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Pushing to make early check-ins more than just a free perk

Halima Aziz didn’t need to be a hotelier to understand the value of an early check-in. She only needed to be a traveler.

In recounting an early arrival in Europe following an overnight flight from the United States, her voice grew pained as she related how the check-in time at her hotel was still hours away.

“The biggest detriment to my day was not being able to check into the hotel before afternoon,” recalled Aziz, the head of hotels at Criterion Hospitality. “And lots of places, they just don’t have the rooms available because prior guests haven’t checked out, or housekeeping is taking longer to clean the rooms.”

So Aziz was pleased to see one of Criterion’s hotels, London’s Zedwell Hotel Piccadilly Circus, participate in a recent trial program testing new paid early check-in software. She was even more pleased with the outcome — both for the hotel and its guests.


We all hate to be told to come back at 3, and it happens to me all the time. If we as hoteliers know that that problem, why haven’t we solved for it?

Matt Welle – Mews

As personalized travel becomes more of a priority and guest demands grow more routine, many in the hospitality industry are rethinking how they handle early check-ins. Charging for the privilege risks aggravating guests who’ve grown accustomed to asking for free early check-ins — when they’re lucky enough to find a room available. But when communicated properly, early check-in fees can boost bottom lines while increasing the satisfaction of guests seeking more flexibility in their travels.

“As a traveler, we know that this is a problem,” said Matt Welle, CEO of cloud-based property management system provider Mews. “Ultimately, we all hate to be told to come back at 3, and it happens to me all the time. If we as hoteliers know that’s a problem, why haven’t we solved for it?”

Part of the answer, Welle believes, is that it’s easier to tell guests to come back, especially at hotels that lack the technology for seamless communication between housekeeping and the front desk. And for managers, there’s little incentive to push for more early check-ins when the mid-afternoon times have become an industry standard.

But as hotels increasingly seek revenue streams beyond traditional bed, bar and breakfast offerings, and consumers chafe at so-called “junk fees” that some hotels apply to all guests, some hospitality insiders see early check-in fees as part of a more equitable system in which guests pay for the ancillaries or attributes they want.

And as more hotels offer the option, more guests are going to demand it. The idea is catching on, said Paul Rantilla, Plusgrade’s senior vice president and chief revenue officer for hospitality ancillaries.

Plusgrade offers a “StayExtend” feature that allows its client hotels to monetize early check-ins and late checkouts. It’s promoted as a way to “enhance your guests’ flexibility and optimize your revenue,” and Rantilla predicts early check-in or late checkout services will soon be as routine as upselling room upgrades.

“I think there is an opportunity here,” Rantilla said before recounting his own experience with an overnight flight that landed in London hours before his scheduled meetings and the hotel’s appointed check-in time. “I would have happily paid a reasonable fee to check in early.”

And meeting guests’ expectations for the flexibility that comes with personalized trips?

“It’s really a big deal,” Rantilla said.

“Gouging” guests or giving them more of what they want?

While most hotels will consider an early check-in request, the key word is request, which might be granted if a room is ready early — not much help for the early arrivals following an overnight flight or a family hoping to take full advantage of the amenities at a beach resort.

Scroll through online travel threads and you’ll find a mix of reactions to the idea of being charged for an early check-in: Some advise paying for the previous night so they can be guaranteed immediate access upon arrival; others express outrage at being charged when a room is ready to be occupied. A headline in the New York Post last year referred to early check-in fees as the “sneaky way” hotels “are gouging” guests.

To the believers in early check-in services, such accounts conflate early check-ins with “junk fees” — resort charges and on-site parking, among others — that have stirred consumer pressure in the United States for hotels to be more transparent about add-on fees.

Max Starkov, a hospitality and online travel tech consultant and strategist, sees ancillary and attribute-based sales as a better alternative than charging across-the-board resort fees, which he labeled the “lazy hoteliers’ approach to attribute-based selling [ABS].”


If hoteliers execute a well thought out and executed merchandising and [attribute-based sales] strategy, in place of charging mandatory resort and other junk fees, they will be making more money per guest than from the much hated resort fee.

Max Starkov – tech consultant

“Charging 100% of your guests a resort fee to cover Wi-Fi or bottled water, coffee in the room, parking fees, etc. when only some of the guests are using these services or amenities – how can this be fair?” Starkov said. “I believe if hoteliers execute a well thought out and executed merchandising and ABS strategy, in place of charging mandatory resort and other junk fees, they will be making more money per guest than from the much hated resort fee.”

The key to executing such a strategy is open communication, Rantilla said. That’s particularly important in the case of early check-ins, when front desk staffers are put in a tough spot if left to explain the policy to early arriving guests.

“That’s where technology needs to come in,” Rantilla said. He suggested offering early check-in at the time of online booking or by sending the offer to guests a week before arrival, establishing the expectation that it’s a paid service. Because it’s not as if there isn’t a cost associated with making more rooms available early for those who want them.

