The upfront cost of a hotel room isn't always a reflection of its real price. You could have to pay for food, phone calls, access to the gym and a wide variety of other incidentals. Because hotels don't want to end up paying for these items themselves if your card is declined, they frequently place a hold on customers' credit cards to ensure incidental costs will be covered.
How Holds Work
When you give your credit card to the front desk clerk, she'll swipe it and place a hold on your account. This temporarily makes some portion of funds unavailable to you. The amount can be as small as a dollar, but could be much higher. The hold ensures you have the money to cover additional expenses, and typically won't be refunded until after you check out. At that point, it can take a couple of days for your bank to return the funds to your account.
The Right Amount
There's no single amount that hotels routinely charge, but the amount usually ranges from about $50 to $150. If you're staying at a pricey hotel, you might end up paying much more. Before you hand over your credit card, ask the front desk clerk the precise amount of the per-day hold you have to pay.
Overdrafts and Over-Limit Fees
Holds on your funds can cause you to overdraft or go over your credit limit, so it's good practice to check your account before you check into the hotel. If you're concerned about not having access to your money, consider paying a cash deposit. You'll get the cash as soon as you check out, rather than having to wait a few days for the funds to return to your account.
Minimizing Hotel Costs
If you don't want to lose any money on incidentals, then you'll need to aim for a frugal, careful stay. Avoid using the hotel's wireless Internet access if you're charged for it, and check on costs before you make a phone call. If there are amenities such as coffee or snacks in the room, call the front desk to find out if they're free. Rather than eating at the hotel, try bringing your own food or eating at local restaurants, which are often cheaper.
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