The Ultimate Guide to Hotel Incidentals
Picture this: An employee flew out to a new city this morning, spent an entire day in meetings and went straight to check into their hotel. When asked to provide a card for incidentals, they don’t think twice about handing over their business credit card.
Exhausted, they head up to their room. The busy travel day left them little time to finish other work assignments. So they boot up their computer and provide their room number for high-speed internet. They realize they’re starving, so they grab some snacks and a drink from the mini-bar to hold them over while they place a room service order. The next morning, they head to the business center to copy some materials for their presentation later that day and charge the fee to their room.
When your employee goes to check out, their printed hotel folio shows the room service charge but not the minibar charge, since those haven’t been accounted for yet. Weeks later, when their company goes to reconcile the month’s charges to their credit card, the receipts don’t match.
If you’re an employer, you’re probably cringing by now.
The truth is, hotel incidentals are easy for employees to rack up — some may not even realize they’re doing it until it’s far too late. And because the charges are often finalized by the hotel well after check-out, they can be hard to reconcile.
As a result, they can create problems for employers, preventing them from properly budgeting for, managing and finalizing travel expenses.
But we’re here to help. In this article, we’ll explain what hotel incidentals are, why they exist, and how travelers and businesses alike can avoid unnecessary charges or hassles.
What are hotel incidentals?
Hotel incidentals, sometimes referred to as simply “incidentals,” refer to expenses that guests might incur during their stay that aren’t covered by standard room charges. Incidentals might be laundry services, the beverages and food pre-stocked in room mini-bars or even high-speed internet. To cover these potential costs, hotels hold a refundable amount (usually called either an “incidentals deposit” or “security deposit”) at check-in.
Hotels monitor incidentals by requesting room numbers whenever a guest makes a purchase or uses the hotel’s paid facilities, by checking for in-room damage or the consumption of any mini-bar food or beverages. At checkout, any finalized charges for incidentals will show up on the final bill, but in-room charges may be added later.
Often it takes several days post-trip for final charges to be added and any unused portions of the deposit to return to the guest’s credit or debit card balance. This waiting period can be a challenge for work travelers, especially if they don’t have a company card. Even if they do, accounting teams have to wait until all charges clear before they can approve or deny the bill, deduct the charge from the proper budget, and reimburse or charge the employee.
Fortunately, knowing what hotels typically charge extra for can prevent surprises at checkout for the guest and the company paying for their stay.
What are common hotel incidental charges?
Many services and amenities don’t fall under a hotel’s standard room rate. Some of these might include:
- Parking and valet
- Restaurant and bar charges
- Business center services, such as copying, mailing or guest package storage
- Spa packages
- In-room movies and pay-per-view
- Use of in-room phones for long-distance calls
- Room service
- In-room bottled water, alcohol or mini-bar snacks
- On-site convenience store purchases
The price of incidentals varies widely depending on the hotel’s star rating, location and chain policies, which means the amount a hotel requires at check-in will vary, too. Hotel incidental deposits can be as little as $25 per night, but often are more like $100 or $150 per night, depending on the cost of your room and the length of the stay. But those prices can skyrocket during peak travel seasons and at luxury hotels.
Why do hotels charge for incidentals?
Hotels typically charge for incidentals for two main reasons. The first is to protect themselves. A credit card on file ensures that staff charge for the services guests use, and for any damage a guest might cause, intentionally or otherwise. Before credit cards, hotels would sometimes find damage or theft in a room after a guest had checked out and paid in cash — leaving them with no way to recover funds for repairs or replacements. Today, incidental or security deposits help hotels to offset the high cost of maintaining extra services and discourage guests from stealing or damaging things.
The second reason is to convenience guests. Incidentals enhance a hotel’s ability to serve its customers. For instance, ordering room service or dry cleaning business outfits can make a stay for work more pleasurable and convenient. The better service a guest has, the more likely they are to return to the same hotel or family of hotels.
