a pool with a deck chair and a lawn and a pool

If you’re here to savagely complain about this being first world problems and how dare someone write something on the internet that has nothing to do with human suffering, please GTFO. No one’s got time for that. If you want to help with the suffering, here’s an amazing list of charities to go do that.

Anyway, for everyone else with their popcorn nicely popped and intrigue at the ready, let’s continue with the comical story of a recent hotel stay, in tandem with some of our dearest friends. For $2500 a night, the water should be free, right?

Let me start by saying that while I do believe in splurging on hotels, this was a case where we were traveling with friends and for this portion of the trip, they selected the hotel and wanted to it to be their treat. Very generous, for sure.

The hotel had a series of “villas” designed for groups like ours, with their two children and our Olive. In the most polite terms, the expectation didn’t meet reality for us and a calamity of what can only be described as oddball errors sent us home early.

The hotel agreed to refund the unused nights they’d booked, which they didn’t have to do, so I’m going to be a bit respectful of their goodwill, hence the lack of name drop.

But even then, I can’t help but L-O-L at basically the first encounter during our stay, which spectacularly summed up everything I loathe about the hotel industry right now. It reinforced why I’ve spent more on Airbnb and sharing economy solutions than ever before.

a green lawn with trees and a building in the background

The Water Is “At A Charge”

So we’re being shown around what is basically the penthouse villa of a resort on semi off peak, shoulder season dates. We’d just arrived and couldn’t wait to dive right into the pool. But first, a quick tour from our “butler”.

It all sounds lovely, I know. It should’ve been.

And as we were being shown around the entirely disappointing kitchen, which was really just a nook to stash wine and water, I did a double take. The first four bottles are free, but after that, water is a charge?

Mind you, there are seven of us on the stay, albeit three being children. Water, good ole’ H20, is a total essential to life and four bottles between our group would’ve been significantly below the doctor recommended water intake for a day.

I actually couldn’t believe what I’d just heard. We were not in a remote desert, or place where water was hard to come by. You could walk down the road about a quarter of a mile and get an ocean’s worth for $5 bucks.

And the butler chose to basically make our first interaction at the hotel, where our friends were paying €2500 a night, about how we’d be charged an egregious amount of money if we consumed the standard doctor recommended intake of daily water.

a pool with a deck chair and a lawn

I Would’ve Totally Backed A Sustainability Play

Forward thinking hotels have done things like install reverse osmosis water taps and offer beautiful carafes to help yourself to filtered water, to discourage single use. Some people may prefer bottled water, but the sustainability play is nice.

At the lovely Calile Hotel in Brisbane, halls have chic gold water taps where guests can fill stylish carafes to their hearts content. Done right, it doesn’t feel like a reduction of luxury, particularly when the carafe’s are filled by housekeeping daily and on arrival.

If the water is equally smooth — or basically just not noticeably not tasty — then I don’t mind filling up a reusable bottle from a water tap or anything else. There was nothing of the sort here, so it was basically drink the bottles or deal.

a green dumpster on a path with trees and buildings
The dumpsters and construction sites didn’t help.

This Set A Horrible Tone

I’m a principles and vibes person. If people are trying and hospitality is the goal, I’m easy to please. If I feel like I’m getting squeezed and things are just beyond any decent principle, I wouldn’t use the same description.

The interaction made everything, from the broken water heater in the pool, to the closed restaurants which weren’t declared on the hotel website all the more annoying. Had the first impression made been one of hospitality, we might not have been irate by the time dinner came around.

This all took place during the Arabian sandstorm that swept through Europe in late March and we angrily ventured out of the extensive complex, which felt kind of like a Saudi Prison for Princes at times, for dinner at a highly mediocre “Italian” spot.

It gave us enough time, over highly mediocre food, to realize that this place just didn’t “get” what travel is supposed to feel like in the luxury spectrum, particularly as it looks to recoup Covid-19 era losses. You recover losses with happy guests, not sneaky little charges.

a pool with white furniture and a beach view

The Manager Steps In

One “closed”, “broken” or erroneous error after another, we let our “butler” know that the stay wasn’t up to expectation and got on the phone to the travel agent who made the booking — and hotel suggestion. Anyway.

