Most folks follow the same pattern when it comes to getting a hotel room. They'll make a reservation, either on the internet or on the phone, ask for a particular type of bed, a no smoking room (or in some cases a smoking room) and a room with a view. And, of course, they want a great deal.
Then, with confirmation number in hand, they arrive at the hotel, walk up to the front desk (credit card at the ready for the requested imprint or swipe), get their room key and head off to their rooms, embarking on a magical mystery tour, not knowing about what lies ahead. And then, when they arrive at their room, many are disappointed. And the reason: They didn't ask three basic, yet important questions before they accepted that room key.
One caution: For each of these questions, you should be prepared for the stare. Inevitably, front desk clerks don't often get these questions, but they are essential to ensure you have, at the very least, a better stay. My advice: Be prepared for the momentary stare, but do not worry. It's not the stare you care about. You care about the answers.
Question One: How close is my room to the construction?
Seems like a silly question, but consider that virtually every hotel does its renovations in a cyclical manner. What this means is that at any given time, an entire floor, or wing or block of rooms is closed for renovations. If you don't ask that question, there's a high likelihood you'll be given the key to the "jackhammer" suite.
Question Two: Can I have a room below the eighth floor?
Why the number eight? It's essential that you know that with exceedingly few exceptions, few fire departments can effectively battle fires above the eighth floor of any building. If you want a high-rise room with a view, remember this. I'm warning you. In the event of a fire, you'll indeed have a great view — of firefighters being unable to reach you. There's another practical reason why you want a room below the eighth floor: If time is important to you, then you should also realize that at busy hotels, the time you spent in the elevator has an exponential time relationship to the floor on which you're staying. The higher the floor, the longer it will take you to get down and up. The higher the floor, the more likelihood you're wasting time getting to and from your room.
Question Three: Where are the booster pumps?
This one is absolutely guaranteed to get you the big stare from the desk clerk. If you like great water pressure in your bathroom (and who doesn't) then you should ask the clerk to call the engineering department and ask them which floors the booster pumps are on. Why? Most hotels cannot maintain consistently good water pressure throughout the building. As a result, they install special booster pumps to increase water pressure on different floors. When you get the answer that the booster pumps are on the third, fifth and eighth floors, for example, ask for a room on one of those floors. Then, when you get to your room and go into the bathroom — surprise, surprise — your water pressure is the equivalent of a fire hose!
Peter Greenberg is TODAY's travel editor. His column appears weekly on TODAYshow.com.