Unfortunately, incidentals can also present difficulties for guests and the companies funding their travel.
What types of problems can hotel incidentals cause?
Let’s review a few common ways hotel incidentals create hassles for companies and their employees:
- Tying up your credit or debit card balance. Depending on how much guests spend on incidentals, deposits are refunded entirely or just in part. This makes it difficult to estimate and track reimbursements, especially for employees who use their own card.
- Deposits vary drastically. Hotels could ask for a deposit of $150, or they could ask for $300. This difference could pose challenges if employees have a spending limit on their business or personal cards or have to wait weeks to be refunded for the deposit.
- Personal vs. business card. Unless their company provides a corporate credit card, guests may have to tie up their own personal credit card. Other times, employees don’t even have personal credit cards and must use a debit card — and holds on debit cards can last as long as 14 business days.
- Credit card authorizations. Companies that give their employees a business credit card usually have to complete credit card authorization forms for the hotels to accept them for deposits. Completing and processing these manual forms is time-consuming (especially as they’re usually required for each room) and frequently sharing sensitive billing information invites fraud.
- Paying for incorrect incidentals. Incidentals may be charged to the wrong room or accidentally charged twice. Guests or their employers have to carefully examine each bill to catch any mistakes.
- Complicated reconciliation. Incidentals add an extra layer to every reconciliation particularly because some charges are not added until after checkout. That makes it difficult to predict costs, and increases the time it takes to review and process travel receipts.
Finance departments spend a great deal of time processing incidentals — time they could spend on other, more strategic activities. To streamline their work flow, companies can minimize incidental charges, and consider tools to help them process them.
How do you avoid or minimize incidental charges?
The moment guests give a hotel their credit card, they give the hotel permission to charge for incidentals. The good news is that there are several ways to avoid the operational headaches that arise from incidental charges, including:
- Requesting that the incidental fee be waived. Hotels won’t do this unless you provide a reasonable explanation, so be sure to clarify why you’re asking for the fee to be waived. For example, perhaps employees only use debit cards, have a very limited travel budget or your company had a prior poor experience with a hotel that didn’t release the pre-authorization promptly.
- Requesting no incidental charges. Most employers don’t allow employees to leverage amenities unless they pay with a personal card. Since incidental services won’t be used, ask properties to turn them off.
- Join a hotel’s loyalty program. Hotels know high-status holders are repeat customers, so they offer additional perks other guests may not be privy to. Typically, loyalty members have an easier time getting incidental charges waived or removed when they ask.
- Explore alternative services. Local laundromats and gyms may be far cheaper than in-hotel facilities. Employers could consider giving employees a per diem for those services to separate those transactions from the hotel bill.
- Verify every single charge. Mistakes happen. As tempting as it is to check out quickly, guests should take the time to examine their receipts. The front desk can remove any charges added in error.
Keeping your employees informed of your travel policies and working with hotel staff takes extra effort, but can save hours of processing time in the long run.
Make hotel incidentals simple with Hotel Engine
Understanding how hotel incidentals work and the potential problems that come along with them can help your company design better travel policies, alleviate stress on your finance teams and get your employees reimbursed faster. Although there are ways to cut down on incidental costs, requesting removals or waiving fees for every single stay isn’t feasible for an organization of any size.
That means that travelers will no longer have to provide a credit card upon check-in, and no more tedious and risky credit card authorization forms either.
Once Hotel Engine has verified every incidental on your hotel bill and disputed any incorrect charges, you’ll be invoiced. No surprises, no tied-up balances, no hassles.
Bottom line, Hotel Engine has you covered. See for yourself by signing up for a free account today.
Sara Kern is a Copywriter at Hotel Engine. She worked as a writer in the tech and apparel industries for almost a decade before joining the HE family, but also has experience coordinating business travel for fast-moving nonprofits, so she knows firsthand how hard it can be. She joined Hotel Engine in 2022 and is excited to be a part of the movement to radically simplify trip management for everyone.