Every hotel operates differently, and the terms of service vary by brand, location, and size of the premises.
Regardless of the hotel type, you’ll probably need to provide a credit card number to reserve the room and for incidentals during your stay (like room service or the minibar).
Most hotels will charge your credit card either at booking, a few days before check-in, or when you check out. You’ll rarely be charged at check-in or in the middle of your stay, but it can happen. Double-check with the hotel to find out their particular payment schedule.
If you pre-pay for your room, the hotel will charge you when you make your reservation or a few days before check-in. However, generally speaking, most guests pay when they check out.
Can a Hotel Charge You Without Telling You?
A hotel can’t charge your card without your authorization – but once you book your room, you’ve essentially permitted them to act according to the terms and conditions of your reservation.
Sometimes a hotel will place an authorization (also a block, hold, or pre-authorization) on your account to ensure you have enough funds to cover your stay.
When a hotel initiates a hold, that amount of money is ‘blocked’ on your card, and you won’t be able to access those funds until the reservation is completed or canceled.
The pre-auth amount depends on the hotel and whether they overcharge to compensate for additional expenses or potential damage.
When you check out, the hotel will calculate the total cost of your stay, and you can choose to pay with the pre-authorized card or a different card.
Credit holds are the norm in American and some European hotels, but it really depends on the hotel and its rules.
If the hotel doesn’t do pre-authorizations, your card will be charged in full according to the payment details agreed to during booking.
How Long Does an Authorization Last?
The length of authorization depends on the hotel and the card issuer – it’s not uncommon for a hold to exist for a week or two after check-out.
In most cases, however, your card is charged the total amount within 24 hours after check-out, and the hold is released.
If it takes longer, contact the hotel first and ask about their pre-authorization terms. If the hotel has removed the hold, contact your card provider for further information.
Do Hotels Charge Your Card Immediately?
Hotels can charge your card immediately, but only under certain circumstances.
For example, you may need to pay a deposit if booking your stay in advance.
This deposit is usually charged immediately and, depending on the hotel, triggers a pre-authorization at check-in.
A hotel might also charge your card immediately if you must pay the total amount upfront.
There are five different time frames when a hotel might charge your credit card. They are:
- At booking
- Before check-in
- At check-in
- During your stay
- At check-out.
If you’re booking through a third-party website like Hotels.com, you almost always need to pay a deposit.
The amount is usually equivalent to one night’s stay and is accounted for in the total cost of your reservation.
You might also need to pay upfront for other services and fees during booking.
Make sure to read the fine print before booking any hotel through a third-party site, including the payment schedule and cancelation policies.
I also recommend following up with the hotel directly to ensure they’ve received your reservation.
Even if you gave your card details at booking, you might not incur charges right away.
In some cases, the hotel will charge you 24-72 hours before check-in or will initiate a pre-authorization hold on your account.
The website might not indicate whether charges are reflected immediately or a few days before check-in, so ensure to review the hotel’s terms of service.
A hotel might ask you to pay a deposit (or the full amount) at check-in.
This scenario is more likely if paying with cash, but you’ll likely still need to provide a card to cover additional expenses or damage.
Usually, in this case, there’s no hold placed on your account, and the card number is just added to the system as a backup payment method.
As with all things hotel-related, it’s best to confirm the precise payment details before arrival.
During Your Stay
Charges might occur during your stay if you use your card for incidentals (such as the hotel restaurant or spa) instead of charging the cost to your room.
Though rare, a hotel might also charge your card in phases, depending on how long you’re staying and how much you spend daily.
It may mean they place a specific daily hold on your card and charge the full amount at the end of each day.
This situation is fairly unlikely as the hotel will usually just add up the costs from your entire stay and charge you the total when you check out.
Most of the time, guests pay their hotel bills during check-out.
Regardless of whether you’ve made a deposit or partial payment, the hotel almost always charges the remaining amount at check-out.
At this point, you can review your invoice and determine whether the details are correct.
If you approve the charges, you’ll pay your bill using an approved payment method (e.g., cash or card) and be on your way.
When you use a credit card, you’ll likely see the charges within 24-48 hours.
How Do I Know If I Should Give Out My Credit Card Details?
If you’re booking a hotel online (whether through a third-party website or the hotel’s official website), always confirm the website’s validity before giving out your credit card details.
If you’re using a third-party site, you should also confirm that it’s reputable.
Hotels.com and Booking.com are the industry’s big dogs, and you’re less likely to have trouble booking with them.
Do not give your credit card details to a website you’ve never heard of. If you’re unsure, Google the site and see what kind of reviews pop up in the results.
What Happens If I Cancel My Booking Before Checking In?
What happens when you cancel a booking depends on the hotel’s cancelation policy.
You risk having to make a partial payment (or pay in full) if you don’t read the terms before canceling your reservation. You may even have to forfeit the cost if you’ve pre-paid for your stay.
This is especially true if you’re taking advantage of a special deal. The main appeal of these offers is the low rates, but most guests don’t know they can be non-refundable.
However, regardless of your booking type, most hotels have a policy guaranteeing a full refund (or no charge) if you cancel before a certain date.
These timeframes differ wildly depending on the hotel, and it’s important to read the fine print when making your reservation.
Depending on the website, the information might be in plain view. Otherwise, you need to find the page that outlines the cancelation policy.
You could consider getting travel insurance if you travel a lot or book your hotels on third-party sites.
Most travel insurance covers your costs in the case of an emergency, but confirm the details with your provider before you buy.
What Happens If I Don’t Check Out?
Many hotels don’t require guests to check out in person, as long as they have a credit card on file and they’ve authorized any charges.
Once your check-out time passes, the hotel will attempt to confirm you’ve left and will eventually charge your card accordingly.
It’s just kind of rude not to let them know as they need to prepare your room for incoming guests. Trying to track you down to verify you’re gone is time-consuming and unnecessary.
That said, sometimes it’s impossible to physically check out (e.g., if you have an early flight and the front desk is closed), but most hotels can easily accommodate such circumstances.
Whenever possible, it’s a good idea to check out in person so you can review your bill and ensure all the charges are correct.
If you need to leave earlier than expected, it’s better to talk to the front desk to see if you can cancel the remainder of your reservation. In certain situations, the hotel might be lenient and will waive any additional fees.
If you leave the hotel and the card on file isn’t valid, it’s considered theft, and you can be charged with a crime.
Booking a hotel can be confusing, especially if you’ve never done it before.
Every hotel has different payment (and cancelation) policies, so it’s important to read the fine print before making a reservation.
Some hotels require prepayment, a deposit, or will place a pre-authorized hold on your account. Others will just take your card number to guarantee your reservation and will charge you in full at check-out.
It’s preferable to check out in person so you can review the total price of your stay and ask questions if your bill doesn’t seem right.
After you leave the hotel, it can take some time (usually 24-48 hours) for the charges to appear on your account. It’s good practice to check your bank records a few days later to ensure everything looks correct.
Table of Contents
- Can a Hotel Charge You Without Telling You?
- How Long Does an Authorization Last?
- Do Hotels Charge Your Card Immediately?
- How Do I Know If I Should Give Out My Credit Card Details?
- What Happens If I Cancel My Booking Before Checking In?
- What Happens If I Don’t Check Out?