For the past two years, I have had the pleasure, I think, of working in a hotel. I have blogged about my experience with guests in the past, but since I am leaving the hotel business, I decided to take this opportunity to pass along advice that will hopefully make your next travel adventure a whole lot easier. Because this post ended up being far longer than I expected it to be, I am going to break it up. I will post 3 new tips every other day until I run out of tips to post.
- The card you book the room with is just to hold the room!
When you book a hotel room, you are asked to put down a credit/debit card. Now unless this room is prepaid you will not actually be charged anything until check-out. (Pro tip: You will know if the room is prepaid by reading your reservation and checking your bank statements.) When you arrive the front desk agent will ask for a method of payment, 99% of the time they will have to swipe a physical copy of the card. You can use the card that you booked the room with or you can use a different card, but you do have to provide a method of payment whether that be card, check, or cash. (Pro tip: If you are planning on using any other form of payment besides a card, call the hotel and make sure that they will accept that form of payment.) You may not use the card on file unless you have the physical card with you. Once again that card was just to hold the room; the hotel will only run that card if you don’t show up, this is called a no-show fee. (Pro tip: If you know you are not going to show up call and cancel your reservation because if not they will charge you one night room and tax. Why? Because they held that room for you when they could have sold it.)
You are probably asking “why can’t you just run the card that I booked the room with?” That’s the most frequently asked question among new travelers and here is the simple answer, because we don’t know if that is actually your card. We ask for the actual card and your ID to double check that you are not using someone else’s card. This is for your security.
“Well isn’t that what my bank is for?” Yes, your bank will probably flag any weird charges, but if you travel frequently or if this hotel is in the same state that you live in, they probably won’t. Asking for the actual card is the hotel’s way of protecting you from a stranger having an all-paid vacation on your dime.
I know your next question, “what if my business or I are paying for someone’s stay and therefore they won’t have that card with them?” Easy, call the hotel and they will send you a credit card authorization form. Fill that out and that gives the hotel permission to run the card on file.
- Don’t use a debit card!!!
Never ever use a debit card. Always use a credit card. When they swipe your card upon check-in, they will hold the full amount, meaning room and tax for the whole duration of your stay. (Pro tip: this is just a pending hold, as I have stated before, you are not actually charged anything until check-out.) Plus, hotels will hold an extra amount for “incidentals”. Incidentals are any extra charges that may come up during your stay; room service, gift shop, bar, spa, etc. (Pro tip: You sound like a complete and utter idiot when you tell a hotel that “they are the only hotel in the world that holds extra money for incidentals.” Furthermore, it confirms to the hotel that you have in fact not traveled all over the world.)
The hotel wants to make sure that you actually have the money to pay for your stay and for these extra services. It’s also insurance for them in the off chance that you destroy the room. How much this hold is depends on the hotel. Our hotel held $25 each night and I once stayed at a hotel that held $100 each night. The nicer the hotel and the bigger the city, the more money they will hold. If you don’t charge anything to your room or put a hole in the wall, the extra money on hold will be released upon check out. For most hotels there is no way out of this hold, so don’t yell at the front desk. This is not a hidden fee and if you read the terms and conditions it would have be listed there. Also even if the room is prepaid you still have to put down a method of payment for incidentals.
If you swipe a credit card than the amount is just a hold. Your debit card is going to hold the actual money, meaning you can’t use that money. This could be problematic if you are on a budget or have limited funds. The hotel releases the amount upon check out, but banks are assholes and are in no hurry to release the hold on their end. It could take anywhere from 3 business days to TWO weeks for the pending hold to be released. You can complain about how slow this process is to the hotel, but they will simply tell you to call your bank.
Now you’re asking, “what if I don’t have a credit card?” Well, you should probably get one and start building up some credit, hotels are a great way to do that. However, there are some hotels that may be willing to work with you. Our hotel would accept the incidentals in cash and depending on the time of year, we may be willing to forgo this hold, but that means you can’t use any of the hotel’s amenities including wifi. This is true even if your wifi is free.
Moral of the story is this, if you have to use a debit card know exactly how much is going to be held and make sure that you have enough to cover this hold and extra funds for the length of time it make take to get that hold released. Talk to the hotel ahead of time, don’t just hand them your card expecting them to say, “are you sure you want to use a debit card?” Better yet, make the better choice and use a credit card.
- Do not use 3rd parties to book your room!!
I can not stress this enough, if you are planning a vacation, do not use a 3rd party. (Pro tip: A 3rd party is any website or vendor that is not the hotel itself.) 3rd parties have their place and that’s usually a quick one night, last minute stay, or if you just need a cheap hotel and could care less about everything else.
