Using a debit card when you check into a hotel can be dangerous because of the hotel's practice of putting a hold on funds in your account--a practice known as card blocking--to guarantee against a guest leaving without paying for the stay. The hold will be large enough to cover the full cost of your intended stay and may even add extra days and incidental charges to cover potential use of honor bars, room service, and telephone calls. If you are using a debit card and carefully budgeting your trip so you don't exceed your account balance, the extra charges from the hold applied by the hotel may use up your balance, leaving you with no money to spend on the rest of your trip.
How to Deal with Card Blocking
It is always a good idea to ask questions about policies on card blocking while budgeting your trip. Contact the hotel and ask if they accept debit cards, how much money they place on hold for your stay, and how long that hold will remain. If the hotel is part of a large chain and you are not a frequent customer, it is unlikely that you can talk the hotel manager into changing the policy for you.
Plan to pay for your stay using the same card you used when you checked in. If you use a separate card when checking out, whether credit or debit, the block on your original debit card will still remain for a few days--or up to two weeks--and the check-out transaction will use the money that was originally placed on hold.
Check with your bank about its policies on blocking funds with respect to its debit cards. Many banks provide overdraft protection that may be a solution to excessive and unexpected holds applied by hotels, rental car companies, and even restaurants that have been known to block funds if you are planning a dinner for a large group.
Take along extra money in traveler's checks to cover your day-to-day expenses. Hotels usually require either a debit or credit card to charge in case you damage the room or accumulate a lot of incidental charges, but there is no reason why you can't use cash or traveler's checks to pay for everything else such as meals and entertainment.
Several hours prior to check-out, call the front desk and request that they immediately remove the hold on your funds when you check out. This will alert them to close out your bill, prepare information for you on how much extra money has been put on hold, and prepare a release order before you appear at the front desk. Do not use express check-out.
Before you leave on your trip, make sure you have the phone number of your bank's branch manager in case you need to have a hold removed from your account. While most hotels will process a release-of-funds order if you ask at check-out, it usually takes a call to your bank to speed up the transaction.
Some hotels may apply a hold on your funds when taking your reservation. Always ask whether there will be a hold placed on funds every time you supply your debit card information, particularly when making reservations in resort areas.