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As the U.S. economy begins to slowly reopen, Americans are wondering if it’s safe to take a vacation. Whether you fly or drive, there’s a good chance you’ll stay in a hotel at your destination, but it won’t be like your hotel stays before the pandemic. Here’s what you can expect when booking and staying at a hotel this summer.
Hotel stays are down dramatically from last summer, but there are signs of recovery. In mid-June hotels in the U.S. were at nearly 44% occupancy, up from a low point of 22% in early April, and some limited-service hotels are even approaching profitability. This means that you’re likely to find rooms at low rates, but don’t expect to see the extremely low prices that we’ve seen for airfare. At the same time, it’s unlikely that you’ll find any hotel that’s sold out of your favorite room type.
Expect relaxed policies that take into account the fact that you may need to cancel your reservation due to travel restrictions or other factors outside your control. For example, Marriott’s policy allows for full changes or cancellations of many bookings up to 24 hours before arrival. Hyatt has a similar policy for reservations for stays through July 31. For reservations booked by Aug. 31, Hilton is allowing guests to cancel up to 24 hours before arrival even for nonrefundable rooms.
Your check-in experience depends on the hotel you visit, as none of the major hotel chains have companywide requirements for mask-wearing or social distancing. For example, Hilton’s website states, “Depending on state or local government guidance, our team members and guests may be required to wear a face covering while in common areas at the hotel. We recommend that you have a face covering with you for the duration of your stay in the event it is required by local law.” The site also gives employees guidance on social distancing requirements, but falls short of making them mandatory throughout the chain.
Marriott’s corporate-managed hotels require all publicly facing employees to wear masks, but no such requirements exist for franchise-managed hotels, which are free to implement their own rules.
Some hotels now offer mobile check-in, which allows you to use your smartphone to receive an electronic key to your room and possibly bypass the in-person check-in process. Hotel chains rolling out this technology include Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt. But some guests may still need to visit the front desk to verify their ID and form of payment, or to register their vehicle if they’re parking there. For the best chance of bypassing the front desk, use the hotel chain’s mobile app and book an eligible rate, if possible.
Because hotels have fewer guests, you’re more likely to receive a preferred room. But suite upgrades may now be harder to get because the larger suites require additional housekeeping at a time when staffing might be short due to budget cuts.
Your room will remain largely the same as it was before the coronavirus crisis. For example, one traveler who recently stayed at Beaver Run Resort in Breckenridge, Colorado, noticed no difference from previous hotel stays. But an employee of a major hotel in downtown Denver says that rooms are left unoccupied for at least 24 hours after cleaning to kill off any virus that may linger on surfaces.
You won’t find a lot of the services you’d normally expect at a hotel. Valet parking, bell staff and hotel restaurants may be unavailable. If there’s an independent restaurant attached to the building, it may be open in accordance with local regulations. Elite guest lounges, breakfast buffets and gift shops will likely be closed.
Many hotels have reopened their fitness centers but with equipment spaced 6 feet apart. Hotels are looking for creative ways to provide guests with food. For example, some Sheraton hotels are offering guests pre-made breakfasts such as sandwiches and burritos for sale or as an amenity to Bonvoy Platinum members who are normally offered free breakfast at the restaurant. Some hotels also have a small market for drinks and snacks that remains open.
» Learn more: Hotel brands offer summer promotions to entice travelers
Another issue is housekeeping. Many hotels have restricted housekeeping and are providing it only between stays or upon request. One recent guest reported that his hotel was blaming the lack of housekeeping on the virus. When pressed, the hotel’s management conceded that it was merely a cost-cutting measure, the guest said.
In fact, blaming the virus for policies actually designed to cut costs seems to be a widespread phenomenon. For example, travel blogger Matthew Klint recently posted about a reader who stayed in a Courtyard by Marriott hotel and noted that staffers didn’t wear masks, but, citing safety as their reason, denied him water and even paper coffee cups.
The Denver hotel employee recommends that guests anywhere wear a mask in the lobby, in the elevators and any other area where staff or other guests may be present. “At my hotel, all employees must wear a mask,” he says, “and it’s for everyone’s safety that guests do so in order to keep the hotel operating.” He is clearly concerned with the safety of employees and guests, but recognizes that his job is at stake, too. “If there’s ever an outbreak that’s linked to our hotel, then it could be shut down and our staff will be out of work,” he says.
Try to be understanding of the limited amenities available. Employees don’t have control over what’s open and what isn’t, and like all of us, they would prefer that operations — and life — return to normal.
The bottom line
Your hotel experience will be very different from what it was before the pandemic. But if you adjust your expectations and appreciate what is still available, it's possible to enjoy a trip.
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