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What to Know About Paying for a Hotel Room

November 6, 2013 at 11:32 AM | by | ()

The other month, a writer on our sister site VegasChatter ran into a perfect storm of check-in problems at a Vegas hotel, specifically dealing with the hotel's credit card and deposit policy. The frustrating story prompted us to put together some helpful reminders about paying for a hotel room. We're guessing most of you already knew these tips but a little refresher list can't hurt.

1. Find out exactly what the hotel's cancellation window is. Before you click the "BOOK NOW" button on a hotel's reservations site, be sure to read the hotel's cancellation policies extremely carefully. Almost all hotels have some sort of cancellation policy but it varies wildly. Usually, a hotel will want 24 hours notice before it cancels your reservation without charging you. But some require 48 or 72 hours while others would like a week's notice or more. (This is especially true during peak seasons.) If you're booking through a third-party website, they may have a different policy from the hotel, so be sure to read that too.

2. Find out exactly how much the hotel will "authorize" your credit card for. Just below the cancellation policy is where the hotel will also tell you what it will authorize, or charge, your credit card for. Sometimes, a hotel will charge 50 percent of the stay to your credit card at booking and then the other half when you arrive at the hotel. If it's a special "advance" deal where you get a lower rate than usual, the hotel will charge you all of the rate up front with no refunds allowed. Other hotels will charge nothing until you check-out of the hotel. Some hotels will also charge you a $100 deposit for incidentals, per day, when you check-in. This is crazy because you've just checked-in, how can you be charged for incidentals? And how can they charge you for incidentals you won't even use? Don't worry, the charge will be taken off your account once you check-out. So long as you haven't bought any incidentals during your stay.

3. If you use a debit card, make sure you have enough money to cover the room rate, the deposits and incidentals. This is the most important rule of them all. We almost phrased this one as "Only Use a Credit Card" but we know that's not always possible for everyone. That said, when a hotel charges or authorizes a debit cards, the funds are taken out immediately. And it takes a few days for the hotel to release them and the bank to get them put back in. So if you use a debit card, make sure you have enough funds to cover your hotel stay and the deposits and your general living expenses for a few days, maybe even a week, after you leave the hotel.

4. These deposit and incidental charges are collected by the hotel directly, not the booking site you used. Remember, even if you fully pre-paid your room through a third-party booking site like Expedia or Travelocity, the hotel will still need to see a credit card at the time of arrival. This is when they will run the incidentals charge. So be sure to plan for that.

5. Closely look at your check-out folio AND your bank account. Hotels are notorious for making mistakes, often in the form of double-billing. And if you don't catch these mistakes at check-out, your credit card will be charged and then you will have to go through the hassle of calling the hotel and getting them to refund you the money. Then you have to make sure the money actually gets refunded. This is especially nightmarish if a hotel double or triple-charges your debit card. So always make sure to look at your check-out folio and your bank account.

Have any other tips about paying for a hotel room to share? Drop them in comments below!

[Photo: HotelChatter]

Archived Comments:



last year i was in NYC for business. my boss had prepaid my room. i was late (as always) leaving in the morning, so dumped my bag and asked to pick up my folio with the bag later. of course, i collected the bag but forgot to ask for the folio. and of course, when i got my credit card statement i found they'd double charged my card (which I'd had to leave for incidentals) - when the room had already been prepaid.

the hotel ignored my emails about the matter and it took 6 months to resolve through my credit card, because my card company said without the folio, i had no proof that i hadn't rung up $400 of minibar expenses. absolute nightmare and so much stress.

moral of the tale: ALWAYS GET THE FOLIO, even if the room was prepaid and they say you owe nothing.

A response from a hotelier!

@ JuliaB, When you stay in a hotel, if it is not a mom n pop hotel - they would definitely have an access to your folio even if you do not have it! That must be a very silly mistake by a not so trained hotel staff.

Now would like to throw some lights on the issue of incidental charges.

Would like to clarify first that since we are in the hospitality industry - our only vision is keeping our guests happy and satisfied!

From Franchisee hotels like ours, we have to maintain certain standards and there is definitely a very high cost on that!

This might sound odd to you but we have had several incidents when

1 - Guests liked our pillows/towels (sometimes trash cans too) and decided to take them as souvenirs.

2 - Guests decided to smoke in a smoke free hotel. At times, we had guests leaving cigarette marks, and burnt holes in blankets!

3 - And one of the main reason - minibars and incidentals in full service hotels - you use something, you pay for it!

We normally run limited service hotels like Comfort Inns, Fairfield Inns, Hampton inns, Holiday Inns etc where we do not have restaurant/room service and provide full breakfast! So basically, we are not suppose to charge you for the 3rd types of incidentals! Our deposit here is $50!

We do know that 80% guests are really genuine and they behave like professionals but there are other 20% as well!

At no point the idea is to collect money for the damages... If you think about it, the pillows we use is $9.15 a piece, blanket is $57 - then decorative scarf, television, remotes, alarm clocks, phones, comforters etc would normally cost way more than $50! In fact, at times the noise disturbs other guests and we lose some regular guests as well - that would really cost us in thousands!

The idea is - if we take deposit and let the guests know that if they create any physical or noise damage to our room/guests - we would not refund you $50. That would encourage those 20% guests to behave like the other 80%!

We are here to keep you happy. We know you travel a lot and you are tired! We also know that you have a budget and blocking $100-200 will mess many things... But at the same time, we would like to provide you highest standards of hospitality and for that we have to have some policies to cover ourselves from unwanted expenses!

re: #3

Our hotel property management software releases any unused holds during the night audit process the same day the guest checks out. It is the banks that continue to hold the funds from a debit card authorization for 7-10 days, presumably to ensure that all charges have come through before releasing the funds.