“The days when the hotel is running at 100% capacity, it makes it very difficult to offer guests early check-in,” said Criterion’s Aziz. “So the way we do this is we prioritize [cleaning] early departure rooms – guests who have checked out before the checkout time – and we incentivize housekeeping to clean those rooms first so that we are then able to offer them to guests.”

In effect, hotel guests are renting a room for about 20 hours, Rantilla pointed out. Is paying more for an extra half day such a surprise? “There’s not many other things that you wouldn’t have to pay for if you’re asking for more,” he said.

Putting early check-ins to the test

The Zedwell was already offering early check-ins for a fee before it joined up with the Mews test program late last year. But the system was cumbersome, creating a bottleneck at the front desk, even though the Zedwell’s sleek lobby features a bank of self-service kiosks for check-ins that resemble an Apple store.

Once the new system integrated a housekeeping app created by Mews with the rest of the hotel’s tech stack, early arriving guests using one of the kiosks would be offered an early check-in if rooms were available. At the Zedwell, where rooms can be had for about £150 a night, early check-in fees were £60 between 9 and noon and £40 between noon and the normal 3 p.m. check-in time.

Guests, who can request early check-in when they first book the room, are often delighted to learn before arrival that if they show up at 9, they can go directly to their room, Aziz said.


[Early check-in is] really a cool concept. It’s just, to make it work, we did have a charge associated because we have to throw more housekeeping hours at it.

Halima Aziz – Criterion Hospitality

“It’s really a cool concept,” she said. “It’s just, to make it work, we did have a charge associated because we have to throw more housekeeping hours at it.”

While it wouldn’t be possible to guarantee early check-ins for every guest, the Zedwell had the data to generally anticipate how many it might need and when enough rooms would be ready. And the fee helped ensure that only the guests who really wanted or needed the service requested it. Over the program’s first six months, Aziz estimated that about 5% of Zedwell guests chose the early check-in option.

“It’s significant,” she said. “I think Mews has enabled us to look at the business model a little differently and say, ‘Wow, early check-in can be monetized from a hotel perspective, and it can be a driver.’ It allows you to maybe hold the rate a little bit lower … and the premium allocated to an earlier check-in is only levied on those who really want it.”

Hotel loyalty (still) has its privileges

As guests grow to expect more personalized travel, Rantilla predicted hotels will feel greater pressure to have more rooms available for early check-ins or late departures.

“You need to allow people the flexibility to tailor their stay,” Rantilla said. “I think it’s incumbent upon the hotels to really collect the data, get the demand, figure out their operations. Because I think it is where we see people going. There are not many companies that aren’t thinking about, ‘OK, we’ve got to make sure that we can accommodate guest requests and guest demands.’” 

This would represent a significant change for major hotel chains, where early check-in policies are sometimes bundled with rewards programs, and policies often differ among individual franchises.


You need to allow people the flexibility to tailor their stay. … Because I think it is where we see people going.

Paul Rantilla – Plusgrade

For example, IHG One Rewards members in one of the top two levels of status can get an early check-in — if a room is available. The top-tier status for Hyatt includes priority access to rooms. Marriott Bonvoy’s highest status level, Ambassador Elite, offers the “Your24” benefit, which allows guests to select their check-in and check-out times. So late arrivals can choose a 9 p.m. check-in and keep the room through 9 p.m. the day of departure, for example.

As much as he embraces the idea of paid early check-ins, Mews’ Welle also supports the chains’ view linking the service with loyalty membership. But he wonders if they aren’t missing out by not offering early check-ins — for a fee — to non-members as well. The revenue generated by the fees could cover any costs associated with cleaning rooms earlier and communicating their status to the front desk.

“If I can prove to you that there’s a revenue line item that your [chief financial officer] or owner can get excited about, suddenly there is a problem in need of a solution,” said Welle, whose company plans to add a late checkout option for its clients soon. “If I can prove that the revenue per guest on average in my hotel is higher than that of the real estate next door, is creates this new incentive.”

But the biggest gain for hotels isn’t to their bottom line, Welle insisted. It’s to guest satisfaction when a paid program helps make more rooms available for guests who really want or need an early check-in.

Until early check-ins are more of a priority in hospitality, he said, “guests are the ones who suffer the most because they have to wait for their rooms to come back in.”

And that’s missing the point of hospitality’s greatest promise, Welle said. “You want as many people as possible to get into the room [when they want] because that’s when they get to really start enjoying that experience.”

Phocuswright Europe 2024

Travelers today want more than a nice room from their hotel – they want to enjoy unique activities and create memorable experiences. How are lodging companies stepping up to accommodate their guests’ desire to go beyond the bed? Hear from Accor’s Sofitel CEO Maud Bailly, Casual Hotels founder and president Juan Carlos Sanjuan Hernández and Strawberry Hotels’ VP of customer, product and loyalty Nils Korsvoll.

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