While hotels have designated check-in times, it’s common for guests to arrive earlier or later than expected.
If you arrive early, it’s helpful to know which hotel services are available to pass the time until your room is ready.
Permission to use the pool (and other amenities) before check-in depends on the hotel. That said, most destinations are fairly relaxed about guests using the facilities ahead of time. When you arrive, talk to the front desk, and they’ll let you know how to proceed.
Regardless of what you do before check-in, you’ll likely want to store your luggage, so remember to take your valuables with you.
If you want to freshen up, you can also grab a change of clothes before leaving your bags at the front desk.
What To Do When You Arrive Before Check-In
There are other ways to keep yourself busy if the hotel doesn’t allow you to use the pool.
Your choice of activity depends on your imagination and can range from chilling in the lobby to taking a stroll.
It also depends on how far you’ve just traveled and how tired you are.
You may be in the mood to find a place to relax rather than immediately tour the city.
1. Get a Room Upgrade/Downgrade
A room upgrade might be the solution when arriving before check-in.
Most hotels won’t upgrade you without charging extra fees, but you can get lucky every once in a while.
If you’re staying for more than a few days, you may have a better chance of scoring an upgrade. This is especially true if you’re celebrating a special occasion (e.g., a wedding anniversary or a milestone birthday).
If the price difference doesn’t bother you, go for it.
Regarding downgrades: unless you’re about to fall asleep on the floor, I highly suggest toughing it out instead of taking a lower-tiered room.
2. Use the Business Center/Lobby
The hotel’s business center is a great place to keep yourself busy.
You can use the hotel’s computers to play online games or check your social media and email.
If you’ve brought your laptop or tablet, you can log into the hotel’s WiFi and use your favorite streaming service to catch up on the latest shows.
The lobby also offers a relaxed atmosphere if the hotel doesn’t have a business center.
Occasionally, waiting in the lobby might be better – most have comfortable chairs and strong WiFi – and staying within eyeshot of the front desk may help hurry things along for you.
Some hotels offer concierge floors, so check with the front desk for access to these VIP areas.
3. Take a Walk
If you’re on vacation, why not start touring the city?
Talk to the concierge for recommendations about notable sites or good restaurants nearby.
They’re familiar with the town and will likely give you several excellent options.
Make sure to ask them where the locals go – if they think you’re cool, they’ll tell you the really good spots off the beaten path.
If you aren’t convinced by the hotel recs, there’s always Google Maps, which can be useful in a pinch.
When you leave the hotel, confirm your bags are in a safe place and take your most important possessions (like your credit cards and passports).
Most hotels will keep your stuff in a secure storage area – but they won’t guarantee 100% safety for your possessions.
Can I Check-In Early?
Most hotels allow you to check in early, but it depends on several factors.
The first is how early you want to check in and how busy the hotel is. If it’s during peak season, your room just might not be ready before the designated check-in time.
If you want a properly cleaned and appointed room, you may just have to be patient.
The second thing to consider is early check-in fees.
More and more hotels are adopting the model, and while it’s still a way off, early check-in rates might become the new normal.
Paying this fee will increase the cost of your first night, but the advantage is that the guarantee of early check-in comes with the price.
Hotels that don’t charge extra fees operate on a first-come, first-served basis for early check-in.
Regardless of whether the hotel offers early check-in, you should probably assume that they don’t and plan accordingly.
That said, there are three main ways to get an early check-in:
- Become an elite member of the hotel
- Make a booking for the night before
- Stay at a hotel that guarantees early check-in.
If none of these three options are available to you, you’ll just have to cross your fingers and hope the front desk sees the jet lag in your eyes.
How Early Is Too Early for Check-In?
Hotel check-in times are usually in the afternoon, mainly between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Check-out times are in the late morning, between 11 a.m. and noon.
These times are industry standard and rarely differ between hotels.
(It’s kind of how the whole hotel-thing works: you come in the afternoon, stay the night, and leave in the morning.)
In most cases, the best times to ask for early check-in are after 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. on the day of your reservation.
If you’re arriving anytime before that, you’ll likely have to book the previous night and just come as late as the hotel will allow.
Most hotels with 24-hour front desks allow check-in at any time, so just confirm the rules with them before you finalize your reservation.
As a general rule of thumb, you probably can’t swing early check-in more than 5 hours before the usual time.
Arriving at your hotel before check-in can be great, or it can be a bit complicated.
Some hotels offer many amenities (including their pool) to those arriving early, while others have limitations on who’s allowed in and when.
While hotels with restrictions are rarer, it’s usually better to confirm (ahead of time) what will be available, should you arrive much earlier than the usual check-in time.
If the hotel doesn’t offer early check-ins or guest amenities, I recommend being polite and finding something else to do while you wait.
Most hotels will secure your luggage so you can go explore the town, or you can likely hang out in the lobby until your room is ready.
If the wait is longer than about 20 mins, I’d recommend getting a headstart on your vacation and taking a little stroll in the area.