A few hours later, the duty manager showed up. I found the tone to be bizarre, as he basically walked me through how “most” people really love their stays and how this hotel was not just one of the best in the Porches area of the Algarve or Portugal, but the entire world. Wow.

This is where my job is kind of hard sometimes. I’m just not your average guest, purely in the sense that I’ve been almost everywhere and that I regularly splurge for some of the world’s best hotels. Sometimes its to entertain you, sometimes to entertain myself or my family, but you get the point.

A disconnect from reality of this level just couldn’t be resolved. I’ve seen too much and know too much about what exists out there.

Time To Settle The Water Bill And Bolt

Once we walked down those roads, I knew what I was dealing with and it was clear it was just not going to work out. It was them, not us, but we were happy to say that it’s not you, the fit just isn’t for us.

Before it all came to a close, the manager very graciously offered to comp the water intake from the day before, with 7 bottles consumed. Three over the allowance, but to keep us happy, he was willing to settle that tab for us.

Hey, for $2500 a night, the water should be free, right?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Great intro… and agree. Ridiculous that hotels charge for this. Every single hotel should have a water refill station and then they would have justification for charging for bottled water.

  2. My experience is that the more expensive the hotel is, the more they seem to nickel and dime you. And right now with all of the cutbacks and extra fees, I avoid travel. Easier to relax at home and avoid crazy people, airports and hotels. Eating out is expensive enough.

    1. I strongly disagree. I stay at such properties nearly half of every year and find the exact opposite to be the case.

  3. I have had a similar experience at FS Ubud several years back. Hotel is gorgeous but had multiple bizzare service issues/policies like this. Flip side is I have also been to places exceptionally more remote that somehow have no issues filtering clean water for the entire hotel and making it moot.

  4. If you can spend $2500/night on a hotel, you can spend $5 on water.

    If you can’t spend $5 on water, you probably shouldn’t be in a $2500/night hotel.

    1. I’m sorry, but no. It’s not the money, it’s the principle. You don’t nickel and dime people in this way if you want to make real money. Assuming “rich people are dumb” is the most outdated business policy in the world. It may have been true when most money was inherited, but that’s not the world we live in and smart people very much care about these details. They’ll spend $1000 on a bottle of wine, and not a cent on what should be free.

      1. @ Gilbert — I agree with you 100% on this one. Plus, I get the sense there was way more to this than excessive charges for water. I know that feeling of being treated inhospitably by a hotel. At $100/night for a quick airport stopover, you tolerate it. For $2,500/night on what should be a fabulous vacation, um, no.

      2. Exactly. My wife and I stay about 150 to 170 nights per year at such properties. Such properties usually heap nice touches on guests. They want repeat business. Does the owner of this property also have Hiltons or Marriotts?

    2. You don’t know the difference between “expensive” and “luxury”.

      Those concepts aren’t synonymous, though they CAN overlap (or not, in this case!)

  5. This is a terrible article. The hotel is the Vila Vita Parc in Portugal and runs a few hundred dollars a night for a normal room. The hotel has a 5* on TripAdvisor with 3,000 reviews- that’s incredibly impressive. And it’s a member of the ‘Worlds Leading Hotels’ which I’m sure it what the manager told you- that you somehow wanted to mock in the article.

    I’m sure you felt providing the name of the hotel would change your readers’ minds about your stay.

    1. Bob, you’re right. It’s a terrible article and TripAdvisor is never wrong. And of course, anything that is part of something that says “leading” must be leading. Everyone on LinkedIn who claims to be a leading global entrepreneur is also rich. I’ve added a fantastic article on TripAdvisor for you. You’ve also helped the hotel out a lot with your comment, since it was intentionally left unknown but now is open season.


