Hotel Check-In and Check-Out Rules: Ultimate Guide

Checking into a hotel seems simple enough. It’s a process governed by standard procedures and rules, written and unwritten, all designed to make it run as smoothly as possible both for the guest and for the hotel staff. If all goes well, it can lead to a more memorable trip overall for the guest, for all the right reasons.

Standard Check-In Rules

The traditional check-in practices in the hotel industry involve a series of steps that can begin even before you arrive.


If you are a Pre-Booked Guest, the hotel will have made the necessary preparations beforehand through a Pre-Registration, where your details are printed on a registration form or card and presented to you for your confirmation and signature upon your arrival.

If you are a Regular or Repeat Guest or a VIP Guest, the hotel personnel goes the extra step to give you as smooth of an experience checking in as possible, so meticulous preparation is done before your arrival.

This includes arranging to pick you up should you ask for such service and the relevant staff will have been alerted once the arrangement is confirmed.


check in
Image credit: Canva

Identification and Room Allocation

After determining that you are a Pre-Booked Guest who has made a reservation at the hotel, the Front Desk Officer or Receptionist will ask for your identification card or credit card and verify your details and room specifications that have been entered into your registration form.

If you are a foreign guest, you will have to provide your passport for additional information, which will be scanned or photocopied. You will then be requested to sign the form.

Walk-in Guests will check on the availability of a room and suggest the best alternatives if your preferred room is not available. The next step will be the gathering of the necessary documents and personal and trip-related information to be entered into the registration form.

You will be allocated a room after you’ve chosen an available one; they will block the room as sold and prepare your room key and record your arrival on the guest arrival list.

If you are a Walk-In guest during the peak high season or if the hotel is hosting a convention, be prepared to be turned away; however, the hotel may suggest alternative hotels in the area.

As a VIP or Repeat Guest, a welcome drink will precede the check-in formalities, which may be done either at the Front Desk or inside your suite according to your preference.

Reservation and Pre-Authorization

It is standard practice today for hotels to ask for an advance payment or reservation fee when you make a booking. It is also standard practice for hotels to require a pre-authorization (or pre-auth in hotel speak) to cover your room charge, plus tax, and additionally, to cover incidental charges you may incur during your stay.

Unlike a reservation fee, the pre-authorization is not an actual charge on your credit card; it is but a temporary hold on it until it’s time to settle your final billing upon checking out.

Or if you cancel beyond the free cancellation period (if any); or if you don’t show up at all – then the pre-authorization is processed and converted to a charge.

Nevertheless, the amount will be locked down in the meantime and will not be available to you. After the hotel releases its hold on your pre-authorized amount (usually 24 hours after you check out), it may take perhaps another two weeks for your credit card issuer to update your available balance.

How much the reservation fees and pre-authorization amounts depend on the type of booking you make and will vary from one hotel to another and from one country to another. The following is just a guideline.

  • Booking via a hotel website app / 3rd party app

Upon booking, you pay a reservation fee, which may either be a partial payment or a full payment while the pre-authorization to cover the balance and incidental charges will be done during your check-in.

  • Booking directly via phone

No reservation fee is required but many hotels may not accept phone bookings during the high season. They will only confirm the availability of a room and book you on a first-come-first-serve basis as a Walk-In Guest.

  • Walk-In Guests

For a four-night stay, for example, the pre-authorization may cover two to three nights plus $50.00 and upwards per night for incidental charges.

  • Booking through Travel Agencies

This is usually done by small groups who book a tour with a travel agency that books and pays the reservation fee to the hotel for the entirety of the group’s stay.

  • Booking through your Company

Your company will usually have a credit line with the hotel they book you in and may cover the incidental charges or not depending on your company’s policies.

To avoid this lock-in period of the pre-authorization, which typically lasts for five days, you can request to make a cash deposit instead, but you have to do the math and weigh the safety and practicality of carrying all that cash.

But if you do choose this option, the Front Desk staff will put it in a sealed envelope for safekeeping. For credit card pre-authorizations, an imprint of your card will be made after verification of its validity, credit balance, and availability.

When not handled properly by the Front Desk staff or when a guest is caught unaware of the pre-authorization requirements, it can become a sore point of contention and make for an unhappy experience on both sides.


After a final run-through with you regarding your registration details to ensure no errors were made, a good Front Desk Officer will anticipate your questions and cue you in on the layout of the hotel, its facilities, and services, breakfast time, and verify if you would like a wake-up call.

Then you will be given your room key – either an electronic card or a traditional metal room key – and you’re done.

The Front Desk Officer will now complete the registration process by opening your guest folio and updating and recording all key information in the system for billing purposes, which is then filed away together with your completed registration form.