Let me share a secret with you, Expedia and Priceline own the industry. Actually, the companies they are owned by own the industry. I hear you saying, “I know better than to use Priceline, but there are other more trusted sites.” Guess what? If you book on hotels.com or TripAdvisor you are most likely booking through Priceline or Expedia. I see it everyday.
Booking through those sites may offer a cheaper rate, but as I’ve often heard people say, “a cheaper rate means a cheaper stay.” When you book through a 3rd party, you are booking through them. They receive your payment and they pay the hotel an agreed upon percentage of that payment. This payment could be so low it won’t even cover the cost of you staying at the hotel. Yes, it cost the hotel money for you to stay there. There are employees to pay, food to buy, sheets to wash, and pools to clean. Plus, hotels do enjoy making a profit.
Let’s play a game shall we? You book a beach vacation on a 3rd party, said 3rd party tells you that you have a king room with an ocean view. The rate is significantly cheaper than the hotel’s website. You think, “holy crap, what a deal”, but you didn’t read the terms and conditions that tells you 3rd parties cannot guarantee any of its promises ie. room & view.
The hotel is completely sold out that night. You arrive late and there are only two rooms left. One is the room that you though you booked, the best room in the hotel with a king bed and that ocean view. The other is an accessible room with two twins and it has a view of the back alleyway. The other person coming in that night is a rewards member who booked on the hotel’s website and is paying twice what you are paying through that 3rd party.
Guess what room you are getting Mr. 3rd party? You can complain all you want. You can demand a refund. You can show us your 3rd party reservation and guess what the hotel is going to say? “Sir, you need to call that 3rd party, your reservation is with them and not with us.” That reservation is nonrefundable and they don’t care that you didn’t get your preferred room type, they warned you this might happen and you just didn’t pay attention. (Pro tip: Even if the hotel did screw up and wanted to refund you, they couldn’t because they don’t have that money. Priceline or Expedia pays them at a later date. They literally don’t have the money to give you.)
3rd parties are getting sneakier too, their site might even look and sound like the hotel’s direct website. Let’s say that you want to stay at the Ritz Carlton in New York City, so you do what many people would do, google the hotel. From there you click on the first link thinking you are booking with the hotel and you might be or you might not be. You may even do this, go to a website, such as TripAdvisor, to read reviews on the hotel, once you find that perfect spot you click on the “reserve a room” button thinking you are booking with the hotel directly, you might be or you might not be. Maybe you hired a travel agent unaware that she gets certain kickbacks when she uses certain 3rd party sites, *cough Expedia and Priceline cough*. I can not tell you how many people were in complete shock when I told them that their reservation was through a 3rd party. They truly and honestly believed that they had booked through the hotel directly.
To stop this from happening here is my advice, if you want to stay at a Hilton, go to hilton.com. If you want to stay at a Marriott, go to marriott.com. If you want to stay at a Ritz Carlton, go to ritzcarlton.com. You see where I’m going with this?
Last thing on 3rd parties. Sometimes they will sell rooms we don’t have or they will lie to you by saying things like “only 2 rooms left at this property.” The hotel is never going to sell their last two rooms on a 3rd party and if they did it would not be at a discounted rate. Also, if you ever see that a room is available on a 3rd party, but not on the hotel’s direct website, don’t book. That means they are probably sold out and you will get walked. More on walks later.
My point is this, do not fall into the 3rd party trap and if you are saying “well I can’t afford to stay at the hotel with the hotel’s rates”, than I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, you can’t afford to stay at that hotel.
Oh, I forgot to tell you, if you are a rewards member you don’t receive any points when you book through a 3rd party. This is standard across all brands. Some even take it a step further and don’t even give you your benefits as a rewards member. This actually makes sense, reward memberships are designed to build brand loyalty and if you aren’t being loyal to them, why should they be loyal to you? In terms of points, let me explain how this works. You get a certain number of points for every dollar you spend in the hotel. For the sake of this post, let’s say that you receive two points for every dollar. Take your total bill and double that, that is how many points you received for your stay. Remember, I told you that you paid the 3rd party for the room and they paid the hotel, that means that unless you purchased something while at the hotel, your bill will be zero. A zero bill means zero points. Fun fact: this is explained in the terms and conditions of any rewards program.
Thanks for reading. If you have any questions, leave a comment below. Come Tuesday I’ll share some advice on online reviews, hotel requests, and travel preparation.