      1. You sound like a truly insufferable guest. To insult your friends insanely generous gesture by making a big drama over something which could have been quietly overcome by walking to the shop (like anyone else buying water on hol) so you could show off about how much you know about nice hotels lol.
        “It’s the principle”? The principle was graciously accepting a ludicrously generous gift from your friends in the interest of everyone having a nice trip…
        Your poor friends and family 😂

        1. Haha. Things you don’t know, but presume, aside from everything…
          1) did we treat them to something equally special on the front end of the trip, and this was returning the favor? You don’t know.
          2) did they actively encourage writing this, because it’s a big inside joke with us all now? You also… wait for it… don’t know.
          3) should a guest paying $2500 a night need to walk to a corner shop for water, in a captive environment?

          My “poor friends and family” will have to suffer on, I suppose. It’s a very tough life so please send thoughts and prayers.

        2. Yeah if friends gifted me a stay I wouldn’t even bring up a complaint in person – just nod quietly if the friends complain and do what they wish. Quite insufferable indeed.

          1. LOL, you are making presumptions about the friendship and scenario you have no answers to. For privacy reasons involving the friends I’m not even going into it, but lets just say this post wasn’t a surprise to them.

  6. Totally agree! We went to to a hotel in Dubai where a single serve bottle of water was more expensive than some of the alcoholic options. Vaguely amusing but it doesn’t exactly encourage the right hydration habits in 40c climes.

    My personal hack is to leave the cleaners a generous tip on day one, with a note saying “+++water please! :)” and they’ve always sorted me out. However I agree with your point that these steps should not be necessary.

  7. This isn’t new but it’s starting to happen all over. I’m noticing restaurants have made $5 charges for bread and gourmet butter normal. Was free before even in fine dining establishments. Upcharges for still water vs tap. More money for almond milk vs regular milk.

  8. Dear Mr. Ott,

    I can’t but agree with you! Luxury retreats are all about the vibes. As an insider at a fancy Alpine spa, I was sometimes appalled by the hotel policy towards their regular customers and potential clients – to me, not letting decent people use the bar doesn’t make any sense – wouldn’t the hotel gain from having more prospective customers and a solid reputation for being friendly? To me, the most soul-crushing moment was when the guests were denied an opportunity to see a sporting event of their choice on TV. If something isn’t currently available, one as the manager should go out of his/her way for customer satisfaction, especially at a luxury spa retreat such as K. Wouldn’t you agree?

  9. Imagine flying on Emirates in first class. You ask for a glass of water. That will be $5 . . . which credit card would you like to use? Does that not prompt the question: are you (stinkin’) kidding me? That’s the point Gilbert is trying to make. Personally, I would have endured that visit but I would not be a repeat guest.

  10. Not sure whether I enjoyed the article or the comments more. Haven’t been so entertained since oh, last week with the article about taking kids in business/first class . Keep ‘em coming Gilbert, except if it’s about Santorini 😉

  11. The good hotels shower with you with free stuff. I say this as a Marriott Ambassador and Hilton Diamond who has visited some of the best hotels in Europe and Middle East. Anyone who thinks otherwise doesn’t stay at true luxury hotels or understand the mindset the management of these facilities should have.

    1. I think gestures can play powerful emotional roles in shaping a stay, for sure. Anticipating needs, creating memories without hassle. There are so many ways to do it, free or not.

  12. The one thing I appreciate the most about you is your candid nature in an attempt to be informative and helpful. Don’t change to appease even 1 person unless that 1 person is yourself.

    I understand what you’re saying, at that price point you’d think it would be full-board or half-board and drinking water should be included as a minimal expectation.

    It is the little or unexpected things that can make a world of difference good or bad. Things like the hotel manager extending complimentary breakfast for your entire stay to the other 3 in your group when you’re status offers only 2. The rental car company refunding the pre-paid fuel when you filled up because you forgot you opted in when you set up your profile and your last rental was just prior to CoVID. The FA that remembers your deep appreciation for Prosecco or Cava and keeps the bubbles flowing.

    We all gotta stand for something; it might as well be principles.

    1. This means a lot to me. Thank you. I’ve made a lot of conscious choices on the road to GSTP being what it is, and being unapologetically authentic was always one of them. It means people won’t always agree, but we’ll have some great discussions and thoughts along the way. I’ve learned more from my comments section than most people will from University, so great for the discourse always. Thanks again.

