Hotel Pet Peeves: Individual Air Conditioning Units

Filed Under: Hotels

Last weekend I stayed at the Four Points in Rancho Cucamonga. Since this isn’t the most aspirational property and I was there for less than 6 hours, I didn’t plan any sort of review. Sorry that my pictures are very limited.


I think it was nearly 11pm by the time I made it to the hotel. I’d been up since 4:45am and was exhausted. I waited for the front desk agent to finish helping another guest check in. I couldn’t help but laugh when she asked him Ben’s favorite question.

After getting my keys, I took the remarkably slow elevator upstairs.

I thought about calling down for a new room as soon as I saw the door connecting my room to the suite next door. I was so tired, however, that I figured it wasn’t worth the hassle.


Then I saw the individual air conditioner near the desk, which is one of my hotel pet peeves. I really dislike them because:

  • They rarely work very well.
  • The controls are generally awful.
  • They tend to be loud.

I was hopeful I’d get lucky and the noise from the a/c would drown out any noise from next door.

I crashed as soon as my head hit the pillow. But, the next thing I knew it was 1am and the a/c was really loud.

It took me a moment to get my bearings and realize the noise was coming from the a/c. I thought about calling down, but knew that would be a hassle in the middle of the night.

The best-case scenario meant packing up my stuff and changing rooms. It would probably be an hour before I could fall asleep again. So, I buried my head in between the pillows, wished I’d had earplugs and fell back asleep.

That worked for another 1.5 hours of sleep. But, I was wide-awake again when the a/c started making even more noise.

This time I actually downloaded an app to test how loud the noise was. As you can see in the screen grab from my phone, the max noise the a/c put out was nearly 90 decibels.


According to some online comparisons, that’s roughly the sound of a blender or garbage disposal.

I really needed some sleep so I finally turned off the a/c and hoped the room would stay cool.

It didn’t. I woke up for the last time at 5am because the room was too warm. At this point, I decided to hit the road instead of waste any more time dealing with the noise or a warm room.

I’m not complaining about the property, because I didn’t give them a chance to make this right. But, I hate that this hotel went with the cheap option of individual air conditioning units. This decision absolutely has a negative impact on a guest’s experience but pads their bottom line.

The lesson I’ll take away from this is to:

  • test the a/c at a reasonable hour (when it’s possible);
  • ask for a new room the moment there is an issue; and
  • always pack ear plugs.
  1. Next time you can stay with us – we’re about 3 miles north of the hotel and our central air is the bomb! 😉

  2. I completely agree. Sometimes you can get an A/C with a nice humming noise that consistent. Often even if you leave the fan always on, when the air kicks on and off it sounds like a freight train. I make sure i note these and never stay at those hotels again.

  3. Oh I absolutely hate these with a passion. Aside from the noise, they are generally mounted immediately beneath a window, which means the curtains can’t be very long and so therefore light bleeds through the bottom of the curtains. One of my other pet-peeves is AC units where you can’t leave the fan turned to a continuous “on” setting for white noise. The AC cycling on and off through the nights wakes me up every time.

  4. Stay at a limited service hotel and moan about individual air conditioners? The prices are that reason for a reason, mate. Central air is millions more for a builder, or tons more for an upgrade in an older property. Funny, I like the white noise of these loud in-room units and find them to be more effective than central air, as I’m at least guaranteed more control over what happens in the room. Many hotels’ HVAC controls are little more than placebo.

  5. Wouldn’t you feel dumb if you learn the noise in the AC unit had an easy fix the front desk clerk could have advise about over the phone?

  6. I have more of an objection to the lack of comfort provided by these units rather than noise. Invariably, rooms with these always feel damp, which means I end up waking up at 3am with my nose stuffed up. OR freezing my arse off when it’s running, roasting when it’s not.

    I can’t blame hotels for installing these, but they are a factor in where I stay. If two hotels are offering similar rooms but one has a PTAC (which is what one of these annoying ACs are called), and the other has a central or VTAC (like Residence Inns often use), I’ll take the latter.

  7. AMEN to this post. I am always, always on the lookout for this issue. It’s a big reason to stay at full service properties and avoid the Hyatt Places/Courtyard by Marriotts of the world. Also, it’s often very hard to figure out online whether a hotel has central air or not.

    I am so glad you wrote about this. Huge, huge issue. Really differentiates a 3* from a 4*

  8. One time an IRROPs stranded me at JFK for two nights in the month of June. The first night I got to the airport hotel at 4am, and noticed the A/C was on full blast and would not turn down…wound up sleeping with two blankets in the middle of the New York summer. Mentioned it to the front desk the next morning, asking them to fix A/C…but specifically not to turn it off completely. Came back the next night, very tired after trying to get myself rerouted all day, and at late night…A/C completely off and not working. Wound up sleeping with no blankets at all and woke up sweating in the morning. I agree single room a/c units are the worst.

  9. @stvr: If you’re looking at US properties, often has a ton of photos about properties they review. While I don’t fully trust their reviews, their photos are quite good, often even having a picture of the thermostat (so you know if it’s one of those motion-sensitive ones, another pet-peeve). Also beware that a wall-mounted thermostat isn’t a guarantee that you won’t have a PTAC AC. I forget which hotel it was, but in some downtown Seattle hotel I stayed in they had a wall thermostat…connected to a PTAC. Why, I’m not sure.

  10. I downloaded a free White Noise app on my phone and tablet to help drown out noise from AC units, fans, and traffic. There are multiple types of sound, including true white noise, rain, ocean, fans, even city noises. Now I sleep with it every night.

