Frequency is key in wooing any GM - repeat guests make his job that much easier - but don't claim it unless it is true or you can at least promise to make it true ("I've been staying at the XYZ across the street, decided to see if I should move my business here").
When exactly would you say that? Travel blogger Johnny Jet suggested "asking for a quick meeting with the GM," preferably shortly after check-in. Tell him about your travel plans, then see how he responds.
Don't think the GM is too busy for this either. Elaborated Howard Jacobs, GM of the Woodmark Hotel in Washington State: "Our world is so competitive now with so many traveler choices that GMs are actively seeking opportunities to mingle and engage with customers as a service differentiator. At the Woodmark Hotel, for example, my office is in the lobby of the hotel. This was done so I can be interactive and fully engaged with the customer, much like the early version of an Innkeeper."
The GM May even seek you out if you are in fact a frequent guest. Amanda Hyndman, GM at the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok, said: "I make a point to personally greet as many returning guests as I can - as well as every guest with five or more stays. This typically means me personally greeting 20 to 30 arrivals per day, as well as farewelling them whenever possible. A high level of management visibility is critical in a hotel of our calibre so...my diary is blocked every day from Noon - 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m. to be in the lobby to personally greet guests coming and going."
Woo the GM and what perks might you see? Said Johnny Jet: "Among the perks of knowing the GM are better service, late checkouts, welcome treats."
That's not bad for starters and a rule of thumb is that the more you give - that is, the more often you stay and the more money you spend - the more you get. Maybe you'll even get that Maharajah Suite - but know you will have to earn it, by wooing the GM and spending money at his hotel.
Added travel expert Christopher Elliott, author of How To Be The World's Smartest Traveler, "If you know a manager, and he or she likes you, you can get almost anything."
--Written by Robert McGarvey for MainStreet