Whether you’re taking weeks-long trips or short weekend getaways, it’s not always convenient to have to adhere to a hotel’s check-in and check-out schedule. Coupled with hectic flight schedules, staying in hotels while traveling can become a real headache. What do you do when your flight lands hours before you’re able to check into your room?
Early check-in is a good option when this is the case. Many hotels are willing to work with you when the check-in time on your reservation isn’t ideal for you, but there are some key things to keep in mind when searching for hotels that will do this and making the request. Keep reading to become an early check-in expert.
In this post you'll learn:
Normal Hotel Check-In Policies
Most hotels make you wait until early- to mid-afternoon to check into your room, usually around 2 or 3 PM. On the day that you check out, you will likely be asked to leave between 10 AM and 12 PM.
Hotels try to give themselves a window of at least a few hours between when a guest checks out and the next is scheduled to arrive to carry out any routine cleaning and restocking that needs to take place.
For a standard reservation, you often can’t get the key to your room before the check-in time on your booking (or check out late without incurring fees). That is, unless you’ve arranged for early check-in in advance.
During peak travel times when most rooms are booked, it may take longer for hotel staff to turn around a room, and getting an early check-in on short notice is less likely. During off-seasons, you may get lucky and the hotel will be fine advancing your check-in.
But don’t count on luck if you’re angling to check into a hotel early. Instead, plan ahead.
How to Get Early Check-In
You usually have to seek early check-in out because not all hotels offer it openly (if they wanted everyone to check in early, they’d just change the reservation times). Always contact the hotel you’ll be staying at as far in advance as possible to secure early check-in for your trip because getting it last minute is never guaranteed.
Your early check-in request may be prioritized if you are a rewards club member. In fact, elite status with certain hotels automatically comes with complimentary early check-in. A lot of hotels give late check-outs to guests with elite status, but some give early check-ins as well or instead. The following rewards programs offer this perk:
- Choice Privileges – Gold, Platinum, and Diamond level status members receive early check-ins. You become a Gold member after seven nights, a Platinum member after 15 nights, and a Diamond member after 25 nights
- IHG Rewards – Spire elite members are able to check in at 10 AM at participating locations, and they also get priority check-in
- Wyndham Rewards – Wyndham Rewards members with Platinum or Diamond status receive early check-in. You become a Platinum member after nine nights and a Diamond member after 24 nights
- World of Hyatt – early check-in is available for a fee of $10 or more to basic members and Discoverist members, and complimentary early check-in is available to Explorist and Globalist members. All member statuses with this rewards program may check in as early as 9 AM
- Radisson Rewards – Silver, Gold, and Platinum members are eligible to receive early check-in upon request and are permitted to check in up to two hours before the time on their reservation
When early check-in isn’t complimentary with your membership status, you may be able to purchase it with awards points or cash.
Politeness will take you far when you need to check in early. If you’re kind to the front desk staff and reasonable with your requests, you’re much more likely to get to your room ahead of schedule. It’s not usually a big deal for hotels to speed the process along for you, but it doesn’t hurt to show appreciation.
Also, be flexible. Let the staff know that you’re willing to accept a different room than the one you reserved, along with whatever upcharges may come with this. They may have a surplus of a certain room type. And because they want to fill their rooms, they might agree to letting you check in early if you let them move you around.
And don’t assume that just because you’ve checked into a hotel early before you will be able to do it again.
Can you Stash Your Luggage Before Your Room Is Ready?
When you get in from a long flight, one of the first things you want to do is set down your bags. But if your room isn’t quite ready, most hotels will store your luggage for you somewhere in the lobby, usually the front desk. This way, you can go stretch your legs knowing that someone is keeping an eye on your belongings.
Alternatively, you may be able to place your luggage in your room before the hospitality staff has finished, but this really depends on the hotel you’re staying at.
Keep in mind that early check-ins may incur additional fees, even if you are an elite rewards member. The cost is usually somewhere in the range of $10 to $30, but the exact price depends on the hotel you’re staying at, the time of year, and when you’re requesting early check-in.
Make sure to read the fine print on early check-in policies to find out not only how much this will cost you but also what time you can actually check in. Some hotels may give you a couple of hours at the earliest and others may have more generous early check-in windows. If you’re going to be arriving several hours in advance of the time you’re scheduled to check-in, even a slim early check-in could be hugely helpful.