  13. I enjoyed the article and the comments! To be honest the Algarve is best enjoyed in a luxury villa (which you mention you direct more of your spend towards anyway). For that budget you could easily have an amazing villa, private chef and really enjoy yourself. Its a shame the VVP standards have fallen away by the sounds of things. Anywho if youre still in the area make sure you check out my favourite local bar “Boneca Bar Algar Seco ” not fancy.. but a beautiful spot!

    1. Totally agree! Previous Algarve experiences had been in a villa and it just worked a lot better. Love to go out for dinner, but also love to cook in and be with the company you came with. No wondering who’s coming around the pool, etc.

    2. Exactly right. I came across this by some kind of accident, and have never stayed at a luxury villa, but did stay in Miami for 1000$ a night, one time, just to see. Anyway, the goal is not to get more money out of you (not in OBVIOUS ways), the goal is to be treated to a nice stay.
      Any place that doesn’t have a classy mindset is just AN EXPENSIVE place, not a LUXURY place. Get it? Hehe.

  14. Hello. I agree with you that hotel should not nickel and dime, but at the same time, I don’t think you should expect bottled water to be free when it the hotel does not say it’s free nor offered when it’s not the industry standard. Most major hotels that I know of charges for bottled water, and offered only offered free bottles as perks if stated while booking.

  15. Since someone else mentioned the name of the chain, I have to admit that I have stayed too to one of the ” world’s leading hotels” (not in Portugal) and the vibe was exactly the same and they did make you feel unwelcome and the whole experience was not pleasant.

    1. To clarify, the brand is actually Leading Hotels of the World.

      Don’t place too much emphasis on a hotel being a part of LHW.

      LHW is a curious platform. If one wants membership perks (and points), one must book via the LHW web site. If one books directly with the hotel, the hotel does not necessarily credit your LHW membership. There’s a LHW hotel in London that has three different booking platforms:

      – direct with the hotel
      – with the hotel owner’s own loyalty program
      – with the LHW program

      If one books with the hotel directly, one does not receive perks from the hotel owner’s own program.

      For the most part, hotel owners are odd ducks.

  16. Yes Gilbert, don’t change. I do enjoy reading about your first world problems…because hey, I happen live in the first world.
    This is a classic case of paying first class prices, getting economy service. The whole point of luxury is to feel special, by surprise and delight. This hotel only succeeded in surprise.
    So please keep calling out these places, they won’t change their ways otherwise. And maybe those of us who save for years to splurge on such a stay, might just have less chance of disappointment as a result.

  17. IMHO water is a basic need for human life and it should be supplied free of charge in ANY hotel. For those of us who have to take multiple medication tablets a day and night it is extra essential.

  18. This is not a 2500 a night standard rate hotel. It’s 300 or so in the shoulder periods mentioned for entry level rooms. That’s a nice place, maybe five star rated, but not a place I’d expect free flowing bottled water.

    No heat in the pool and closed restaurants without notice are legitimate concerns – those should be flagged upfront when booking. But this is not a stay at an Aman level property – maybe more Ritz Carlton level. And we know what ‘freebies’ you get there if you’re not booked in the Club level.

  19. Let’s also make clear the single room wasn’t 2500 a night – the author is not being clear about that in the name of headline baiting.

    It was multiple rooms that added to 2500 a night.

    In fact the family suite itself is around 700 a night during shoulder season.

    1. Huh? This was sold as a 4br villa which was over €2500 per night. So you’re right, it wasn’t $2500. it was more like $3000. Who pissed in your Cheerios?

  20. I am totally on board with Gilbert l can not fathom paying for water when the accommodation cost so much.
    This would be a definite no return hotel even if it was free.
    I remember about 25 years ago going to this very posh restaurant guys had to wear ties which were provided.
    Any the food was good but definitely to small for us , I asked for water. There were 4 of us at the end of the meal we got the bill which was very expensive and was shocked to find a charge for £16.00 for the 4 glasses of water not bottles.
    It was resolved and removed from the bill.
    It was a big shock to say the least.

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