Before coming to work for Oklahoma Cooperative Extension, I earned a bachelor’s degree in Hotel/Restaurant Administration and worked in the hotel business. I have picked up on a few things about safety while traveling and I think it’s important to share that information with you. ** Disclaimer: This blog post is referring to travel within the United States. International travel would come with its own host of safety precautions!
The first thing I want to say is that hotel housekeepers get a bad reputation for being thieves. The truth is, some are and some aren’t. There will be good employees and bad employees in any industry in the world. So, let’s make clear right now that I do not assume (and neither should you) that your hotel maid will steal from you. That being said, it’s not good practice to give anyone the opportunity to steal from you, and therefore the first safety tip is do not leave valuables out in the open, where they can be seen in a hotel room or in your vehicle. It’s also best not to hold cash in such a way that others can see it. Keep it in your wallet and only take out what is needed at the time.
Now that we’ve gotten the housekeeping issue out of the way, let’s back up to check-in. When checking into a hotel room, it is best to use a credit card, not a debit card. Anytime you use your debit card for point of sale (POS) purchases (groceries, fuel, restaurants) the POS machine will authorize your card for a specific amount, even though your specific purchase amount is not yet determined. This amount is probably set by the establishment. I cannot tell you what the amounts are, but I would guess that it’s an average of what is usually spent. Say at a gas station it is probably somewhere around $50 to $75. This pre-authorization usually goes away shortly after the sale is final, and replaced with the specific amount of the sale. At a hotel, this works a little differently. The machines at the hotel know exactly what your room rate and tax will be. The unknown is the incidental charges from the restaurant/bar, pay-per-view movies, spa, or any other charges you can make to your hotel room. The machine will pre-authorize your debit card for the full amount of room and tax (if your reservation is for 5 days, then 5 nights room and tax) and a percentage above that to cover “incidentals.” Again, the percentage amount is most likely set by the establishment, but the hotel I worked in used a 10% incidental rate. This pre-authorization was held on average for two weeks. I know, because I was the one who got to field the complaints! That means if your hotel rate is $129 per night for 5 nights, at a tax rate of 15%, the pre-authorization on your debit card would be $815.93 and that could be held up from your bank account for up to two weeks!
While we’re on the subject of hotel check in, no one should ever say your room number out loud. If the front desk clerk says your room number, you might want to ask to be reassigned. This could possibly put a target on your family for theft from other hotel guests or employees. The room number should be written on the inside of the key packet.
NEVER LET YOUR CHILDREN GO TO THE POOL AREA ALONE! First of all, many hotels do not employ lifeguards. But even if your children are good swimmers, there are other dangers in the pool area. This is a prime location for predators. Pools can be chaotic and loud, making an abduction very easy. Most hotels have a “guests only” policy, but since there are no lifeguards, there’s probably not anyone checking for room keys in the pool area to make sure that all pool goers are actually paid hotel guests. Aside from drowning and abduction, kids could see things that they should not see in public pools. People tend to drink in pool settings, and may temporarily lack good judgement. While they are impaired, they may do things- right out in the open- that you would not want your kids to see. It’s important that you are there to monitor the situation, and explain things to your kids should they be exposed to lewd adult behavior.
If someone knocks on your hotel room door, do not open it unless you know for sure who it is, and you were expecting them. Make sure your children know this as well. Burglars have been known to wear hotel uniforms or generic maintenance uniforms to gain access to hotel rooms. If the person knocking is a legitimate hotel employee, you would be expecting them (unless it is housekeeping and your room has not yet been cleaned, and housekeeping will not clean with guests in the room anyway.) Trust me on this.
In all other situations, use good judgement and stay alert. Be sure to observe your surroundings wherever you go to ensure you are not being followed or targeted by potential threats like theft of belongings or identity.
Next week is the last installment of the Summer Vacation Series. It’s all about creepy crawlies, and how to avoid bringing them home with you!