As more people turn to debit cards as a way to control expenses and avoid credit-card debt, hotels have changed to accommodate customers who use debit, instead of credit cards for travel expenses. However, several possible surprises come with debit card use for hotel bills. Monetary holds, surprise charges, foreign transaction fees, and embarrassing mistakes happen regularly, with some hotels now refusing debit cards altogether due to mishaps. To avoid problems at the front desk check-in, do a bit of prep work before choosing a payment method or swiping your debit card.

Find out if the hotel will accept debit cards in the first place as a form of payment. Some hotels no longer take debit cards due to customer dissatisfaction with debit card holds, but many do.

Call the hotel and find out the debit card policy before reserving a room. Some hotels place a monetary hotel hold or security deposit for incidentals like the mini-bar, movies and room service. This hold can be anywhere from $50 a night to over $100 added to the room rate at some luxury hotel chains, and will be assessed even if the hotel room has been prepaid upfront.

If this happens, a $300 three-night hotel stay could become a $450 visit in an instant, with the extra $150 tied up until the bank or hotel releases the charge which can take multiple business days. Avoid this by asking about incidental charges in a clear, direct fashion.

Keep some cash on hand if using debit card for your hotel reservation. In the event that the hotel slips a hold onto your account, you'll still be able to buy meals and enjoy the trip until the money is released. Having cash on hand and knowing where a nearby atm is will ensure that your trip is low on surprises.

If you have a joint card, notify the other user(s) that you'll be using the debit card for travel. Call any other users and tell them the precise amount of cash paid to the hotel, as well as the expected day of fund release for any hold assessed--especially if this amount will deplete the account, or leave little money in it. Joint account holders often find out the hard way that a mate has used the debit card while traveling and may get transactions declined without warning.

Scrutinize all receipts during checkout and check your bank account statement once the trip is over. Transaction errors are a bit more keenly felt in a checking account than on a charge card, so an accidental overcharge can be a disaster and potentially lead to overdraft charges, bounced checks or insufficient-funds charges. If there's an error, it could take awhile to resolve. Read your receipts thoroughly both before you leave and after your stay.

Be aware also of cancellation policies and cancellation fees for the hotel whether booking through Expedia or a hotel like the Hilton or Marriott directly. Card users should also consider the impact on your credit score and credit limit as well as overdraft fees, and cash back offers before booking your entire stay.

Things You Will Need
  • Extra funds for incidental holds

  • Bank account statement