How to check into a hotel without a credit card | Travel

Sally French

Traveling with a credit card has huge advantages. Perhaps more importantly, credit cards are generally safer to carry and use than cash. If your wallet is stolen, you can contact your bank to lock your credit card, but any money you’re carrying is likely lost forever. If your credit card is used fraudulently, you will generally not be liable for refunds of such purchases.

And of course there are the rewards and benefits of using a credit card. Many travel credit cards with no annual fee not only offer bonus points for spending, but also perks like no foreign transaction fees.

But credit cards aren’t for everyone, especially if you’re struggling to pay your bills on time. Even if you’re in a better place with money now but have a bad credit history (or your credit is invisible), you might struggle to get approved for a credit card with no annual fee. In this case, traveling without a credit card could be unavoidable.

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And the reality is that many Americans don’t have a credit card. More than 175 million Americans have at least one credit card, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s 2021 Consumer Credit Card Market Report. But when you factor in 2020 population data from the US Census Bureau, that’s about 83 million adults who probably don’t have a credit card.

Fortunately, it is quite possible to travel without a credit card. Payment options vary by company, but commonly accepted methods include:

Yet, from time to time, traveling without a credit card can still seem impossible, especially in hotels. So, do you need a credit card for a hotel? Not always — but often. Let’s dig.

Why do some hotels require credit cards?

Although many hotels accept debit cards, gift cards and hotel points as payment, some will still require you to present a credit card upon check-in or when booking, regardless the payment method you will use.

Hotels need your credit card information for two main reasons:

  • Billing of cancellation fees. Most hotels have policies where – if you cancel your reservation after the cancellation window – the hotel will charge you anyway. With a credit card on file, the hotel is able to charge cancellation fees.
  • Covering damage, theft or other incidental costs. Most hotels require a security deposit to ensure you don’t damage the room or leave with the TV. Many hotels require your credit card to be on file to hold you responsible for theft or damage.

During your stay, many hotels also allow you to easily make purchases without actually handing over payment on the spot, such as when you grab a drink from the in-room minibar. These fees are usually charged to your credit card at checkout.

Which hotels do not require a credit card?

Some major hotel brands will accept a debit card for reservations, and some will accept other forms of payment like personal checks or bank transfers. But in general, most major hotel brands require a credit or debit card to make a reservation. Although most generally don’t require the same card to be used to fund the actual payment, most do require a card on file to some extent to ensure sufficient funds are available to pay your final bill.

When you register this card, the money is usually not taken from the credit card. Instead, you’ll likely see a “block” line on your account indicating that a charge was initiated but not completed. Assuming you pay your bill using another payment method (and you don’t incur additional charges during your stay), these charges will never be processed.

Here are some examples of hotels that do not require a credit card:

  • Best Western: Although credit cards are required for online reservations, you can make a reservation by phone at 800-564-2515. The exact rules vary by property, but you can usually make a reservation over the phone without a credit card and also pay by another method (other than credit card) in person upon check-in.
  • Hilton: You can provide a debit card number as a guarantee when booking directly on the Hilton website. Payment can be made by debit or credit.
  • Marriott: When checking in, you have the option of using a debit card instead of a credit card. Regardless of the type of plastic you use, your card-issuing bank will block room charges and taxes, applicable resort fees, and an amount for incidental charges per day for the entire stay ( amount varies by location). Payment can be made by debit or credit.
  • Motel 6: Some properties (but not all) require some sort of plastic upon check-in, but debit or bank cards are accepted as well as credit cards. Payments are accepted by these methods as well as cash or traveler’s check. However, prepayments by credit card, check or bank transfer are required for reservations of 10 rooms or more.

In the meantime, these hotels generally don’t allow you to book if you don’t have a credit card:

  • Hotel : A credit card is required for all reservations made through the Hyatt website.
  • Radison: Radisson Americas and Radisson Hotels only accept credit cards; debit will not work.
  • Wyndham: Credit cards are required for reservations made online.

Note that some card holds may not be released until you are away from the property. For example, Radisson and Marriott — among other brands — warn that holds may not be released until five business days after you check out, which means your money will be inaccessible to you for at least a few days after payment.

How to book a hotel without a credit card

If you care about a hotel that typically requires a credit card for reservations, there may still be a way for you to reserve that room. Here are a few things to try:

Book by phone: Just because the fine print on a hotel’s website says a thing doesn’t mean a friendly property manager at your destination won’t be willing to work with you. Policies may vary by institution. Sometimes when an automated reservation system requires a credit card, a human can provide a workaround.

Remember to book through online travel agencies: Marriott may require a credit card when booking direct, but third-party travel companies like Expedia or Orbitz may allow you to book the same Marriott room through them using a different form of payment.

For example, besides credit cards, Orbitz payment options include debit card, PayPal, and Affirm – a service that lets you make recurring partial payments by debit card, checking account, or check sent by mail.

Just understand the trade-offs when booking through a third party, which can include higher rates and poorer cancellation terms.

How to check into a hotel without a credit card

Although the strategies above may help you book a room, the hotel may not allow you to check in without a credit card on file. Many hotels require a credit card upon check-in as a deposit for contingencies or damages.

If you went through the reservation process and paid using another method, it can be frustrating to arrive on the first day of your trip, only to find that the hotel won’t return the keys without a credit card.

Luckily, it’s not uncommon for hotels to accept an alternate form of payment as a financial guarantee that you won’t steal their TV or grab candy from the minibar without paying. Even some properties within large hotel chains might make an exception if you ask.

Here are some alternatives to credit card deposits:

Pay the security deposit in advance in cash

Rather than blocking your credit card, some hotels may allow you to post a cash deposit, which will be returned to you upon departure.

This could be tricky though, given that it’s common for security deposits to be north of $200 (and sometimes well north). High-end properties may even have a $1,000 security deposit, and while they may accept cash, you may not want to travel with that much cash in your wallet. You might not have that much money, period.

Again, paying in cash has one main benefit: your funds will be released immediately upon payment (as opposed to the several days it takes for holds to be released on a credit or debit card).

Make a debit card hold

Similar to a credit card hold, the hotel may be willing to place a debit card hold. Just be aware that some debit cards have daily or monthly spending limits (especially prepaid debit cards). Even if you can afford the room rate, the hotel’s extra security deposit could put you over your spending limit. Have a plan (like calling your bank) in case the deposit goes over it.

Also determine the amount of money in your account, as the debit card hold could result in you being charged overdraft fees if you don’t have sufficient funds.

Look at off-chain hotels

A large hotel chain may have a set policy that is impossible to circumvent, but a local motel or small bed and breakfast probably doesn’t have such a bureaucracy and might be more willing to work with you.

Consider vacation rentals

Many vacation rentals do not require a credit card – for payment or for deposit. In addition to credit and debit cards, Airbnb accepts Apple Pay, Google Pay, and PayPal in most countries.

Airbnb explicitly prohibits hosts from charging security deposits. Instead, Airbnb informs guests at the time of booking that their payment method may be charged if they cause damage during a stay. In the event of a dispute, Airbnb works with both parties through its resolution center.

However, don’t try to pay cash for your Airbnb. Cash payments are a violation of Airbnb’s Terms and Conditions.

Call and ask

If you don’t have a credit card, the best thing to do is call your hotel as soon as possible and ask about your options without a credit card. If the hotel does not offer one, take your belongings elsewhere.

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