April 25, 2024 | Samantha Henman

9 Urban Myths About Hotels That Are False—And 4 That Are True


Checking In?

Going to a hotel can be an unsettling experience. No matter how much you pay, you can never quite know what you’re going to get. Disturbing stories about filthy hotel rooms and bed bugs abound—but are they really that common? Let’s break down some of the wildest urban myths about hotels.

Hotel Thumb

Spread The Word

We all make our beds differently at home—but for many years, one strangely consistent feature of hotel rooms the world over, from 1-star all the way up to 5-star, was the ubiquitous bedspread. Unfortunately, this innocent-seeming bedlinen is the source of one of the most pernicious urban myths about hotels.

Hotel room  with large bed and lightsMax Vakhtbovycn, Pexels

Myth: Hotel Bedspreads Are Never Washed Between Guests

There’s an ongoing rumor that bedspreads, heavy comforters, and glassware aren’t washed between hotel guests. However, the answer is complicated. It truly depends on your hotel. Many more modern hotels have forgone the old-school bedspread instead of a more-easily washable duvet cover.

Hotel Room ServiceJoey Chung, Shutterstock

Rule Of Thumb

This is one of the most divisive urban myths about hotels out there. Some hospitality professionals claim that it’s definitely not a problem, while others say that they never touch the top layer or bedding, or even throw cushions, after they initially remove them from the bed upon check-in. Ultimately, it up to you to gauge how clean they are—and what to do with them during your stay.

housekeeping in hotelstefanolunardi, Shutterstock

Aim For The Stars

Check out any booking site, from Expedia to Priceline, and you’ll notice that every hotel has a star rating on a scale of 1 to 5. You may think you know what to expect out of, say, a 3-star hotel—but you might be mistaken.

three star hotelLongfin Media, Shutterstock

Myth: Hotel Star Ratings Are Based On A Standard

There’s no unified system for hotel star ratings, and they vary from country to country. They also vary with regards to what they require to achieve a certain star rating. Did you know that in order for a hotel to get 4 stars in the US, it has to have phones in the bathrooms? What kind of standard is that?

hotel restroomKondor83, Shutterstock

Rolling The Dice

Ultimately, the star ratings are somewhat meaningless—with caveats. You might enjoy a stay in a boutique 3-star far more than a chain 5-star. Some 1 and 2 star hotels are kept impeccably clean, and others are dumps. Make judgements based on reviews, not on star ratings.

Man lying in bed in a hotel roomKetut Subiyanto, Pexels

Wake Up And Smell The Coffee

This one is an urban myth that also plagues the aviation industry—that you can’t trust the coffee in a hotel room. Or on a plane. But what are the caffeine addicts of the world to do? How am I supposed to get up and leave the room to get coffee, when I need coffee to get up and leave the room?

Young businessman with cup of coffee in hotel roomfizkes, Shutterstock

Myth: Other Guests Do Weird Things To The Coffee Machine

A recent “popular” TikTok account certainly hasn’t helped with this urban myth. On the channel, a man makes increasingly strange foods in hotel rooms, using whatever he has on hand—including the bathroom sink and the coffee machine. Luckily, he’s not the norm.

Coffee machine in hotel roomEdvard Nalbantjan, Shutterstock

Good To The Last Drop

Due the popularity of the aforementioned TikTok channel, some media outlets have contacted hotel employees to ask if it’s as much of a problem as this one guy makes it out to be. Luckily, they all had the same answer. They’ve never found evidence of a guest doing anything weird with the coffee machine beyond actually making coffee. Victory!

woman making coffeeVulp, Shutterstock

Happy Hour

Hotel minibars can tempt even the strongest among us. Less-experienced travelers may walk into a hotel room and live in fear of even touching that small bag of chips or bottle of water, lest they get charged $18—why is it always $18? But then again, the hotels you may least expect to provide freebies may provide unexpected extras.

hotel mini barJohn And Penny, Shutterstock

Myth: Hotel Minibars Automatically Charge You For Moving Products

This one really depends on the hotel in question. Each hotel will have a different procedure for keeping track of what products from the minibar are used. Some, yes, will use sensors—meaning you can’t replace that Diet Coke with another can just before you check out. Ask at the front desk what kind of system they use.

Mini refrigerator in a hotel roomVereshchagin Dmitry, Shutterstock

An Ounce Of Prevention

The best way to ensure you don’t wind up with any unwanted charges on your bill upon checkout? Request that the minibar be emptied when you check in. This way, you don’t need to worry about temptation nor any bizarre, fridge-shaking accidents.

