Why are luxury hotel pillows so painful on the neck?

We could have done the overpriced Airbnb thing: spending a week convincing ourselves that getting ripped off was better than nothing. But instead, we dropped off daughter # 4 at her grandparents (she prefers them anyway) and went to stay at a few luxury hotels.

The chic hotel asks interesting philosophical / economic questions. If, for example, a fancy hotel costs twice as much as the type of hotel you normally stay in, does that mean it’s twice as good? On paper (or computer screen), chic and ordinary hotels look largely the same. You can use the pool or boil yourself in the spa or have your body massaged while listening to pan flute music. The websites display images of seemingly huge rooms, which always feature an open bottle of wine. Restaurants always have a pretentious name, with a spiel from the chef (usually male, usually bearded), who has a nagging passion for fresh, local ingredients. (In all fairness, both places we stayed at had excellent restaurants, especially the second one which had a mind-blowing nine-course tasting menu.)

Most fancy hotels offer golf, which I am indifferent to. And in most luxury hotels, the number of staff who greet you is remarkable. and with an almost believable level of enthusiasm. At first we stayed, they even knew my name. Every time I entered the building there was a wave of echo of “Hello, Mr. Moncrieff”. (I always find it strange that people call me “sir.” He’s my dad.) Some of the foreign guests must have thought I owned the place. Irish guests probably assumed I had notions.

She herself was able to identify that the bath products in luxury hotels were definitely superior, but we agreed that, again, the pillows were not what we liked.

Fantasy or not, hotel pillows are always disturbingly soft: they wrap around the head like some sort of suffocating killer plant. You can’t trust them.

None of us like a soft pillow, especially me. At home there is a really tough one that I use that in an armed siege emergency I could tape to myself and use as body armor. Sometimes I’m tempted to bring it with me to hotels, but I don’t want people to think I have notions.

Vulgar pillow

I always assumed that the fault should lie with me; that I am a vulgar pillow. I have stayed in hotels where they have raved about the duck down beauty of their pillows. I have stayed in places with a pillow menu. They were all in varying degrees of sweetness, although fresh and locally sourced.

Yet when I used the excellent broadband of a luxury hotel to google this problem, I discovered that I was not the peasant loathing the sweetness that I had assumed. Are you using the right pillow? Websites seem to agree that a soft pillow is only appropriate if you are the type of person who sleeps on your stomach. It is toddlers taken care of as well. But for back or side sleepers, the pillow should be firm: it’s something to do with the alignment of the neck and spine.

Hotels apparently go to great lengths to ensure that their pillows are clean and replaced regularly. The pillows I have used in hotels are definitely younger than the pillow I use at home, which is older than many of my children. But it’s a mystery why they’re universally sweet when the main thing you’d hope for in a hotel would be to get a good night’s sleep in your huge bedroom without having to polish that open bottle of wine.

There is a hack, however; a way around Big Pillow’s insidious influence. Experienced travelers, who sleep like grown-ups, will fill the pillowcase with towels to firm them up. But having to go through all this trouble, having paid all that money: neck pain anyway.

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