Are Flexible Hotel Check-In Times the Way of the Future?

The Peninsula Hotels group is experimenting with “Peninsula Time” to break out of the morning check-in mold.

Are Flexible Hotel Check-In Times the Way of the Future?

The Peninsula Beverly Hills launched flexible check-in and check-out times 20 years ago.

Courtesy of The Peninsula Hotels

Last week, I was searching for hotels for a weekend away in the English countryside and kept seeing that check-in was at 4 p.m. and checkout was at 11 a.m.—sometimes 10 a.m.! I immediately felt stressed, imagining packing and leaving, inhaling breakfast before vacating the premises. If you’re only staying a weekend, that significantly cuts into your stay.

These set times have been the global standard of hotel stays—though many seem to be shaving an hour or two off on either end. It is primarily because of housekeeping and hotel occupancy—the room has to be clean before the next guest arrives. But given the growing trends in personalized and flexible travel, this area of the travel experience needed help.

Early check-in and late checkout have always been perks of working with a travel advisor. If you book with a great advisor, they have VIP relationships with hotels around the world, and can get you in as early as 8 a.m. for those arriving on a red-eye. Or you can always be really nice at the front desk and see what happens. Given the needs of the hotel, we often just end up stashing our bags behind the desk and fueling up on local coffee—or sleeping with our eyes open in an oversized armchair in the lobby.

But what if flexible check-in times were the norm, rather than the exception? The Standard hotels introduced a flexible check-in policy a few years ago, but guests pay an additional fee, so it’s not exactly revolutionary.

In January of this year, the Peninsula Hotels group introduced Peninsula Time, a major perk that now applies across all 10 of its properties, including Hong Kong, Paris, New York, and Beverly Hills. It originated in Beverly Hills 20 years ago, when an entrepreneurial GM came up with staggered housekeeping shifts, and guests loved it. The flexible check-in and checkout became the cornerstone of the brand’s new-in-2021 Peninsula Promise, which also guarantees connecting rooms for families.

“Borders will reopen and people will start traveling again,” says Gareth Roberts, group director, brand and operations support at Peninsula. “We wanted to refocus everything on the guest experience, and reaffirm our commitment to luxury and ease.”

Roberts empathizes with travelers, who have lost even more control—in their lives, and in their trip planning—since the COVID pandemic started. “Time is an even bigger focus for people,” he says. “There are now many hurdles to overcome while traveling and so much of it is out of your control. Check-in and checkout has always been a pain point and we wanted to give people control of that.”

They learned a lot from the pioneering model at Peninsula Beverly Hills. A typical housekeeping shift might start at 8 a.m. and leave at 5 p.m, so they changed it, with shifts coming in earlier or later depending on when check-ins were happening. (Feels like another great moment to say: Thank you, housekeeping! You are hotel heroes.) In the end, it’s easier for employees as they’re dealing with fewer guest issues, many which arise out of check-in and check-out times. Ever felt like screaming when you’ve touched down, totally jet-lagged, and just want a shower and to dump your stuff? Me, too.

Of course, there are some parameters (the earliest you can arrive is 6 a.m., and the latest checkout is 10 p.m. for the daily rate), and they looked at flight patterns to catch most of the arriving guests in each area. “You usually know in advance when you’ll arrive with flights—it’s a simple idea, but there is a big, positive impact on many people,” Roberts says. In Beverly Hills, they saw a marked increase in business from clients traveling on Qantas, arriving in L.A. before 8 a.m. and leaving at 10 p.m. to go back to Australia.

Dromoland Castle allows guests to stay for 24 hours, no matter what time they check in.

Dromoland Castle allows guests to stay for 24 hours, no matter what time they check in.

Other hotels are implementing similar policies, making them stand apart from other properties. The Hoxton hotels allow guests to choose their check-in and check-out times 72 hours in advance for free with its Flexy Time policy—but you have to book directly on their website.

Guests at La Réserve Geneva can now check in as early as 8 a.m. and check out as late as 8 p.m., an idea born from COVID as it was looking to do something proactive and positive. Guests need to give 48-hour notice, but it’s available for no additional cost and allows guests to access a room for 36 hours. La Samanna, A Belmond Hotel, St. Martin in St. Martin (which reopens February 15) is allowing check-in as early as 10 a.m. and as late as 6 p.m.

In Ireland, Dromoland Castle has its own special offering: Guests get a 24-hour window to check in. Say you arrive at 4 p.m.—now you have until 4 p.m. the following day to check out, and the same applies if you’re staying multiple nights. It feels good to pay a daily room rate and get exactly that number of hours: 24, 48, 72, and so on.

With growing demands for flexibility, other hotel brands won’t be far off on new check-in policies.

>> Next: The 13 Most Exciting Hotel Openings in the U.S. and Europe for 2021

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