  11. I could not disagree more. These units take the place of my white noise machine at home. I can’t stand not having noise when trying to sleep and find it strange that some need quiet to do so!

  12. I am with you 100% on the loud A/C Units. For a job, I was put up in a Candlewood Suites for 7 months… not a favor part of my life. The A/C unit wasn’t as bad as this situation, but it was enough to really mess with my sleep pattern.
    I also had the luxury of having refrigerators the made the most awful noise ever, it could wake the living dead… and it happened on 3 replacement refrigerators as well. Needless to say I don’t have an affinity for GE appliances anymore, or the go with the cheapest solution mentality of some hotels.

  13. Ford says:

    Stay at a limited service hotel and moan about individual air conditioners? The prices are that reason for a reason, mate….

    As a former road warrior I have stayed at hundreds of limited service properties and often times paid the same or more than when I stayed at a full service property. Also noted that quite a few limited service properties do utilize central AC. I think the writer has a valid point to gripe about. The main thing I want when I stay at any property is a good nights rest and he clearly did not get one!

  14. I generally hate these as well, though they do vary tremendously in noise and effectiveness, as do some central air systems. But, I’d have to say that my worst air control experience was this past September at the GH Bali. It’s a nice, quiet, effective central air system with thermostats in living room and bedroom (I was in a suite ) just like you expect in a hotel of this caliber.
    BUT, only the house maintenance guy can chage it! If you adjust it, it looks like it “understood ” but then it starts showing the previous number again, and the temp doesn’t change. After about 24 frustrating, chilly hours, I went to the club desk to complain. They asked what temp I would like and said they would have the maintenance man come by to “set it.” It took a while, but finally I understood that they were telling me that I COULD NOT adjust the temps in my suite.
    I had never heard of such a thing. Is this common in some parts of the world? I am very temperature sensitive, and this totally does not work for me. What a terrible system.

  15. I guess, I can say I’m one of those blessed who can sleep through almost anything. Case in point I dated a really hot girl who when she was not meditating, painting her toes or doing yoga was always typing on a loud IBM Selectric typewriter. (this goes back to the early 80’s). And I’d go right off to Z land. She complained about my snoring and snorting that sounded like a fat English Bulldog or zaftig pug. rotfl. Back to this blog. As long as the room meets my meat locker cold temperature standards I’m happier than a piggy in sh*t. So, I’ve stayed in hotels with great and sucky individual PTAC units and Central systems. I used to have a favorite affordable hotel I’d stay at when in Miami Beach it was the Thunderbird in Sunny Isles, Fla. about 20 minutes north of South Beach and convenient to both MIA and FLL. They always treated my like family but sadly I’ve not given them my business since 2010. The reason being their a/c just plain sucked. Most of their rooms have the central quiet a/c and some of their rooms have the PTAC units. Didn’t matter a/c was underpowered in regard to the PTAC units and they were just plain stingy with their central a/c. In those 50’s built low rise motels, your basic control to the central systems was risking life and limb standing on a chair with a hanger to open or close the damper. But with my Arctic meat locker preferences the vent had to stay fully open. Regarding wall mounted thermostats plumbed into window/PTAC units. Get used to it this is the wave of the future. I actually like them. They have actual temperature numbers instead of guessing the numbers or an arrow that just says cooler. I’ve been lucky; these systems seem to be kitten quiet while lion strong and accurate. I work for Southwest and when I need to stay near BWI I stay at the La Quinta which has some age to it. Their PTAC units are recent and have the wall mounted thermostats and work quite well Thank God. Some other advice when it comes to the room units. I’ve noticed if the filter is clean the a/c works better and switches on and off less. Luckily it’s very easy to pull the little filter (s) out, tap them against the wall if you have an outside entrance or tap against the toilet. Most have been pretty clean and don’t need that much work. Pop it back into the unit and you’re good to go. No my real gripe when it comes to air conditioning when travelling? When cruising. I always take Carnival Cruises. Love their value, service and fun but they skimp on the cabin air conditioning. Five out of my six cruises I’m on the horn with guest services and maintenance to get them to get the cabin cooler. They say they have a prescribed temperature range of 68 to 74 degrees. I tell them awesome sauce, get my cabin between 68 and 70 and I’ll be a happy camper/cruiser and you won’t get any mutiny from me. Cruise ship A/C is quiet for those sensitive to noise but for those of us who pay and expect to have a meat locker sleeping environment….

  16. As a road warrior and hot sleeper, my experience is exactly the opposite.

    I find that central systems will never cool the room down to the level I desire. Usually not a problem with individual AC units.

    Sometimes the hottest rooms are in the upper Midwest in sub zero temps. They crank the central unit heat up, and you can’t cool it down. I was in Sioux Falls SD, one winter, and had my balcony door wide open. Then the noise from the snow plows and garbage trucks woke me up at 4am.

    As far as noise, I had my worst experience in a Lubbock hotel with a central unit. The fan made a wood chipper sound inconsistently. No sleep for me.

    Ideally the hotel would make ACs a priority, but sadly this falls way down the list as long as the lobby is comfy. Im sure the cost of an HVAC repairman keeps them putting it far off as well.

  17. I also sleep with a white noise sound machine but even that couldn’t drown out the sleep-interrupting experience we had recently at a Days Inn. It’s not the noise that’s the problem, it’s the inconsistency of the sound generated by the A/C.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *