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Elliott

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budget, or people like me who often have to stay in a different hotel every night, it can be a problem."

You can take steps to avoid the hold. Merritt always asks about the pernight authorization amount when she checks in.

And in the case of excessive holds, she has requested the hotel not to authorize her card for more than the room and tax. If it insists, she tries to negotiate a smaller amount.

One of the easiest ways of preventing a hold is to avoid using the card, says Harrine Freeman, a credit card expert and financial adviser.

"Use an alternative payment method," she says. "Carry travelers' checks or pay with cash." However, some hotels accept only credit cards, so ask before you try this.

If you use a credit or debit card, make sure you keep close tabs on the authorizations. Freeman and other experts strongly recommend that you sign up for automatic notifications from your bank. That way, you know exactly when a hotel authorizes your card and when the money is no longer on hold.

"Completing the transaction is the best way to remove the hold," says credit card expert Kevin Haney of A.S.K. Benefit Solutions. "The merchant charges the account for the final amount. The bank then releases the hold."

Perhaps the biggest mystery of all is why this needs to be explained to travelers in the first place.

Hotels should disclose the amount, reasons and estimated duration of a credit card hold long before you check in, upfront and in plain English.

Too often, hotels reveal these holds at the check-in desk, on signage that guests rarely bother to read.

Chris Elliott is National Geographic Traveler's reader advocate. Email: chris@elliott.org.

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