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Five tips on how to book and pay for a hotel

January 29, 2015

By Paul Brucker

Vacationing at a hotel should be fun, with a minimum of aggravation. But if you’re not careful, you might encounter some not-so-fun hassles and money drains. Here are five things you should know about booking and paying for your hotel.

1. Know the consequences of paying with a credit card vs. a debit card

“It’s typically better to use a credit card than a debit card when checking into a hotel room,” advises travel writer Charlyn Keating. Another travel writer, Spencer Howard, states the case more strongly – in all caps: “DON’T USE YOUR DEBIT CARD AT CHECK IN!” 

The bottom line: if you use a debit card, be sure you have a high enough balance in your checking account to cover your hotel stay and other vacation expenses. 

Many hotels place a charge on your card beyond the cost of the room to cover incidentals such as room service, meals at the hotel restaurant, phone calls and consumption of mini-bar items. Often these holds are a lot more than you intend to spend. With a debit card, the cost of your room and the hold for incidentals is immediately taken out of your checking account. The pain point: it may make take days or even weeks before the hotel processes your bill and the bank credits your checking account for the incidentals you didn’t use.

2. Know whether your room reservation is confirmed or guaranteed

Want your reservation guaranteed? Pay for it in advance. Then the hotel is required to hold the room for you. A confirmed reservation, on the other hand, means you haven’t yet paid for the room, but the hotel agrees to hold it for you, usually based on some conditions. Learn what conditions apply. A typical one: you must arrive by a certain time. If you don’t, then the hotel is free to offer the room to someone else. So if you’re running late, notify the hotel or risk losing your confirmed room.

3. Know the hotel’s cancellation policy

Hotel cancellation policies vary wildly. Typically, a hotel requires a 24-hour notice to cancel your reservation without charging you. Others may require up to a week’s notice. Sometimes, a hotel will require you to pay 50% of the room charge upfront and the charge you the other half (plus any incidental hold charge) once you check in. If you made your reservation with a special “advance” discount offer, you may get no refund. Also, if use some online booking websites, such as Priceline and Hotwire, they will not refund your money if you want cancel or change your reservation date. So if you book online, make sure you learn the website’s cancellation policy.

4. Know what to do if you’re unhappy with the room

Let’s say you’re shown to the room and you don’t like it. It hasn’t been suitably cleaned or it’s too noisy, perhaps because the walls are too thin and your neighbors too loud. The first step is to promptly talk to the manager and ask for a better room or discount. If the manager tells you there are no other rooms available, he or she must find you a suitable room in another hotel or give you a refund. If the manager doesn’t do that, you can dispute the charge with your credit card or debit card company. If the manager takes you to another room, you will be responsible for the room charge. If, however, you feel the substitute room is either unsafe or unclean, you might be able to contest the charge with your card company. To do so, you’ll have to document your case by taking photos of the room and writing a description of the problems, including the date of the incident and the name of the hotel and the manager involved.

5. Know how much you should be legitimately charged

Be sure to carefully check your bill when you check out. Hotels sometimes make mistakes, such as double-billing. If you fail to catch these mistakes before you sign the bill, your credit or debit card will be charged. Then you’ll face the hassle of making a case to the hotel or the card company to get a refund.