Whether you book directly with Indian hotels or use international hotel booking sites, sooner or later you’ll probably come across the concept of ’24 hour check-in’. I believe – though I can’t be sure – that it’s a uniquely Indian idea and it’s one which can be very useful and may save you a lot of money, or conversely could see you stressed to the max about being thrown out on the streets in the middle of the night.
The idea of 24 hour check in is that you can arrive at a hotel at any time of the day or night, and the room is yours for 24 hours (or 48, or 72 and so on) from the time you arrive. It sounds fairly obvious but it’s an unusual model for hotels to use. In most countries, if you want to arrive before the official earliest check-in time, or leave after the latest check out time, you will find it’s either impossible or you’ll be charged an extra night (or part thereof) for the extra time. Since we like to travel by rail in India and most ‘overnight’ trains roll into town ridiculously early, the standard European idea of killing time until 2 in the afternoon just won’t work. Many Indian cities are completely inactive at 6 or 7 am and your assumption that there’s sure to be somewhere at the railway station to have breakfast and kill time, or you’ll roll into a McDonalds for an egg McMuffin and a read of the newspapers, just isn’t feasible.
In Mangalore we had a 24 hour check in deal. We rolled up to our hotel at about quarter to six in the morning, thinking we could sit in the lobby for a couple of hours and then check in. That really wasn’t an option. Whilst they subsequently didn’t have a problem with us hanging around the lobby in the day time after we’d checked out, the night manager clearly couldn’t conceive of two Brits wanting to sit around when they could be in their lovely room.
Whilst this meant we were showered and in bed by 6.30 am, the nagging fear at the back of my mind was "What the heck are we going to do when they throw us out at 5.45 am in two days time?". Fortunately we’ve been in this position many times so we knew what to do.
First things first, on the day before you leave, go and ask reception if you can have a bit longer. Ask nicely, look a bit pathetic, and hope they take pity on you. It’s not good for any city to have foreign tourists sitting on the street at day break looking sad and dejected. Our last night was a Sunday which is traditionally the quietest night of the week so we had a good chance of an extension but unfortunately it was also a holiday and the hotel was almost full. We were told we could stay until 7.30 am. If you can’t get any extra time for free, try to negotiate to pay for a few hours. We’ve never had to do this – but if charm and looking pitiful won’t work, an offer of a cash payment may persuade a receptionist. If the hotel knows that they won’t have new clients arriving until the afternoon, you may be able to get a bit longer. I would also recommend that you email the hotel before you arrive to let them know you’ll be coming at a ridiculous time. That way you have a better chance of a room being ready, and you’ll have done your best to keep them informed – and made a small deposit in the ‘favour bank’ for when you’re ready to ask for one back.
A few years earlier when we’d stayed in Hampi, we knew that at the time we’d arrived – around 6.30 am – there were no staff to check us in. We’d been shown to an empty hut by a young assistant and told to come back later to do the paperwork. Consequently we knew that at 6.30 am on our departing day, nobody would be available to check us out. They happily gave us a free extension to 10 am. Staying in an upmarket B&B in Bangalore, we appealed to the lady owner for a little longer, and made sure she got something from us by agreeing to book our taxi to the airport through her rather than going elsewhere. In Hyderabad, we got so friendly with the owner of a budget hotel, making sure he knew we’d be writing reviews when we got home, that we were offered a few more hours free of charge.
24 hour check-in is a great bargain and if you know how to use it, it can save you a lot of money. Just take care to keep on good terms with the hotel, be nice to everyone, take time to chat to the front desk staff and don’t just stay in the room and hope they won’t notice. Ask, ask nicely and if you have to, pay a little extra if you can. If you can’t, be sure to ask to leave your bags whilst you go off and kill time somewhere else. Sadly, it’s very rarely found in the biggest cities or in highly touristic places but check when you book to see if it’s available. If you’re arriving really early or very late, it can mean you avoid paying for an additional day’s accommodation.
If you arrived stupidly early and went straight to bed, and if your rate included breakfast, tell them when you check in that you’d like to use your breakfast from the first day on the day that you leave. We happily (and greedily) stretched our breakfast out to two and a half hours by drinking lots of coffee and reading all the papers. Nobody seemed to mind or even to notice that we were taking our time.