As you are gearing up to travel during the holiday season, you probably need to find some accommodations for spending the night. You may be a careful planner and want to make a hotel reservation before you arrive at your destination. On the other hand, you may be a free spirit and just want a place to crash. In this case, you would be willing to walk into the nearest hotel with an available room. In either case, you will likely need a credit card. Here’s what you need to know.
Why do hotels require a credit card to book a room?
Hotels require a credit card for several reasons. First, it guarantees your reservation and avoids last minute cancellations. When a hotel reserves a room, it is held for a certain amount of time. Even if someone else wants the same room, the reservation makes sure that when you arrive at the hotel, your accommodations are ready. This also protects the hotel from a person booking several rooms and canceling at the last minute or simply never showing up. Each hotel room has its own cancelation policy. With your credit card on file, the hotel has the ability to charge you for the room, which is called “retention,” even if you decide not to use it.
Hotels can also charge your credit card after you check out. If a hotel deems that you have damaged a room, stolen things from the room, or used any additional services such as the mini bar or pay-per-view movies, the hotel can still charge you long after you are gone. If the hotel allowed you to pay cash, it would be too late to collect payment from the guest once they have checked out.
The Process of Booking a Hotel Room
1. Your Budget
You should first determine your budget for how much you want to spend on a hotel room, per night. It is important to note that even after you have decided on how much you want to pay per night, hotels usually charge a bit more on your total bill for taxes and fees.
2. Required Accommodations
Think about the specific requirements for your accommodations. For example, most standard hotel rooms will allow up to four adults. Are you traveling by yourself or with your family? Do you need two queen beds or one large king bed? Some hotels even have the option of a bassinet, upon request. If you are traveling with your family, you may opt for a hotel suite, which has a separate living room from the bedroom, for a bit more privacy.
On the other hand, if you are working while staying, the hotel may have a designated work area with a desk in your room or a separate business center somewhere else in the hotel. Do you need, and does your hotel offer, wheelchair accessible or disability amenities? Does your hotel have extra amenities, such as free Wi-Fi, a spa, a fitness center, a pool, or a laundry room?
Now that you have the requirements for your hotel room, it is time to search for the actual hotel. Location usually dictates where you will start looking. Unfortunately, depending on how close and convenient you want to be to your specific tourist attraction or work event, the budget may be difficult to work with. If you stay further away from your ideal destination, how will you arrange transportation? You may be able to walk to, rent a car, take public transportation, or take a taxi to get around in exchange for a cheaper rate at a different hotel.
4. Search for Hotels Online
Searching for hotels online allows you to compare different hotels that fit your criteria. You can often filter the search results to personalize what your family needs. Furthermore, you usually also have the option to arrange the results from lowest to highest price or see all the hotels that are close to a certain area. Make sure to read all the fine print. For example, you can normally find out if breakfast is complimentary, if there are non-smoking rooms, if the facilities are available for the disabled, and the hotel’s cancellation policy on their website.
On the other hand, you may want to call the hotel personally to ask about convenient public transportation near the hotel, how far the hotel is from a specific tourist area, which side of the hotel has a better view, etc. As a word of advice, try to call in the late evening. The hotel front desk will likely be less rushed and more willing to answer your questions. The mornings and mid-afternoons are particularly busy for the hotel’s customer service because people are usually checking out in the mornings and checking in in the afternoons.
5. Reserve the Room
Once you have selected your hotel room, you can reserve it online through the hotel’s website. Sometimes, the third-party hotel search engine you used will also have the ability to reserve your room. However, as you will need to input your personal payment information, be sure the website is trustworthy and secured. The hotel reservation page will ask for basic information such as your name, your travel dates, your credit card number, your credit card expiration date, your credit card security code, and your credit card’s billing address. The website will likely confirm that all the details match before your booking reservation is confirmed.
Alternatively, if you have already called the hotel asking about which side of the hotel has a better view or which side of the hotel is quieter, they can probably book your hotel stay with that awesome view right then and there. They will check for rooms that meet your specifications and reserve your room for you. The hotel front desk will likely ask for all the same information listed above, as if you were booking the room online.
6. Confirm Your Reservation
After you reserve your room, the hotel should email you a copy of your reservation or you can print the receipt at the end of your online booking session. If you reserved your room on the phone, ask the hotel to send you a receipt as proof of payment. Once you have your receipt, make sure that everything is correct. This includes the travel dates, the room rates, and all the surcharges and extra fees.
On the day of check-in, your hotel may still request proof of identification and your credit card. You may wonder if they already have your credit card from when you booked the room, why they need it again. To have the actual card, as opposed to simply the card information, the hotel has extra proof that the guest has actually arrived. Now, they will be able to charge you for any fees and incidental charges, such as any expenses incurred if housekeeping discovers that the room is damaged. Having the physical credit card is important for them in case you dispute the charge and claim that it is for "services not rendered" because you never even arrived at the hotel.
When you check out, besides simply returning the room key, be sure to get a receipt for your stay. You will need to confirm that the hotel did not charge for you for additional items such as pay-per-view movies or your bar bill, which you should see on your bill immediately. Other fees may be charged later.
9. Monitor Your Credit Card Bill
After you have checked out, be sure to monitor the actual charge that the hotel processed on your credit card. If the total number is different from your receipt, you may need to dispute it. Of course, this is assuming that you did not destroy the room, steal any items, or use any of the additional services, such as alcohol from the minibar. These would be after-the-fact charges that housekeeping would likely take note of when they were cleaning your room.
Can I use my debit card or cash?
Most hotels require a credit card. However, some hotels accept debit cards, or cash, to secure accommodations. In rare cases, a hotel may accept bank account information instead of a card altogether. For example, a PayPal online payment account may be used to reserve the room, and you only need a bank account to use this service.
You may also be able to use your debit card to make your reservation if your card uses a card network that the hotel accepts, such as Visa or MasterCard. The hotel website may not realize that it is a debit card instead of a credit card. Remember to confirm that there are no fees associated with using a debit card.
At check-in, the hotel may accept a debit card, but may also require a security deposit to cover incidentals. This cash deposit may be the equivalent of a several nights’ stay. If you used PayPal to receive your room, be sure to call the hotel ahead of time to find out about the check-in procedure and whether the fees and security deposit can also be paid through PayPal.
If you are traveling abroad, most credit cards will charge a foreign transaction fee of approximately 3% per purchase. This fee applies to all transactions made and processed in a foreign currency. Therefore, even if you made your hotel reservation while in Singapore, you will still be charged the foreign transaction fee because the hotel processed it in another country under a different currency. Check with your credit card company for the exact fee per transaction.
On that same note, you may want to consider a travel credit card with the lowest foreign transaction fee. Between your hotel stays, most of your meals, and any shopping purchases made while traveling, those repeated 3% fees will continue to add up. A travel card should reward you for purchases made overseas and ideally offer the lowest foreign transaction fee of all the other types of credit cards. Furthermore, many travel credit cards also come with complimentary travel insurance and airport lounge access.
Whether you are a careful planner or a spontaneous traveler, you will likely need a credit card to get a hotel room. In some cases, you may be able to use a debit card, cash, or a bank account. However, this is quite rare and you will need to verify and possibly convince the hotel’s front desk to allow you to use these alternative means of payment. Perhaps it is time to research some great travel credit cards that reward you for your adventurous spirit!