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10 Things You’ve Always Wondered About Hotels

Everything you want to know about hotels—answered.

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The mystery of hotels

How do hotels get their stars? What determines a room’s price? And what’s with the overbooking? Here are the answers to the 10 things you’ve always wondered about hotels.

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bible,women reading from the holy bible
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Why do hotels have Bibles?

Bibles are staples in many hotel rooms thanks to Gideon International. The organization distributes Bibles around the world—and not just to hotels. Formed in 1899 after three traveling salesmen met in a hotel room, by 1908 the organization was distributing Bibles to hotels around the United States, according to the Los Angeles Times. They convinced hotel managers to let them donate Bibles to every room, and the trend spread from there. Although, not as many hotel rooms provide Bibles today—in 2006, 95 percent of hotels offered a Bible at your bedside. Now, only 79 percent do, according to a survey from STR, a hospitality analytics company.  Find out more about why hotel rooms have bibles.

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Stack of white clean bath towels on bed sheet in modern hotel bedroom interior, copy space

Why do hotels use white sheets?

All-white bedding might seem like a strange choice, but it actually makes sense for hotel rooms. White sheets assure guests that the bed is clean and fresh and give the impression of grandeur. Guests expect their hotel bed to be the same, if not better, quality than their bed at home, according to Laura McKoy, the Creative Director and Vice President of Interior Design of Omni Hotels & Resorts. “We use white sheets in all of our hotel rooms because it gives them a fresh, crisp, and clean feel,” she says. Westin hotels were the first to popularize the white hotel linens back in the 1990s. The trend caught on because all-white bedding seems more luxurious, according to Les Roches, a global hospitality management school. Don’t forget to inspect the bed—and avoid these 15 things you should never do in a hotel room.

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Scoop of Ice
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Why do hotels have ice machines?

Ice machines have a special place in hotel history and American culture. The free ice trend is thanks to Kemmons Wilson, the founder of Holiday Inn, which was the first hotel to offer guests free access to ice machines, according to Slate. Wilson introduced these ice machines in his hotels after staying at competing hotels that charged high prices for ice—yes, people had to pay for every cube. As the Holiday Inn franchises spread, the free ice trend spread across the country, too. Keeping up with ice demand is pricey for hotels, so when ice machines came along, hotels were some of the first customers, per Slate. The machines make it easy for customers to get their own ice, but they also keep costs down for hotels. If you’d like to learn even more about this, here’s the real reason hotels have ice machines.

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Close up shot of old hotel room key shot on marble front desk
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When do hotels assign rooms?

Many hotels, including Omni Hotels & Resorts, generally designate rooms the morning of arrival or during the check-in process if the member didn’t check in online. “If there are special requests, upgrades, or other special circumstances, we try to handle room assignments three days prior to arrival,” says Stephen Loeffler, the director of Loyalty Marketing for Omni. Many uncontrollable factors might change the hotel room lineup. Plus, some reports claim people who are part of rewards or loyalty programs typically receive the best assignments, while people who are more likely to be one-off travelers aren’t a priority—especially those booking through third-party reservation websites. Joining a loyalty program is one of 10 secrets to score a free hotel room upgrade.

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Why do hotels overbook?

Hotels and airlines overbook to maximize their profits. Empty rooms are wasteful for hotels, so they overbook and gamble on some customers not showing up. One study found that the no-show rate at hotels is between five and 15 percent, the Telegraph reports. If there are too many guests and not enough rooms, hotels will relocate travelers to another branch or a partner hotel nearby. Some also offer perks like room upgrades, free taxi services, and complimentary breakfast for people who need to relocate, per the Telegraph. Here are the key differences between hotels and motels.

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Modern bedroom

How do hotels price their rooms?

There’s no such thing as a fixed universal hotel rate, according to global travel search site Momondo. Some things hotels consider before pricing their rooms include competition, seasonality, location, and even things like an increase in flight searches to a particular destination. Hotels also analyze data from prior years and compare their prices to other hotels, per Momondo. This hotel booking secret guarantees you’ll get the cheapest rate possible.

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Continental breakfast on black chalkboard background - bar menu. Coffee, orange juice, crescent roll and jam from above.

Why are hotel breakfasts “continental”?

Free mini breakfast buffets are a huge hotel perk, but that’s not their nickname. The real reason for the hotel breakfast “continental” nickname is because they’re modeled after the light morning meals common throughout the European continent. Unlike full breakfast buffets, continental breakfasts offer light fare for travelers as an extra bonus. Take a croissant to go, along with these 4 things you can take from your hotel room—but leave these 6 behind.

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luxury office room interior
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Where do hotels get their bedding and furniture?

Hotel owners don’t walk up to a furniture store and pick out random pieces for their rooms. Instead, many interior designers for hotels shop wholesale for the best deals on furniture and bedding or partner with brands. Adam Stewart, the deputy chairman of Sandals Resorts, says all of Sandals’ Tranquility Blissful Beds™ feature premium king-size Serta mattresses, Egyptian cotton linens, and custom-made furniture. In fact, many hotels create their own specialty goods, in partnership with other brands, to create bed frames, mattresses, and pillow designs that they also sell to guests and the general public. The Marriott offers a huge line of products, but other hotels selling mattresses, furniture, and additional bedding include Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, the Ritz-Carlton, the Hilton, and more, CNN reports.

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Comfortable bed with white linen at home
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What do hotels do with old bedding, mattresses, and furniture?

Each hotel has a different system for getting rid of old linens, mattresses, towels, and other leftover goods. Hotels from all of Hilton’s 14 brands in the United States and Canada can participate in a mattress recycling program, USA Today reports. The program recycles more than 95 percent of each mattress into carpet padding, flooring, construction materials, and more. Other hotels have liquidation sales and others donate usable items to charities.

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military uniform_old hotel features
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How do hotels get stars?

In Europe, government agencies and independent agencies rate hotels on the five-star system. Countries like Spain and Italy have government laws in place defining each star rating. American ratings are less cut and dry. Hotels get their stars from some independent organizations like AAA, as well as magazines, websites, and travel blogs. Most places include a guide or basis for their ratings. However, there isn’t one standard or required organization that gives hotels stars in the United States. Interestingly, though, the system is actually thanks to an American oil and gas company: Mobil. The gas station chain had travel guides in stations and is responsible for starting the five-star hotel rating trend that people now use to rate everything from movies to restaurants. Hotels usually display their star status, but these are the 21 secrets hotels won’t tell you.

Emily DiNuzzo
Emily DiNuzzo is a former staff writer at Reader’s Digest. There’s a 90% chance Emily is drinking tea right now, but when she’s not writing about food and health with a cuppa by her side, you can find her lifting at the gym, listening to murder mystery podcasts and liking one too many astrology memes.