Room inspection

Before you unpack your luggage, do an initial inspection of your room and its contents:  its location, noise level, view, cleanliness and smell, bathroom amenities, and supplies.

If you are unhappy with any one of these, you should notify the Front Desk immediately. It just might be your lucky day when they upgrade your room at no additional expense.

Tips for Checking in

1. Have a print-out or digital copy of your hotel reservation especially if you have a special or promo rate.

2. Pay with a credit card or cash.  Do not pay with a debit card, which may automatically deduct the amount from your card if that is not what you wanted. In some hotel systems, you may find yourself charged twice – first upon booking when you pre-authorize your card and next when you will have to pre-authorize it again upon checking in.

3. Request the Front Desk to remove the Resort fees if you have the option to do so. Ask for other extraneous charges you can avoid.

4. Request for another room if you are a light sleeper or if you have justifiable issues with your room.

5. Pay no more than 10% for a room upgrade. If you feel like upgrading your room and are willing to pay a little more, why not go ahead and ask if they have an available room that fits your request.

6. Loyalty programs give you the benefit of faster and easier check-ins, among others.

7. If you want a late check-out, the hotel may not be able to guarantee you one at this point but it is still a good idea to let them know of your request at this point. You may also let them know again of your request during your stay to up your chance of getting it.

Standard Check-Out Rules

The normal check out involves the following procedures:

  • Surrendering your room key at the Front Desk
  • Confirming your room number and date of departure
  • Alerting housekeeping and room service about your impending departure
  • Inquiring of any last-minute consumption and additional charges
  • Checking for any exemptions for late check-out additional charges
  • Preparing your guest folio and presenting the billing for your verification
  • Verifying mode of payment and who will be paying the bill if the guest is a business traveler
  • Collecting the payment and issuing a receipt
  • Presenting the final billing for your signature
  • Inquiring if you requested any assistance for your transportation to the airport

Tips for Checking Out

1. If you want a speedy checkout, check out online or request the hotel for their Express Check-Out policies and procedures, which may let you check out without having to visit the Front Desk or surrender your room key.

2. Pack up the night before just in case you plan to go out before checking out. If for any reason, you cannot get back to the hotel in time, housekeeping will see that you had no intention of overstaying and this may help you avoid a late check-out charge. Give your room and bathroom a thorough inspection to make sure you do not leave anything behind. You can never be too careful – people have been known to have left their passports behind locked in the safe.

3. Verify your check-out time since hotels have different policies and different times. Request for a wake-up call as a backup to your alarm system.

4.  Use the same credit card for check-in and check out – it may reauthorize the entire amount if you check out with a different card instead of just your remaining balance; and, it may delay your bank in updating your balance.

5. Double-check your bill for double charges or charges on items and services that you never availed of.

6. Get an itemized receipt for cash payments so you can compare it with your total bill and avoid being charged twice if you get billed again for the same items. Get an itemized bill for your final billing especially if your room rate is on the low end – you may be surprised at the tacked-on charges they apply when you check out.

7.  If you need a late checkout, the best time to ask for one would be in the early morning of your departure. Just be sure you have an honest and justifiable reason such as your flight being canceled or delayed. Be aware that late check out impacts the housekeeping staff and the amount of time they have to clean your room, especially if a deep cleaning is needed; it impacts the other guests who want to check in early, and the hotel itself, so consider all these in your decision to avail of this benefit.

Major hotel companies offer late checkouts to their card-carrying elite members for free or for a minimum charge, either on a guaranteed basis or an availability basis.  Although it is a perk that elite members enjoy, it should be used sparingly.

8. It is imperative that you call the hotel and let them know if you’re running behind schedule and may not be able to make it back to the hotel for your check-out. The staff will appreciate your consideration.

9. Give yourself enough time for checking out at the Front Desk especially if you need to go over your billing with the staff.

10. Most importantly, always be polite, especially when you are at fault. Especially when you are the guilty party.

What Happens If You Leave Without Checking Out

Technology has made the formality of settling your bill at the Front Desk at check-out time a thing of the past and fully dispensable especially in the United States.

dirty hotel room
Image credit: Canva

It is now common for many, especially business and repeat guests in large hotel chains, to do an Express check out, which these hotels make conveniently possible by giving you your billing the night before.

This allows you to avoid the dreaded queues at the Front Desk and the staff is not overwhelmed with the number of guests all wanting to be attended to immediately.

If you left the hotel without checking out at the Front Desk, the hotel will just check you out of their system after your appointed check-out time has lapsed (and housekeeping has confirmed your departure) and charge your credit card accordingly based on the pre-authorization you have given them.

