Can You Pay Cash for a Hotel Room

As with most aspects of our lives, the issue of security is uppermost in our minds and traveling, whether for leisure, studies, or business, is no exception. Personal security and safety figure prominently in our decisions on where to go, how we travel, what to bring, who we deal with, and how we pay for things and experiences in our travels.

Along with security, we have insistently also added the issue of convenience to our decision-making. We want to make things a lot easier for us, going for the ones that will give us the least fuss and trouble, but without sacrificing our safety.

For travelers and travel service providers alike, the epitome of security and convenience is the credit card system – having that little plastic card in our wallets is a must-have.

Most big chain hotels in the United States will only accept credit card payments. There is, however, still room for cash payments in this increasingly cashless society. The caveat is that you do the necessary calling of your target hotel first and inquire about their payment policies.

From the hotel’s perspective, they need to protect their properties if you damage their rooms, incur incidental charges, or do not pay at all.

A hold on your credit card will give them their guarantee that they will not be left empty-handed when any of these occur.

But many hotels do not want to turn away clients; they want your business even if it means you don’t have a credit card, which may be the case for many people to this day.

It is also often the case that if a hotel accepts cash payments, you would still need a card to book a room and present the same during the check-in.

However, there are workarounds in many situations where the absence of a credit card happens.

Under-age And Does Not Have A Credit Card

Image credit: Canva

As you probably would expect, there is no universal policy that hotels everywhere follow regarding minimum age requirements for their hotel guests. What you frequently expect less to hear would be stories of teens between 15 and 17 years old who successfully booked a room without any problems.

But hotels that accept minors face the two-fold risk of being responsible for the safety and wellbeing of the minor and being unable to legally run after one who skips away without paying for the rented room and other incidentals. So most hotels set a threshold of 16 or 18 or 21 as their minimum age requirement for their room rentals.

Since there is no law mandating the minimum age for guests who can book a hotel room, each hotel sets its booking policies — most will not rent a room to a minor. Different hotels have different booking and reservation policies, and it differs from one hotel to another and from one state to another.

Some hotels may allow unaccompanied underaged guests if someone 18 and older books the room on their behalf; other hotels may allow minors to check-in if accompanied by an adult.

Many hotels will allow guests who are 18 years old to book a room, but those with an older clientele may raise the age to 21 or 25 years old.

Hotels and resorts in cities like Key West, Florida, known to be popular spring break destinations, may have more restrictive booking and check-in policies and higher minimum age requirements.

Tips for Parents

1. Call the hotel first and foremost to know their policies and to present your case. Have your credit card information ready should they allow you to book for your teenager.

2. Some hotels may allow a minor to check-in if accompanied by an adult, even if both are just teenagers. But a group of minors will always have to be accompanied by an adult.

3. Do not argue with the hotel’s staff about their policies but try inquiring at other hotels instead.

4. Just because your underaged son or daughter may be able to book a hotel room on their own doesn’t mean that they should. It can be a tricky situation when you’re searching for the right balance between mutual trust and shared responsibility for you and your teenager.

Has Problems With Credit History And Can’t Get a Credit Card

Whether for reasons of temporary bankruptcy, personal policy, or other rationales, there are still millions of people in the U.S. who do not have access to a credit card or cannot get one.

This situation presents a problem if you want to book a room in a 3-star to the 5-star hotel – sure, you can pay in cash or through a debit card, but these also present their own problems of which you need to be well aware.

Most reputable hotels today don’t want to accept anything but a credit card.

However, all isn’t lost because there are still hotels that will accept cash payments. But it is a rare occasion when they will allow an all-cash transaction – and if they do, they will usually require that you also provide them your credit card information upon booking and during check-in as a guarantee.

The bigger the hotel and the pricier the room, the more credit card and identity information they will need.

Hotels in the U.S. mostly prefer credit card payments.

Many travelers do not have any problems paying cash for hotel rooms abroad, whether in Europe or Asia. In Japan, for example, you will more likely have to pay paper money for many services and things since you will be dealing with an older population who prefer to stick to their traditional ways.

Let’s look at the issues involving cash or debit card payments and the workarounds to the problems they present.

Cash Payment / Debit Card Payment Considerations

1. If a hotel will accept an all-cash payment from you, they may ask you to put down a security deposit or a cash bond that is much higher than your daily room charge. This requirement is in addition to the payment for your room charge and probable incidental charges.

2. Hotels that accept cash payments may also require you to give your checking account information as well as two government-issued Identification cards when you check-in.

3. Using a debit card in making your hotel reservation may not be a problem for the hotel, but you may be charged a transaction fee for it, so you must inquire about this.

4. You can opt to prepay with a debit card and put down a cash deposit for the incidental charges.

But be aware that you may encounter receptionists who are averse to accepting debit card payments because of difficulties in explaining their implications for you. You may also be dealing with a new hire who isn’t fully knowledgeable on how these transactions work.

5. If you are booking your room from a Third-Party Site, you will not be able to avail yourself of lower-budget Non-Refundable rooms, which you have to pay upon booking.

