Paying for a hotel room isn't always the cut-and-dried transaction it might seem. Aside from sneaky extra charges bundled up as "resort fees," you might also be asked to provide an upfront deposit for the room when you first book it or a deposit in case of incidental charges or damages when you check in. Either way, you can sometimes wiggle your way out of either deposit – depending on the hotel's policies and your ability to present a convincing case.
Request a Courtesy Hold
Some hotels don't require upfront deposits at the time of booking. So if you have several options to choose from in your area, it doesn't hurt to shop around. Of those that do require deposits, sometimes, all you have to do is pleasantly and politely ask for a courtesy hold instead. This means the hotel will hold the room for you until you check in; no deposit needed. You can increase your chances of getting the courtesy hold if you have a convincing (and true) reason for waiving the deposit, such as an unexpected decrease in your credit card limit or a lost or stolen credit card.
If you're booking through a third-party website or mobile app, it's possible that the initial deposit is being charged by the third party instead of the hotel. Always read the fine print, and, when in doubt, try booking directly through the hotel.
Preauthorization vs. Actual Charges
Some hotels will request a credit card to cover the charge of the first night's stay if you don't show up, but they won't actually charge the card if you show up as planned. Again, always read the fine print. This might mean simply having your credit card information on file, or it might involve a pre-authorization on funds. If it's the latter, the hotel doesn't actually get the money, but you won't have access to it either. If you use a debit card to guarantee a room, the "authorization" still reads as a completed transaction in your bank ledger.
Ask to Waive Authorization for "Incidentals"
Once you check in to the hotel, standard practice is for your credit or debit card to be authorized for the quoted cost of the room.
Many properties will also authorize a charge for "incidentals." This can mean true incidental charges, such as restaurant meals, room service, and gift shop purchases charged directly to your room, or it can act as a sort of security deposit in case of damages.
Again, simply asking to have the incidental charges waived is your first and best option. Be straightforward about your reason for asking, whether it's limited funds, using a debit card instead of a credit card, or a bad experience with another hotel that forgot to release this pre-authorization in a timely manner – you might be surprised how often that happens.
If the first clerk you speak to can't help you, politely ask to speak to a manager. The manager always has more leeway than the front desk staff, but the staff don't always tell you that upfront.
Most hotels will let you know about any incidental authorizations upfront, but every so often, one doesn't. To avoid surprises, always ask about incidental or security deposit charges before you hand over your card to be authorized for the room.
Turn Off Incidentals
If the hotel staff say they must place a hold on your card for incidentals, ask for what, exactly, that covers. Sometimes, you can have those "incidental" temptations, like items in the room's wet bar, access to premium internet or television content, room service, or the ability to charge purchases directly from in-hotel restaurants or gift shops, turned off or removed. If that's the case, the hotel is often happy to waive the incidental charges.
Other Tips That Might Help
Ultimately, any deviation from the hotel's printed and advertised policy is up to the staff. As with any customer service transaction, being pleasant and respectful goes a long way to help, as does a professional appearance that cries, "I would never accidentally leave a window open so a flock of seagulls could trash your room," as famously happened to a Canadian man in 2001. With that said, here are a few other tips that might help you plead your case:
- Have a plan B. If you can honestly tell hotel staff that you'll go somewhere else if they don't waive the deposit, they might be willing to do so. Just make sure you won't be incurring hefty cancellation fees if you do go elsewhere.
- Ask if you can leave a valid credit or debit card number on file in case of damages, but with no hold or a small hold to verify the card's validity (some hotels will authorize just $1 on your card).
- Ask if you can make a cash deposit for incidentals or damages, which you'll receive back when you check out. If the hotel accepts this, have them place the cash in an envelope before you leave the desk, then seal the envelope and let you sign across the seal.
- Join the hotel's frequent traveler program. Sometimes, even basic status is enough to waive or reduce incidental deposits.
- Stay with the same chain or hotel. If they see that you're a frequent visitor, they'll be more likely to waive a deposit.