Mini bar with an open door.EvgL, Shutterstock

Upgrades

In TV shows and movies, you always see people claiming that it’s their anniversary or wedding night and walking away with a free upgrade. Can it really be so easy?

couple at hotel reception deskKamil Macniak, Shutterstock

Myth: You Can Talk Your Way Into An Upgrade

Well, yes. In fact, you don’t even need to lie for it. While many hotels will prioritize guests who are part of their loyalty programs, your average front desk employee does have the ability to upgrade you—but you’ll have to sweet talk your way into it.

Young couple at hotel receptionStockLite, Shutterstock

You Catch More Flies With Honey

Some key advice to remember? Just be nice. You’re way more likely to get an upgrade that way than you are by making threats or pulling a “Don’t you know who I am?” attitude.

angry  businessman at hotel receptionElnur, Shutterstock

Buyer Beware

One caveat? Be clear that what you’re looking for is a free upgrade. You could end up shooting the breeze with the clerk and thinking you’re on the same page, only to get hit with an upgrade charge upon checkout.

couple doing check-in at hotel reception front deskMix Tape, Shutterstock

Cutting Corners

Standards for hotel cleaning have changed over the years. Where a daily cleaning and turndown were expected in the past, many people nowadays aren’t so comfortable having someone come in and clean around all their stuff. But is that really the driving factor behind less frequent cleaning visits?

cleaning hotel roomFriends Stock, Shutterstock

Myth: Rooms Aren’t Cleaning As Much Because People Don’t Want To Work

There could be many reasons why your hotel room isn’t cleaned during your stay. For example, during the pandemic, it was thought to be safer to have fewer people enter the room. And it’s not because the maids don’t want to do it. After all, at the end of your stay, there’d be even more work.

cleaning hotel roomDragon Images, Shutterstock

Going Green

Many hotels have made a commitment to lessen the environment damage that occurs during frequent cleans—think of the thousands of gallons of water that are needed to wash hundreds of rooms’ worth of sheets and towels every day. This is the #1 reason why many hotels don’t offer cleaning in the same way they used to.

Close-up of hands putting stack of fresh white bath towelsPapzi555, Shutterstock

Book Smarts

Google has made it incredibly easy to look up a hotel and compare prices with the click of a button. It often seems that sites like Booking.com and Expedia have the cheapest prices—but is that really true?

Woman making a hotel reservation onlineDenPhotos, Shutterstock

Myth: Booking Through A Third-Party Site Is Cheapest

Though they’ll certainly present you with deals, there are always ways around using a third-party website. Hotels have to pay a commission when you use one of these sites, so it’s in their best interest to book with you directly.

Happy young woman with credit card booking vacationWorawee Meepian, Shutterstock

Cut Out The Middle Man

If you like the price you see on a third-party site but it’s not reflected on the hotel’s website, try giving them a call and explaining your situation. Unless there happens to be a reason for a hotel being fully booked, like a convention, they will try and help you out.

Young woman booking vacation tripPrathankarnpap, Shutterstock

Playing Favorites

You may know someone—or you may be someone—with a “favorite” hotel chain. However, it only takes one “surprising” experience to learn that not all hotels within the same chain are the same. In fact, it can wildly vary.

Angry hotel guestPressmaster, Shutterstock

Myth: Every Hotel Within A Chain Is The Same

Many chains, like Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt, operate on a franchising model. This means that while some are owned and operated by the chain itself, others are owned and operated by a franchisee—and this is where trouble can begin.

Fred RomeroFollow Budapest - Marriott HotelFred Romero, Flickr

Variety Is The Spice Of Life

Though each brand may set a standard for hotels that carry their name to live up to, not all fulfill the criteria. One chain with wild differences in standards is Howard Johnson—while I’ve stayed in a HoJo that could’ve easily qualified as 3 stars, there’s one a few miles from me that probably wouldn’t even rate 1 star.

Howard Johnson's Motor LodgeCharles Hathaway, Flickr

Buyer Beware

When choosing a chain hotel, it’s once again important to do your research and read reviews. It can be extra useful to look for reviews with images to get a better idea of what you’re getting into.

hotelcunaplus, Shutterstock

Sleep Tight, Don’t Let The Bedbugs Bite

It’s one of those things that unfortunately make sense when you think about it—that hotel rooms could be particularly susceptible to bed bugs, causing guests to pick them up and bring them home.

