It’s a nearly unavoidable part of the hotel check-in ritual: show your ID, sign the paperwork and then hand over your credit card as an advance against ‘incidentals’ – those one-off expenses ranging from a late-night attack on the minibar to dry cleaning and room service.
And it’s part of the ritual that doesn’t work for me. Especially when some hotels demand upwards of $50 per day, payable up front in one lump sum, as proof you can meet those incidentals.
My alternative? I pay the advance in cash with Australian dollars. Let me explain...
1. The credit card
The hotel doesn’t – or shouldn’t – be processing your incidentals deposit as a payment which will be reimbursed when you leave. The amount should only ever be an authorisation from the bank or financial company which issues the card, to indicate that your card is sufficiently in the black should the total amount of the deposit be required.
There are two pitfalls with this, and I’ve encountered both.
The first is the hotel failing to promptly clear the authorisation. In one instance the pre-approval for a $400 incidentals deposit sat on my account for almost one month, so those funds were marked as unavailable due to a pending transaction.
In the end I had to call and then email the hotel to have the the authorisation cancelled so the money was truly mine once again. This experience put me off using my plastic for an incidentals advance.
The second issue is that like many people I have a debit card, not a credit card – and some hotels cannot (or will not) accept a debit card for the incidentals deposit. Which leaves me out in the cold, and leads to...
It’s an easy fallback. Instead of handing over your credit card to be swiped, dig out the necessary number of bills. The desk clerk will write your details on the front of an envelope, insert the cash, seal the envelope with sticky tape and then have you sign across the tape.
The envelope is returned to you when it’s time to check out and you can use the cash inside (or your credit card) to settle up for those incidentals.
My beef against this? I’m always expected to use local currency. And you can bet that if I have enough cash on hand to cover a few days of incidentals then that fistfull of dollars will already be earmarked for some serious shopping. I don’t want to hand over a slab of my spending money as soon as I arrive and have it locked away until hours before I leave.
So for some time now my preferred payment for a hotel’s incidentals deposit – in fact, the one I insist upon – has been:
3. Aussie currency
It makes perfect sense. If the hotel will accept cash, why can’t they accept cash from another country instead of local currency?
So before each trip I visit the bank and withdraw A$500. That’s enough to cover a few days at almost any hotel. When I check in and am asked for a deposit to cover incidentals, I offer up those crisp Australian bills.
It might take a quick calculation of exchange rates so the desk clerk can confirm my strange-looking money is equivalent to the required amount, but it’s never been declined.
After all, if I’m in London or Barcelona or Japan I don’t need Australian dollars. Let me keep my pounds and Euro and yen in my wallet while the hotel locks away my Aussie dollars in their safe.
I pick up the cash-bearing envelope when I check out, settle any incidentals with my card or remaining local currency and head to the airport, with plenty of Aussie money already in hand for the week to come.
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About David Flynn
David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.