To speed the process along further, provide the hotel with as much information before checking in as you can. Let them know exactly when you’ll be arriving, the size of your party, and any accommodations you would like.
Always try to ask for early check-in when you’re booking a reservation. You can usually select this option when checking out if it’s available, and this is also when you should ask for late check-in.
If you can’t request early check-in when booking, simply call the hotel you’ll be visiting right after making your reservation and see if they can make it happen for you. This is almost always first-come, first-served, so they’ll be able to let you know where you stand in line and how likely you are to get what you’re asking for. This’ll make planning easier for you and them.
Use the Hotel Business Center and Wifi
If you’re not able to secure early check-in for your stay or you still arrive a little before they allow you to go to your room, make the most of your time waiting. Most hotels are fine with you using their lounge or business center as a non-guest, as long as you let them know that you’ll be doing it. Some hotels may not appreciate you making yourself comfortable while you wait, especially if they’re busy, but others will happily agree as long as you aren’t in an inconvenient location.
If you’re traveling on business, you can use this time to catch up on work or prepare for meetings. Set your luggage down next to you if the hotel doesn’t have a place to hold onto it. If the hotel staff knows you’re waiting on your room, they’ll usually be happy to come and get you to notify you that your room is ready from wherever you’re camped out.
If a hotel’s lounge or business center is exclusive, your membership status with their rewards program will likely determine whether you can get in or not. Being an elite member could give you access to a swanky lounge that’s off-limits to other guests (and guests in waiting).
Use the Hotel Gym and/or Restaurant
If you have more time to kill before you get your room key, check out the hotel’s gym or restaurant. What better way is there to unwind after a long flight than to hit the gym or grab some dinner and a drink?
Some hotel gyms and fitness centers require a room key or pass to use. Ask the front desk if they have an unassigned key you can borrow or if you can purchase a day pass. Again, just asking and being decent will go a long way when you’re making requests of busy staff members.
Use Cash and Points
Fees for early check-in should be paid with rewards points whenever possible. A great travel credit card—especially, in this case, a hotel credit card—will become your best friend when you’re away from home, if it isn’t already.
One of the fastest ways to become a hotel rewards member is to open a hotel credit card with a brand you frequently stay at. You can acquire points every time you use your card to pay for hotel stays and whatever fees you may incur, such as fees for early check-in. Plus, being a hotel rewards member usually comes with plenty of perks outside of early check-in (as nice as this can be).
Wyndham Rewards has been one of the best hotel rewards programs for several years, so we’ll use this loyalty program as an example of why you should definitely become a rewards member with your hotel(s) of choice.
You become a Blue-level member the moment you enroll in Wyndham Rewards, and this status comes with savings, opportunities to earn award nights, and free WiFi at every hotel. Once you’ve stayed with Wyndham just three times, you get bumped up to Gold status, where you can start enjoying perks like preferred room choice, late check-out, and dedicated member services. After nine stays, you become a Platinum member and can start checking in early; and after 24 stays, you reach Diamond status and get upgrades and premium check-in.
The Wyndham Rewards Earner cards offer upwards of 45,000 bonus points for signing up and as much as 6X points on hotel stays.
But if you don’t want a hotel-branded card, a general-purpose credit card can also save you serious cash. Here are a few of our current favorites:
- Capital One Venture Rewards Card – bonus offer of 100,000 points and 2X points on every purchase
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card – bonus offer of 100,000 points and 1X points on every purchase
- American Express Platinum Card – bonus offer of 100,000 points and 5X points on hotel stays booked through American Express Travel
Just be mindful of annual fees that often come with the best travel credit cards. But as a rule, the higher the fee, the better the perks.
You can always just pay for your hotels with cash or a debit card, but why would you when you can earn points to put toward your next stay?
It’s never a bad idea to try to get early check-in. Early check-in is always subject to availability and differs across regions, so play it safe and double check with the hotel you’ll be staying at before arriving and when booking to make sure that checking in early will be alright.
You’re more likely to get the check-in time you want if you’re a rewards member, but you still might have to pay for this perk. But we think early check-in is worth the price when you’re traveling far from home.