1. Find out exactly what the hotel’s cancellation policy is.
Before you click the “BOOK” button on a hotel reservation, read the hotel’s cancellation policy line-by-line. Then read it again. Almost all hotels have some sort of cancellation policy but they vary wildly depending on the property and in some cases, the dates of your stay.
Popular holidays or big events in town usually warrant a stricter cancellation policy, and typically, a hotel will want 24 hours notice before cancelling a reservation without charging you. Other hotels require 48 or 72 hours, while some insist on a week’s notice or more. Some hotels may even charge you a flat cancellation fee regardless of when you cancel, which is something Hilton Hotels experimented with last fall.
If you’re booking with a third-party booking site like Expedia or Priceline, they may have a different policy than the hotel, so be sure to read that carefully, too.
2. At check-in, note the incidentals deposit and any extraneous extra fees.
Before handing you the room key and sending you on your way, a hotel should tell you just how much your credit card with be "authorized" in advance for incidental purchases (room service, minibar, Wi-Fi, etc.) or damages. This amount typically ranges $100 per stay to $100 per day. A reputable hotel will also tell you this amount at the time of booking, so it shouldn’t be a surprise when you check-in.
Since this is just a temporary hold put on your credit card, it will be taken off your account once you check-out. Provided, you know, you haven’t raided the mini-bar or trashed the room during your stay.
Check-in is also where hotels should notify you of additional fees for other services not included in the room rate such as resort fees, fitness center access, parking, pet charges, or annoyingly, towel fees. Again, most of these fees should be listed on the hotel’s website at the time of booking, but it’s always a good idea to go through them at the start of your stay.
Using a debit card for a hotel room is financially irresponsible for several reasons, and the biggest one is that many people don’t have enough money in their account to cover the room rates, the taxes, and the incidentals deposit, which makes the total temporary charges higher than you'll actually be paying in the end.
With a credit card, the incidentals deposit is merely a hold on your credit card. With a debit card, the hotel actually takes that money out of your account immediately. Once you check out, the hotel will put the funds back in your account, but it always takes the banks a few days, and sometimes as long as a week, to get that money back to you. So if you must use a debit card, do so only if you have enough funds to cover your hotel stay, the deposits, and your general living expenses for a week after you leave the hotel.
Credit cards also come with a lot more protections against fraud. With a debit card, anyone can clean out your savings, and there won't be much recourse for you.
4. Fees and incidental charges are collected by the hotel, not the booking site you used.
Remember, even if you fully pre-paid for your room on a third-party booking site, the hotel will still need to see a credit card at check-in for resort fees and incidental charges. They're not charging you for those twice—if you booked anywhere but through that hotel's official site, you haven't been charged for them yet.
5. After your stay, closely look at your check-out folio and your bank account.
Hotels are notorious for making billing mistakes, often in the form of double charges. (For example, you ordered one movie from the OnDemand system but the hotel charged you for two.) If you don’t catch these mistakes at check-out where a front desk agent can easily remove them before running your credit card, you’ll have to go through the hassle of calling the hotel (during regular business hours) to dispute the charges. Then you’ll have to keep checking to make sure the money actually gets refunded.
While it’s tempting to "peace out" of your room without looking at your folio, hotels are not reliable and extra charges on your bank statement aren't worth it.