More hotels iron out the wrinkles for guests

ByGary Stoller, USA TODAY
August 3, 2009, 10:38 PM

— -- Owen Mekitarian checks into a hotel almost every week and faces the same problem when he unzips his bags.

"I arrive just about every week with wrinkled clothes," says Mekitarian, 52, a Canadian broadcast engineering consultant who frequently travels across the border to visit U.S. radio stations.

Like Mekitarian, millions of travelers can arrive at hotels each year with wrinkled clothing. Many reluctantly reach for an ironing board and iron or call the front desk for the equipment.

That's no longer needed at Omni Hotels. In late April, it announced that its 41 North American hotels are providing free ironing for frequent-guest-program members.

Omni joins a growing number of hotels offering complimentary clothing and grooming services. Complimentary shoeshines, for instance, are increasingly common. And more hotels are letting guests use washers and dryers for free.

But simply getting the wrinkles out is often the biggest concern, and free ironing remains a rarity. Looking for hotels with free ironing, USA TODAY contacted numerous chains, and the American Hotel & Lodging Association asked its thousands of members.

Two other hotels offer the free service: the White Barn Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine, and The Jefferson, a Washington, D.C., hotel that's scheduled to open later this month after an extensive renovation.

The White Barn may have the most guest-friendly policy in the country. Guests can have as many items as they wish washed and ironed for free, and the inn provides free shoeshines, says spokeswoman Kristin Hutton.

The Jefferson will iron one item of clothing for free per stay and provide free shoeshines.

More common abroad

Omni irons two items for free per stay for most members of its Select Guest frequent-stay program, which can be joined without charge at check-in.

Select Guest black-level members — those who have 11 stays or spend 20 nights annually at Omni hotels — can have as many items as they wish ironed for free.

Omni estimates that 8% to 10% of its guests a week use the service, according to Vice President Caryn Kboudi. Excluding repeat guests, the chain says it has ironed more than 1,000 shirts a week for free.

Guests at 190 Hyatt hotels who pay a higher room rate for upgraded amenities can have one shirt or blouse ironed daily per room without an extra charge. The amenities are part of the Hyatt Business Plan available at participating Hyatt Regency, Grand Hyatt and Park Hyatt hotels.

Free ironing is more prevalent at foreign hotels.

The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort, north of Mexico's Puerto Vallarta airport, offers free ironing of two items of clothing per stay and free shoeshine and button repair.

Hotel Missoni in Edinburgh, Scotland, washes and irons for free two items of clothing daily per guest room.

Many hotel guests despise ironing clothes in their rooms.

Omni announced in June that it hired a research company to survey business travelers and found that some would rather have their teeth pulled than iron clothes.

Mekitarian, the frequent business traveler from Canada, can relate.

"I do not really know how to iron a shirt," he says. "I hate ironing shirts so much that I would rather do just about anything else — even torture myself on the treadmill."

Mekitarian and Michael Lake, a business traveler from Auburn, Calif., say free ironing is a "great" policy.

"Most hotel irons do not work properly, leak or stick to clothing," says Lake, who works in the transportation safety industry and spends up to 150 nights a year in hotels.

Packing dirty clothes

Mekitarian says he carefully packs his bags to keep clothes wrinkle-free, but they still wrinkle or are wrinkled during airport security searches.

To avoid ironing, he sometimes packs his bag with dirty clothes and pays for laundry service after arriving at a hotel.

Such a charge may be avoided at an increasing number of North American hotels that offer washers and driers for free for guests who do their own laundry.

All 213 Candlewood Suites hotels and all 155 Staybridge Suites properties provide washers and dryers without charge, but guests have to bring or buy detergent.

At AKA's eight hotels in New York City; White Plains, N.Y.; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; and Arlington, Va., the use of washers and dryers is free, and complimentary detergent is provided.

Washers and dryers are in every room at the chain's hotels in Washington and New York's Times Square.

The laundry room at AKA's Central Park hotel has a lounge area with a flat-screen TV.

Hotels' free clothing and grooming services appeal to many travelers.

But Marla Juliano of Birmingham, Ala., says she travels three to five days a week, and they won't influence her hotel choice.

"If they are going to send someone home with me to wash, iron, cook and clean after a long trip," says Juliano, a sales director for a hair care manufacturer, "now, that is a different story."

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