Is it really free?


During my trip to Vancouver, I stayed at a surprisingly nice Best Western hotel. Shortly after arriving, I was pleased to see two bottles of water right next to the in-room coffeemaker. At first, I was worried that they would charge some exorbitant hotel price if I so much as looked at the bottles. But I didn’t see a rate card with prices on there, and my wife reminded me that the hotel promoted the complimentary bottled water on their website. Amazingly, it appeared that the water was actually free, which added up to some nice savings over a multi-day trip.

With so many hotels charging exorbitant prices for in-room snacks and drinks, customers have been trained to expect that everything has a cost associated with it. Accordingly, if you operate a hotel that actually provides things for free, you need to be very clear about it. This goes for your marketing materials (website, brochures, etc.) as well as the in-hotel and in-room messaging. In my case, marking the water bottles with “Free”, “Complimentary”, or “Provided at no charge” would help clarify things. Even better, tell people how much they’re saving based on local prices, e.g. “Free – $2 value”.

Besides reducing confusion for customers, this approach helps remind people that you’re saving them money. It’s also a subtle reminder that you’re different than those other hotels, which seem hell-bent on nickel-and-diming their patrons whenever they can.