When You Can Leave Without Checking Out

1. If it is your scheduled check-out day, you will get a call from the Front Desk to remind you; if you don’t answer, the housekeeping staff will knock on your door and confirm your departure.

2. If the hotel provides for an Express Check-Out and you go for it, then you will automatically be checked out accordingly. Chain hotels will leave your bill under your door on your last night for you to examine and should you have no questions about the charges, you are free to bypass the Front Desk.

Since you have already pre-authorized your credit card during check-in, and if everything is in order:

  • you’re leaving your room undamaged
  • you have no questions about your final billing
  • you prefer to receive it through your email, and you can leave your room key in your room or drop it at the designated box (if the service is provided and leaving it behind is a hotel policy)

Then you are good to go.

When You Need To Check Out

1. If the hotel does not have an Express Check-Out system, it is better to formally inform them of your departure to avoid future misunderstandings or disputes that may arise.

2. If you want to scrutinize your bill and you have the luxury of time to go over it, then do so. We all know that mistakes can and do happen even when the staff was scrupulous in their job.

3. If you want to dispute your bill or have questions about it, then it is better to personally thresh it out there rather than have a long and drawn-out back-and-forth exchange through emails. Albeit, there have been cases where someone has found the email route to be just as convenient so it all depends on your comfort level.

4. If you need a receipt and if you need to get a refund or the balance of your cash deposit.

Why You Need To Check Out

1. As a courtesy to the hotels that don’t have a 24-hour housekeeping service, it would be more considerate if you take the time to check out. It would also give the housekeeping staff – who have the hardest job in the industry – ample time to clean the room to make way for those who want to check in early,

2.  If you had booked for a five-day stay, for example, and left after three days without checking out, the hotel may presume that you haven’t left and charge you for two more days, especially if you inadvertently left some personal items behind or put up the Do Not Disturb sign. To avoid misunderstandings and avoidable extra day charges like this, better let them know you’re leaving.

3. There are many ways to check out – in person, online, from your hotel room via the phone or TV –

so taking the time to do this inside the hotel or on your way to the airport may redound to your benefit and leave a lot of goodwill all around.

What’s the Earliest You Can Check Into a Hotel

One of the stresses of traveling is arriving at your hotel well before check-in time, as in seven to eight hours before schedule, and facing the confounding dilemma of what to do and where to go in the meantime.

Although there are instances when you can check in early as a guarantee to get a room, it is still not a guarantee that your room may be ready for occupancy.

The standard check-in time in most hotels is usually 2 PM or 3 PM and 12 (noon) and 4 PM for some. There are always exceptions to the rule especially during the off-peak season when many more rooms are available. You may come across hotels that may allow you to check-in as early as 7 AM when the morning shift starts.

You may have also heard of guests getting a room at 9 AM or 10 AM or an hour or two before the check-in time.

There is no hard-and-fast rule about what time is the earliest you can check in to a hotel. What is certain is that it will all depend upon the availability of a room. The best advice to habitually follow to increase your chances of securing an early check-in is to call the hotel first.

Again, it all depends upon the availability of a room. Other factors that affect your chances are the travel season; whether it is convention season; or if the hotel just happens to be fully booked the night before; or if there are other early arrives.

Then there is the random factor of the receptivity of the Front Desk to your request, which is not under your control. What is firmly under your control, however, is the you factor: being nice and polite will always give you an advantage in any situation.

Tips On How To Check-In Early

Still, there are ways to improve your chances of checking in early and getting a room.

1. Call the hotel the day or the night before and ask about their occupancy status. If they’re not fully booked, then you can ask if you can check-in early—if you don’t ask, you’ll never know. At the same time, you may also go on and ask them to check you in already to lessen the things you have to do once you get there. You may also check in early through the hotel app; it may not guarantee you getting your room early but it’s good to try.

2. You may want to cancel your reservation if you’re still within the cancellation period and look for another hotel that will accept early check-ins.

3. Be flexible about your request. If you don’t mind not getting your preferred room and go for one that will be available first, it may increase your chances of getting a room early enough.

4. If no room is available, you can drop off your luggage at the storage area and freshen up in the lobby bathroom. Then you can opt to either hang around comfortably in the lounge area or by the poolside, or grab a bite in one of their restaurants, or go sightseeing if you’re up to it. But if you’re desperate for a room, making yourself visible in the lobby area may also help you secure a room faster as this may put subtle pressure on the staff that you are waiting for a room to be assigned to you. Just don’t make a nuisance of yourself.

5. You may opt to book a cheaper room at the airport hotel if you arrive at your destination just after midnight or very early morning so you can get a shut-eye and then transfer later; if you don’t mind the extra expense or if you have no other options, you can alternatively, book an extra night with your hotel to save you the trouble of transferring hotels. Try to ask for a discounted rate, or a day rate, or an hourly rate in case they have one. If you are staying for multiple nights, they may find it easier to charge you less. As a repeat guest, they may even waive the extra charge for you.

