Can hotels improve their guest experience with a flexible check in and check out policy?

Hotels are experimenting with flexible check in and check out timings, some free of charge and others at an additional fee. If logistical challenges are successfully navigated, this policy has the potential to boost bookings, especially in case of business and red-eye travellers.

As travellers’ needs change, hotels must adapt their policies to keep up with these requirements and enhance the guest experience. To this end, US-based hotel chain The Hoxton began offering its guests the ability to check in from midnight on the day of booking to midnight on check out day, at no extra charge. Guests must book directly on the hotel website and give 72 hours’ notice of their arrival and departure. The policy, which was made permanent in 2019, applies to all Hoxton hotels in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Portland, Amsterdam, Paris and London. Noting that the COVID pandemic has made travel more dynamic, luxury hospitality chain Peninsula Hotels also debuted its flexible check-in and check-out programme this January. With Peninsula Time, guests can arrange to have their rooms ready as early as 6am and check out by 10pm at no extra charge.

Other hotels have also been experimenting with elastic timings at an additional cost. Guests at Standard Hotels properties in the US and London have to pay 5-10 per cent of the room rate to avail of flexible times, aka Standard Time, which are subject to availability. The Mira Hong Kong and Novotel Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel also provide similar perks.

Accessibility for top-tier guests

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Flexible timings at hotels are a perk for business and red-eye travellers. (Photo: halfpoint/Envato Elements)

To account for housekeeping and other operational needs, hotels typically set check in times at 2pm and check out times at 10am or 11am. Occasionally, a guest may be able to politely negotiate at the front desk, though there’s no guarantee their request will be accommodated. Some properties reserve the privilege of flexible timing for loyalty members. Marriott’s Bonvoy rewards programme, for example, allows gold members a 2pm late check out and platinum tier members guaranteed 4pm check out. In October last year, Marriott Bonvoy also debuted three new packages to encourage professionals, who were forced to work from home during the pandemic, to use their hotel rooms as workspaces. The Day Pass, Stay Pass and Play Pass packages are designed as flexible options for guests seeking a one day stay from early morning into the evening, an extended overnight stay with early morning check in and evening checkout or a multi-day work and leisure destination getaway. “By providing flexible booking options, our loyalty members and guests have a familiar alternative when choosing where to work,” says Stephanie Linnartz, Group President – Consumer Operations, Technology & Emerging Businesses, Marriott International.

Flexible timings yet to gain a foothold in India

In 2016, hotel chain Oyo experimented with the concept of flexible check in and check out timings with its Sunrise Check-in programme that allows guests to check in at 6am. Travel booking website launched its FlexiStay programme in Delhi, Bengaluru and popular pilgrimage towns of Shirdi and Tirupati in 2018. Consumers could avail of flexible timings at select budget and premium hotels when booking their stay on the platform. However, the programme appears to have been discontinued since March last year. 

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Guests can check in and out at their convenience at any property by The Postcard Hotel. (Photo: Courtesy The Postcard Hotel)

In keeping with its ethos of championing slow travel, boutique luxury hotel brand The Postcard Hotel allows guests to choose their check in and check out times across its properties in Goa, Sri Lanka and Bhutan. “At the transformative hotels we are building, we believe time is your biggest luxury. So, at The Postcard Hotel, there is no check-in and check-out time. Most hotels have a standard check-in and check-out time and guests may have to hang around in the lobby or the coffee shop if their flight lands early morning or leaves late at night. We have also introduced anytime breakfast. Whatever time you wake up, breakfast starts at that time. Guests are willing to pay a premium for differentiated transformative experiences,” says Kapil Chopra, founder and CEO, The Postcard Hotel. Sarovar Hotels also currently offers guests flexible timings in a promotional capacity at The Royal Plaza, Gangtok. This is, however, subject to availability and incurs additional charges. 

Flexible check in and check out timings are an obvious perk for business and red-eye travellers. “Theoretically, you can stay 27 hours at the hotel. We felt that taking away the stress from the guest is a true luxury. It has created loyalty. There’s no question that this has helped us create repeat clients. It creates a competitive advantage that none of the other hotels have,” Peninsula Managing Director Offer Nissenbaum told Skift.

Technology to navigate logistics

However, the logistical and economical challenges of staffing and coordinating housekeeping shifts stands in the way of making flexible timings a common practice across the board. The Hoxton has relied on robust technological infrastructure to make its FlexyTime programme a success. Each of its properties uses a hotel management software by KnowCross that specialises in housekeeping, hotel maintenance and service management. 

Max Shephard, CEO of HotelFlex, an inventory management tool designed to generate revenue from unsold rooms, is of the opinion flexible timings can be a win-win for both hotel and guests if executed correctly. By using unsold rooms to accommodate early check-ins, hotels can generate incremental revenue and improve their relationship with guests, he says in an article for Hotel Technology News. According to him, for a flexible check in/check out programme to be successful, the option must be offered 24 hours prior to a guest’s arrival. “If offered earlier, conversion rates drop as this problem is not front of mind for the guest,” he explains, adding “Early check-ins and late check-outs should be dynamically priced based on the occupancy of the hotel to ensure optimum revenue performance.”