Much like that nasty little gas station problem we talked about awhile back, hotels just love to slap holds on your debit or credit card accounts for “incidental charges.” There’s nothing wrong or uncommon about the practice, but its difficult or impossible to tell exactly how much the hold might be — and for some consumers who aren’t expecting it, the holds can cause big problems. Reader Eric recently got slapped with a $253.13 hold from the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Kansas City, and he’s a little irked because they didn’t disclose the hold when he was checking in, and they only refunded $160 of it when he checked out.
I recently stayed in a suite at the “Crowne Plaza Hotel In Kansas City” for a wedding. I made my reservations long in advance and everything seemed fine. I arrived and checked in, gave my card for any liabilities I incurred while staying there. Got to my room and was very happy with the cleanliness and space the suite offered. I almost immediately left after dropping my bags, running around town with the groom to be.
I have my checking account setup to send SMS messages to my phone for any purchases over 50 dollars. My wife likes to spend a lot of “little money”, but I digress. I get an SMS message saying I had a pending charge of 547 dollars. Well through the package the new couple had setup with the hotel the suites were 89 dollars a night with taxes and such my bill was supposed to be 311.87 (per the reservation line l called to confirm the price). When I finally got back to the hotel I asked for the manager and inquired about the additional 235.13 pulled from my checking account. She stated it was for incidentals and that it would be placed back in my account after my stay. I’ve stayed at some pretty high-end hotels and never have heard of such a thing. Usually the hotel keeps your account on file and then charges you at the end of your stay your room and any room service, additions etc.
I didn’t make a huge deal out of it because it wasn’t really about the money, I had plenty of money in the account to account for, well honestly a 235 dollar purchase I didnt plan on. Because when it comes down to it, that was money that was not available in my account. If for some reason I came with only 311.87 in my account, the hotel would have overdrawn me.
I’ve heard of gas stations doing this to the tune of a few bucks, but 235 dollars? I was never told this would occur, even though the front desk is supposed to tell you about this before check in.
Really what it comes down to, is how much power do these companies have over our own money. Money we don’t even designate them to take or “hold” in the first place. Ironically 30 mins after I left the desk, I get another SMS saying 160 dollars had been deposited into my account. Still not the whole amount just really odd. Something to think over.
Eric, you’re not alone in being upset about this. We found a thread over at FlyerTalk where people are debating whether or not these types of holds should be standardized or disclosed to the customer. The problem, as the Marriott Concierge explains, lies in the fact that each hotel (even within a chain of hotels) calculates the incidental hold amount differently:
The hold is determined by sum of three factors, the length of stay, room rate and tax, and something called the incidental factor. The first two are simple math, you take your room rate and tax and multiple it by the number of nights you will be staying. However the incidental factor is less constant. This amount is based on the typical spending habits of the property’s guests. This means you can expect to have a much larger hold at a resort location than you would typically have at an Airport location because guest tended to spend a lot more on incidentals. Likewise guests typically spend more at certain international locations than at many domestic locations.
Once the incidental factor is created, like Socrates said, there is no human determination of what the hold amount will be. The hold is determined and processed by the hotels system based on the factors mentioned above.
As far as we can tell, the best thing to do is to ask how much the hold will be when you check in. Then, if you can, give the hotel a credit card, rather than a debit card, to use for incidentals. That way you’re less likely to run into overdraft fees and other debit card related nuisances.
Of course, if the hotel doesn’t end up returning the correct amount to your checking account within a reasonable period of time, you should contact your bank and dispute the charge.