Tips for Cash Payments / Debit Card Payments

As with most issues regarding hotel bookings, the safest and the wisest bet would be to call them in advance and inquire about their booking policies – this should always be your starting point.

The more you know in advance, the more you are prepared and the fewer worries and anxieties you will face when you check-in.

Paying only through a credit card may be set in stone in some hotel policies, while others may be more flexible in their policies. It bears reiterating that it all depends on the hotels and how you successfully negotiate with them.

If the hotel manager gives you concessions regarding paying in cash, remember to get the name of the manager with whom you have negotiated so you can present a referral once you check in.

You can make your cash transactions with a Travel Agency with the option to do this online or on-site.

You can also email the hotel about paying in cash through their bank account. Be careful to pay the correct bank account number stated in their email so that you don’t fall prey to online fraudsters who make use of a phishing email to fool you into paying them instead.

If you have a PayPal account and a bank account, this may be enough to allow you to pay in cash. However, it is still advisable to ask the hotel about the charges involved in this mode of payment and if you can also pay for incidental charges with your PayPal account.

Try to inquire at your smaller local hotels since they have less restrictive booking policies and are more amenable to accept cash payments. It would help you further if someone in the area can also vouch for you.

Another option is booking a hotel room with a friend’s credit card as your guarantee and working out the payment details with the hotel in advance.

If you find yourself in a city and need to book a hotel room without prior notice, have a backup plan just in case you cannot find one that will accept your cash payment. Try a motel instead, which is more likely to take in your cash.

Have enough cash for tips. Not only is giving a tip a great way to reward the hardworking hotel maids, but if you (and your friends) leave the room in a mess, or worse, trash it, it’s but proper that you tip them a generously for having to deal with the mess you left behind.

It is also better to leave a small tip – a dollar or two under a pillow– daily because many hotels have rotating cleaning crews. Make sure you leave a note behind explaining what it is to avoid confusion.

When You Should Pay in Cash

There are also situations when paying in cash or using your hotel reward points with cash payment is better or gives you an advantage.

When you get an inexpensive room, and your total bill amounts to less than $100 – it can be any ceiling you set for yourself – you can pay in cash and save your reward points for a bigger splash in the future.

When you’re traveling for business, and your boss will pay for your room, pay it in cash and get the reward points for your stay and your reimbursement from your boss. If you are your boss, paying in cash will allow you to write it off as a travel expense, something you can’t do with your points. You can do the same if your employees travel with you.

You can stretch your points further if you go for the cash-and-points program of your hotel, which allows you to pay for your room with a combination of cash and hotel points.

Note, however, that the resulting figure may not differ much from your daily room rate, or it may even be higher if you avail of this co-paying benefit outside of the peak season.

Having An Affair

Total secrecy, utter privacy, and anonymity is the name of the game when it comes to engaging in illicit affairs.

People having extramarital affairs want to cover their tracks, and they make sure that they don’t leave any traces of it like hotel bills and payments on their credit cards. That is why they invariably pay for their room in cash, although some would still take the risk of paying with a card if it will not raise any suspicion.

But ask the Front Desk personnel and the doorman about adulterous liaisons, and they will tell you that these couples aren’t fooling them: they can tell who is there to do some hanky-panky, but they will look the other way (and maybe, gossip among themselves later).

Generally, they are trained to mind their own business.

The ability to pay their way in cash – especially for their hotel trysts –  only spurs people to engage in this risky behavior.

Criminal activities

While hotels generally do not care about people renting their rooms for extramarital affairs, it is another matter when their premises become havens for prostitution, sex trafficking, and drug-related illegal activities.

They may tolerate sex workers for as long they don’t affect the other guests, but their internal alarms ring when a series of telltale signs that point to human trafficking becomes noticeable.

So, too, do they become very concerned when their rooms become used for drug dealing, or worse, are turned into mini methamphetamine labs, which the Portland, Oregon police consider to be the most dangerous criminal activity in lodging facilities.

In their guide to crime prevention in hotels and motels, the Portland Police Bureau gives a list of warning signs of possible illegal activity, including “(a) willingness to pay for multiple nights in advance, particularly in cash(,)” and “evidence of large amounts of cash.”

In a New York Times article from January 2018 about an investigative report by the Department of Investigation on New York hotels used to shelter the city’s homeless people, the report said that “drug use, and violence occurred at dozens of hotels.”

Again, these criminal activities were all facilitated through cash transactions.

Although these illegal situations are the jurisdiction of the police, it is the hotel’s poor housekeeping staff who must do the cringingly tough job of cleaning up in the aftermath of these illegal activities.

So does paying in cash automatically arouse suspicion at the Front Desk?

The person behind the desk may either reject you, especially if you don’t mind paying any amount for any room, or give you the benefit of the doubt and allow you in. Again, it all depends on the hotel.

Checking Into a Hotel Anonymously

Not everyone who wants to hide their identities when staying at a hotel is up to no good. There may be legitimate reasons for wanting to go under an assumed name – many celebrities do this.  And you can, too.

But first, you will need to make the reservations under your real name; then, you can register under your chosen pseudonym once you are check-in.

To protect your anonymity further, it’s a no-brainer to pay in cash.

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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