6. Go for the hotel’s Loyalty programs. Your elite status may grant you the perk of not having to pay for early check-ins but this is, more often than not, subject to room availability.

7. It pays to be polite—it can’t be stressed enough. Put on your best smiling voice and let them know what you want and why you want it and hope for the best. You may be in for a pleasant surprise!

How Late Can You Check Into a Hotel

Since hotels run the gamut from an inn-type hotel managed by a few staff to the fully-staffed big chain hotels, several factors come into play for late check-ins.

How late you can check into a hotel would depend largely on their respective policies. It is best to ask the hotel directly about them but if you will be arriving late, you must notify them before 6 PM on your arrival day for small hotels and before 6 AM the following day for larger hotels.

Tips For Late Check-Ins

hotel room
Image credit: Canva

1. Guarantee your reservation by paying in full or at least for one night. Doing so enables the hotel to hold your room for you until its cut-off time in which case unless they hear from you, they will consider you a no-show.

Without a guarantee, some hotels may still give you a courtesy hold on your room an hour or two beyond their check-in time but most hotels no longer do this. Without a guarantee, your room can be legally rented out to another guest after midnight or after the night audit is done at 2 AM or 3 AM.

2. Equally important is giving the hotel prior notice of your impending late arrival—this becomes doubly important if you have no guarantee. Letting them know you’ll be coming in late will also allow hotels with no 24/7 manned reception desk to wait for you; otherwise, you can end up locked out of your room or the hotel, or worse, with a canceled reservation.

3. Your check-out time will still be the same no matter how late you checked in unless you pay for a late check-out.

4. Generally, the rates will be the same even for late check-ins; however, a hotel manager may opt to give you a discounted rate for your first night or your late check out depending on room occupancy, etc. As stated before, it never hurts to ask.

Can You Check Into a Hotel At Any Time

Yes, you can check in any time you want but you can never leave. Don’t worry, not even the creepiest haunted hotels have that policy. But to quote one more song, the times they are a-changing.

Although the traditional mid-afternoon check-in time and late morning check-out time still rules the industry, more and more hotels are giving their guests—regular and first-time guests—the option to check-in and check out any time they want by adopting a flexible 24-hour Check-In & Check-Out policy.

A flexible time policy is proving to be a winning formula for both guests and hotels. It makes the guests feel more special; it reduces their stress levels; it allows them to maximize their time, and it takes out the worry of being penalized for not adhering to the hotels’ schedule.

For now, the hotels adopting this customized check-in and check-out times are dominated by full-serviced chain hotels because of the constraints of logistical planning, coordination, and staffing.

But its benefits make it worthwhile – it sets them apart from their competition; it creates brand loyalty and attracts repeat clients; and, it captures the attention of a market always searching for the best value for their money.

Hotels With Flexible Check-In and Check-Out Times

1. The Peninsula Hotels

Starting with The Peninsula Beverly Hills, the hotel chain has now extended their Peninsula Time privilege to all their guests across all their Peninsula properties from January this year.

2. Hyatt Place

Hyatt Place hotels offer their World of Hyatt members early check-in and late check-out privileges in participating hotels subject to room availability.

3. The Hoxton Hotels

The Hoxton Hotels’ Flexy Time lets you choose the time of your arrival and departure for free but requires prior notice of 72 hours.

4. Standard Hotels

In 2016, Standard Hotels started offering Standard Time, which allows you your choice of check-in and check-out times for an extra 5 or 10% charge of your room rate, but also subject to availability.

5. Westin Hotels

Westin Hotels offers their guests worldwide the Westin Weekend with a late checkout of 3 PM on Sundays and an extended breakfast up to 3 PM during the weekend.

6. Salt Hotels

Salt Hotels’ four boutique properties offer an innovative approach in checking you in by coordinating with you in advance through email regarding your arrival time to prepare their housekeeping for your arrival.

7. The Asbury Hotel & Asbury Ocean Club Hotel

Operated by Salt Hotels, both Asbury hotels offer the same free and informal approach of contacting you in advance regarding your arrival time.

8. citizenM Hotels

Guests at the citizenM Hotel in New York have the option of a free early check-in if a room is available but this cannot be pre-booked in advance. For an additional 69 USD plus taxes, you can avail of their 6 PM late check out option.

9. Radisson Blu Hotels

Radisson Rewards members’ benefits include early check-in and late check-out upon request for eligible stays, subject to availability.

Reed Harris

Reed is a traveler and blogger. He's planning to visit all states in the USA. He's been in 31 states so far.

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