Edited by: Chris Dong
& Keri Stooksbury
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It’s 7 a.m., and you’ve just landed in Europe on a red-eye flight. We’ve all been there: You couldn’t sleep on your flight and were squished into a tiny economy seat. To make matters worse, there was turbulence, crying children, and an overly chatty seatmate. The jet lag and grogginess are setting in, and all you want is to nestle into the crisp, white sheets of a hotel king bed, especially after baggage claim chaos and navigating getting a taxi in a foreign language.
But you can’t, because it’s not yet time for check-in.
Or is it?
Below, we’ll dig into what time you can check in to a hotel, if you can check in to a hotel early (and how to do so), and other key tips, as well as what to do as an alternative if you can’t check in early.
Most hotels offer a standard check-in time between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. But not all flights or arrivals are perfectly paired with standard hotel check-in.
For a variety of reasons (beyond just being jet-lagged or tired), you may need to check in early to a hotel. Perhaps you have a small child or baby that needs a nap. Maybe you have an important work meeting and need to freshen up first or set up your computer for a Zoom call. Regardless of the reason you need to check in early, hotel staff may say that you can’t do so, especially if the hotel is full and your room has yet to be cleaned.
The answer to this question isn’t cut and dry: You might be able to check in at a hotel early, and being able to do so depends on several factors. In many cases, hotel check-in depends on the property’s policies, the hotel’s occupancy level, and the time you arrive.
Some hotels charge a fee for early check-in, some may not allow it all, and others may allow it on a case-by-case basis. Asking the hotel about their policy is the easiest way to ensure that you understand whether or not an early check-in is even an option. Check-in information may also be available on a hotel’s website.
If you’re checking in during a peak period, your room simply may not be available or cleaned by the time you want to check-in.
Hot Tip: If a hotel is at capacity, there may simply not be a room that you can be placed in until guests complete their checkout and housekeeping has serviced the room.
Accessing your room at the hotel may depend entirely on when you’re attempting to do an early check-in. After all, check-in at 5 a.m., 8 a.m., and 1:30 p.m. may all offer wildly different opportunities for early room access, which brings us to our next point …
It’s unrealistic to think a hotel might accommodate an early check-in if you arrive just after midnight. Most hotels calculate revenue based on an accounting day, which means they’ll close the books for that day at a specific time. So definitely don’t assume that you’ll be able to check in shortly after midnight, even if occupancy is low. That being said, perhaps a time between 7 and 9 a.m. is a more reasonable request, depending on when the hotel’s official accounting day ends.
Early check-in is entirely at the discretion of the hotel, and there are no guarantees. However, there are some things you can do that may help you get an early check-in.
As mentioned, it’s unlikely you’ll get free early check-in if your hotel already has a set of published fees. Some hotels charge day or half-day rates that you can reserve if you arrive very early. This is typically cheaper than the full nightly rate. Others work by the hour, charging you a certain amount for every hour you need to check in earlier or check out later.
If you can’t find any hotel check-in policy on a hotel’s website, call and ask. Many hotels maintain that early check-in is subject to availability, and if you want it, you should contact them to ask for it. Note that sometimes each individual hotel’s policy varies, even if the brand as a whole has a specific early check-in policy in place.
Besides the fact that elite status members are typically treated as more VIP customers, some elite status levels actually offer early check-in as a published benefit. For example, see below for how some hotel brands handle early check-in for certain elite member levels:
Hot Tip: Even if early check-in isn’t an established or published benefit of elite status, in many cases, hotels will try their best to accommodate early check-in requests from elite status members. The higher your level, the more likely early check-in is possible.
Some luxury hotel programs that come with popular credit cards offer early check-in benefits. Do note that these benefits are usually subject to availability, meaning if the hotel has high occupancy, you may not be able to check in early. Here are some of the programs that offer this benefit:
The best way to see if you can get early check-in is by contacting the hotel ahead of time. They will likely note your request, but it may not be possible for them to confirm it until you arrive. In many cases, early check-in is usually subject to availability and never guaranteed.
Emailing the hotel is another way to get in touch about early check-in. The upside to emailing is that if your request is confirmed or granted ahead of time, you have written documentation to show at the hotel if you have any issues with early check-in upon arrival.
If your particular room isn’t available for early check-in, your request may be granted if you’re willing to downgrade or upgrade your room, as different rooms may be available even if your specific room isn’t.
If your chosen hotel charges a fee for early check-in, consider booking and paying for this service. If the hotel charges a fee, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to negotiate to get it for free. If the fee is within your budget, do it. Of course, make sure that the fees charged don’t surpass what an additional night would be. If they do, it may be a better idea to simply book an additional night.
