It seems like a standard hotel operation at first. Its free shuttle bus will pick you up at Miami's International Airport and drop you, five minutes later, in front of the New Airliner Hotel.
From then on, however, things begin to be different. For instance, no bellhop leaps out to pick up your luggage and take it into the hotel and upstairs for you. Instead, luggage carts are waiting curbside at the circular drive, and you wheel your own luggage into the hotel.
Things seem even stranger once inside. You notice right away that there are large stacks of packaged towels, plastic glasses and soap behind the check-in counter. At this hotel, you carry your towels, glasses and soap to your room. To get these items and your room keys require a $5 deposit, $10 for a couple; when you bring them back to check out, you get your deposit back.
Whenever you want clean towels, you bring the dirty ones downstairs in the large blue vinyl carry-all bag you're provided with, and the hotel staff will exchange them for clean ones.
When you get to your room -- "a regular room," hotel manager Roald Garcia points out -- you find that the beds are made up, that that's the last time for a week, unless you make them yourself. There's no maid service at the Airliner until the seventh day, when you make an appointment to have your room cleaned. However, the hotel will furnish you with a vacuum cleaner after the second day if you want to clean the room yourself. If you want clean linens, you bring down the dirty ones to the front counter for an exchange, like the towels.
"The difference here is the self-service system," Garcia says. "The whole idea is to hire as few people as possible, keep overhead low and keep the prices as low as we can."
Prices -- advertised in bold print on the hotel's outside marquee -- are $39 a night for a single room, $44 for a double, well below the room rates of the hotels of the major chains dotting the skyline here.
In addition, the New Airliner gives guests who stay longer than three days additional discounts for paying in advance, ranging from 2 percent to 10 percent, depending on the length of stay. The discount is possible because of the savings in bookkeeping expenses resulting when the bookkeeping is done on the cash register at check-in, the management maintains.
In addition to the relatively low room rates, the hotel's management says the self-service system allows it to provide some extra benefits to the consumer.
Take the bath towels, for instance: They are large -- four feet long -- and thick and in different colors for each member of the family. "We can buy better ones because we're not afraid of loss," Garcia explains. "We know the guests will return the towels and keys to us when they check out and get their deposit back."
The hotel also provides bigger-than-usual bars of soap, alarm clocks and free movies on the Home Box Office television service in each room.
The self-service system also appears to provide a greater level of security for the guest and his or her belongings. The keys to the rooms here are different than most hotel keys. Each room is equipped with a jimmy-proof double-lock dead-bolt system, and the guest is given all the sets in circulation. For emergencies, Garcia says, he has an extra set locked in a special safe in his office. If a key is lost or not returned, the lock is changed.
Because there is no daily maid service, saving labor costs, there is no need for pass keys, which management here believes to thefts in other hotels. Except for the cleaning appointments for guests who stay longer than six days, when the guest lets the maid in, the maid gets in to clean the room only after the guest has checked out and turned in the keys.
The New Airliner Hotel is one of the three Self-Service Inns in Florida; another is also in Miami, and one is in Cocoa Beach.
"All three were what you call distressed properties," Charles E. Grentner Sr., president of the expandingchain, says in his office on the top floor of the Airliner.
The self-service idea was his after he picked up the first property in Cocoa Beach six years ago from a bankruptcy, when his son (in real estate there at the time but now with his father in the hotel business) spotted it. "Since Cocoa Beach was not a top-notch building, I knew it had to be an economy hotel," he said.
"But I wanted a concept that would appeal more than just an economy motel," he explains. After three months of renovations, the first hotel reopened as an "economy" motel with a difference -- the "self-service system" which Grentner says continues to be refined."It all makes sense," he says, adding that he knew he couldn't compete with the new hotels that feature "the biggest and the fanciest" everything.
"We give the customer a lot more value," he argues, although not on what Grentner consider frills. For instance, one of the things he has eliminated in his hotels is the bedspread, which he calls a useless article.
"What you have here is a system designed to today's conditions," Grentner says. "People on expense account don't care how much they spend, but people paying their own way love the system."
Business appears to be brisk for the New Airliner's 120 rooms. "When business is off, it means an 85 percent occupancy rate, not 100 percent," Grentner says. And the hotel guests seem to be happy. "The rooms are really quite nice, and the price is right," says one on her way from the pool inside.
The company spent more than $500,000 in renovating the New Airliner, including an attractive lobby, pool area, and restaurant that has become a popular place for lunch and is frequented by officials from Eastern Airlines, which has its corporate headquarters nearby.
So far exclusively in Florida, Grentner eventually hopes to expand the self-service hotel chain nationwide.