Bed Bug InfestationAndrey_Popov, Shutterstock

Myth: Bedbugs Love Hotel Rooms

According to hospitality professionals, bed bugs aren’t nearly the problem that you think they might be, especially if you’re not in a big city. They don’t need to be a concern for the average traveler—but of course, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist in hotels.

bed bugs  Infested Dirty LinenAndrey_Popov, Shutterstock

The Numbers Don’t Lie

Of course, there’s always a chance that any given bed might have bedbugs. It’s just that hotels aren’t the statistical anomaly for bed bugs that people think they are. Your chances are about the same as they are in a similar place—for example, apartment buildings or hospitals.

If it’s something that causes you anxiety, learn how to thoroughly check for them—but don’t think that it’s a given that all hotel rooms have bedbugs.

Woman  putting bedding cover in a hotel roompen kanya, Shutterstock

Rock And Roll

It’s a classic trope—rock stars trashing their hotel rooms. While there’s no shortage of wild stories about rock stars on tour getting up to no good in hotel rooms, is this stereotype actually based in reality?

Rock band in hotel roomAlena Gan, Shutterstock

Myth: Rock Stars Trash Their Hotel Rooms

During their heyday, The Who—and particularly their drummer, Keith Moon—were notorious for trashing the hotels rooms that they stayed in on tour. He once even drove his car into a hotel pool while the police were pursuing him.

Keith MoonJean-Luc, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

The Times They Are A-Changing

According to hospitality professionals, musicians nowadays are a lot less interested in partying and a lot more interested in clean living. It’s really not the same problem that it once was—so if you happen to notice a guitar-toting long-haired rocker on your floor, there’s no need to worry.

playing a  guitar in hotel roomMoewmuse, Shutterstock

Safety First

This one is a bit weirder, and seems to spread in the more paranoid corners of the internet. There are rumors that not only do hotel key cards contain your personal information, but that there are people out there walking around who have devices that can secretly scan them.

keycard in hotelKzenon, Shutterstock

Myth: Hotel Key Cards Contain Personal Information

This one actually comes from a misreported account by the Pasadena Police Department, of all places. It spread fairly quickly, and apparently this is one that hotel desk clerks are asked about all the time. Some people believe their name, home address, and credit card number are stored on those little key cards.

Key card from a hotel roomVTT Studio, Shutterstock

It’s Nothing Personal

In reality, none of that information is stored on your key card. What it does have? Your room number, check-in date, and check-out date. That’s it. If you’re at a hotel where you can charge things to your room, it may have your initials or a few letters of your name, to check against your signature.

woman checking in a hotelKamil Macniak, Shutterstock

What’s That Smell?

This one is a classic, equally represented in TV and movies as it is covered by urban legend books and websites. Everyone’s either seen something about it or heard something about it—the story about a friend of a friend of a friend who noticed a weird smell in their hotel room and complained about it, only to find out that it was coming from a body stuffed in the mattress.

Man pinches nose with fingers looks with disgust something smells bad.pathdoc, Shutterstock

Myth: The Bad Smell Could Be A Body In The Mattress

In one segment of the 2004 comedy anthology film Four Rooms, two children left alone by their parents on New Years Eve wreak havoc on their hotel room—and their bellhop/babysitter Ted. It all culminates when they find a body in the mattress, to their great horror…and to comic effect for the audience. Unfortunately, this wasn’t just a creative writing choice.

Four Rooms 2004Miramax , Four Rooms (1995)

The Truth Hurts

Snopes.com, the urban myth experts, investigated this one and came up with a slew of cases where people discovered bodies in their hotel room mattresses—and the original article was published in 1999, so who knows how many others there have been since them. While it’s obviously not that common, it is unfortunately, true.

Portrait of a shocked young housemaidDean Drobot, Shutterstock

Money For Nothing

You may not get a TV or a hair dryer, but once upon a time, there was one constant in hotel rooms all over the USA: the Gideon bible. Often tucked into the bedside table drawer, this faithful companion came with a strange urban myth attached to it.

Gideons Bible in hotel roomChad Robertson Media, Shutterstock

Myth: There Could Be Money Hidden In Your Hotel Bible

Admittedly, this one was new to me—but there appears to be a fairly common rumor that hotel bibles often have a $100 bill tucked inside, meant to reward the faithful.

Shocked woman in hotel roomAlina Rosanova, Shutterstock

Bible-Thumping

Unfortunately, this one seems to be completely false—and to simultaneously act as a ploy to get people to pick up their bibles. I don’t think it’s actually that easy to convert people, but nice try.The Holy Bible inside a hotel roomZikG, Shutterstock


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