Certain hotels (often airport hotels) are more flexible with check-in times. Some may not have a check-in time at all or have a 24-hour check-in time. Others may offer day-use rates. Websites like DayUse.com can help you find hotel options that offer more flexibility when it comes to check-in time.
For example, certain Standard Hotel properties offer something called Standard Time, meaning you can choose your check-in and check-out time with the ultimate flexibility (for a small additional fee).
If you already know a chosen hotel may let you check in early, but it’s based on availability, you can always contact them the day before arrival to check on occupancy rates.
This may give you a clearer idea if you’ll end up being able to check in early or not. While this isn’t a guarantee, having a sense of whether or not the hotel is at 95% capacity — or nearly empty — may help you decide to make alternative plans or play your cards in hopes of getting early check-in.
Many large hotel brands like Marriott and Hyatt offer the option to add your arrival time to your booking when using the mobile check-in feature on the hotel app. While the hotel may or may not honor your desired check-in time, it’s worth giving it a shot and could hopefully yield results.
This is the simplest yet most underrated technique for getting early check-in (or getting many things in travel and in life). Be friendly to the hotel staff member when attempting to check in early, whether it be in person, via email, or on the phone. Don’t act entitled, treat them with respect, and explain why getting early check-in might help you out. If they realize you’ve just gotten off a 15-hour transatlantic flight or your toddler is about to melt down, they may work just a little harder to get your room ready earlier (if you’ve asked nicely, of course).
If the staff member is unable to help or you can’t check in early, don’t get upset. Just thank them for trying and ask if to let you know if anything changes.
Hot Tip: This simple (yet often ignored) tip of being friendly and respectful can also help you out when asking for upgrades, late checkout, and beyond.
Maybe you’ve tried but haven’t had luck getting an early check-in. Or perhaps you have a very early check-in time and really don’t want to leave it up to fate. Or worse, maybe you’re flight is landing at 2 a.m., which is definitively too early for early check-in in almost all cases.
If you can’t check in early, here are some tips for what you can do to minimize the hassle and stress of not having a hotel room ready.
If you really need your room early and aren’t willing to leave it up to chance, consider booking the night before, either at the same hotel or a nearby, cheaper hotel. This is an optimal plan if you arrive between midnight and 5 or 6 a.m., which is probably too early for check-in at most hotels.
Hot Tip: Make sure to contact the hotel ahead of time to let them know you’ll be arriving in the middle of the night, especially during peak travel periods. This is to prevent the hotel from giving your room away to someone else if they assume you’re a no-show.
Sometimes a snooze poolside or a massage at the spa can be a more effective jet lag cure than diving into those crisp white hotel sheets in your room. Or to pass the time, perhaps you can have an energizing run on the treadmill in the gym, work in the lobby, or enjoy the breakfast buffet.
Some hotels have courtesy rooms where you can shower or freshen up before checking in or after checking out. Make sure to ask if there’s a time limit or fee for using a courtesy room.
In those cases where early check-in simply isn’t a possibility, almost all hotels are willing to store your bags so you can do, well, whatever you want. This is especially useful for leisure travel when you may want to get a headstart on exploring a new city, head to the beach, or test out a trendy new brunch spot.
Hot Tip: Most hotel staff members are willing to call you when your room is ready in case they’re able to have it prepared earlier. Just ask — and don’t forget to provide your phone number.
In a perfect world, we’d be able to check in at hotels at whatever time we wanted. But that’s not quite how things work, and we may not get early check-in every time we want it or at the time we need it.
However, there are things you can do to maximize your chances of getting early check-in, like contacting the hotel ahead of time, noting your arrival time on the app via mobile check-in, or understanding the hotel’s early check-in policies. And, you can almost guarantee early check-in by scoring certain hotel elite status levels, paying a fee, or booking a hotel that offers flexible check-in options.
The best way to guarantee that you’ll be able to check into a hotel just after midnight is by booking the night before. Otherwise, you’re leaving your check-in up to chance. Most hotels wouldn’t even consider letting you check in until their official accounting day is over, which usually occurs sometime around 6 a.m.
While it’s never a given, many hotels may let you check in an hour earlier than the stated check-in time. Early check-in depends on a variety of factors, like hotel occupancy, housekeeping, hotel policy, and more. Your best bet for being able to check in an hour earlier is to contact the hotel ahead of time and request an early check-in via the hotel’s app.
The answer varies. In Las Vegas, similar to most other destinations, early check-in depends on several factors, such as hotel policy, occupancy, and housekeeping. Some hotels in Las Vegas may charge a fee for early check-in. Getting early check-in in Las Vegas (and other destinations) may also vary on your arrival time.
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